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Thomas Augustine Arne

Thomas Augustine Arne (12 March 1710 – 5 March 1778) was an English composer, best known for the patriotic Rule, Britannia!.


Early life

Arne's father and grandfather were both upholsterers and both became officials of the City Company of Upholsterers. His grandfather fell upon hard times and died in the Marshalsea prison for debtors. Arne's father earned enough money not only to rent a large house in Covent Garden but also to have Arne educated at Eton College. But later in life, he also managed to lose most of his wealth and had to earn extra cash by acting as a numberer of the boxes at Drury Lane Theatre.

Arne was so keen on music that he smuggled a spinet into his room and, dampening the sounds with his handkerchief, would secretly practice during the night while the rest of the family slept. He also dressed up as a liveryman in order to gain access to the gallery of the Italian Opera. It was at the opera that Arne first met the musician and composer Michael Festing, who was a major influence on Arne. He not only taught him to play the violin, but also took him to various musical events, including going to hear Roseingrave compete for the post of organist at Hanover Square and a visit to Oxford in 1733 to hear Handel's opera 'Athalia'.

Upon leaving school, Arne was articled to a solicitor for three years. However, Arne's father discovered his son leading a group of musicians at what was probably one of Festing's musical gatherings. Following this disclosure of his son's real interest and talent, he was persuaded (again probably by Festing) to allow the young Arne to give up his legal career and to pursue music as a living.

He was baptized in the Catholic faith, his mother's religion.

Musical career

Arne's sister, Susannah Maria Arne, was a famous contralto, who performed in some of his works, including his first opera, Rosamund. (She would later become known professionally as "Mrs Cibber".) They and their brother Richard would often perform Arne's works together. Between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 90 stage works, including plays, masques, pantomimes, and opera. Many of his dramatic scores are now lost, probably in the disastrous fire at Covent Garden in 1808.[1]

Arne was a Freemason[2] and active in the organisation, which has long been centred around the Covent Garden area of London, of which Arne was a native.

Arne's Catholicism meant that he never composed music for the Church of England, unlike most other great English composers of his time[3].

On 15 March 1737 [1], Arne married singer Cecilia Young, whose sister, Isabella was the wife of John Frederick Lampe. Arne's operas and masques became very popular, and he received the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, at whose country home, Cliveden, the Masque of Alfred, featuring "Rule Britannia", was debuted.

In 1741, Arne filed a complaint in Chancery pertaining to a breach of musical copyright and claimed that some of his theatrical songs had been printed and sold by Henry Roberts and John Johnson, the London booksellers and music distributors. The matter was settled out of court. Arne was certainly one of the very first composers to have appealed to the law over copyright issues. [4]

In 1750, after an argument with David Garrick, Susannah left Drury Lane for Covent Garden Theatre, and Thomas followed. In 1755, he separated from Cecilia, who, he alleged, was mentally ill. He began a relationship with one of his pupils, Charlotte Brent, a soprano and former child prodigy. Brent performed in several of Arne's works, including the role of Sally in his 1760 opera Thomas and Sally and Mandane in his 1762 opera Artaxerxes.

Thomas and Sally was the first English comic opera to be sung throughout (it contained no dialogue).[1] Artaxerxes was one of the most successful and influential English operas of the eighteenth century and is the only known attempt to write an Italianate, Metastasian opera seria, in the English language.[5]

Eventually Brent and Arne went their separate ways and Brent married a violinist. In 1777, shortly before his death, Arne and his wife were reconciled. They had one son, Michael Arne. Arne is buried at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London.

See also


  1. ^ a b Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor's Return, opera ...: Information and Much More from
  2. ^ Website reference at the United Grand Lodge of England.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Arne, Handel, Walsh, and Music as Intellectual Property: Two Eighteenth-Century Lawsuits: Ronald J. Rabin and Steven Zohn:Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 120, No. 1 (1995), pp. 112-145
  5. ^ Artaxerxes

External links

Sheet music

Simple English

File:Thomas Augustine
Thomas Augustine Arne

Thomas Arne (born London baptized 28 May 1710; died London 5 March 1778 was an English composer and violinist. He was the most famous musician in the theatre in England in the 18th century. He wrote music for lots of plays. He did not have the genius of Handel, but he had a great gift for writing beautiful tunes. Songs such as Where the Bee Sucks are still very popular. His best known tune is Rule Britannia which is sung every year at the Last Night of the Proms.

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