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Arne, Thomas Augustine

opera premiere company music

Arne, Thomas Augustine, famous English composer, natural father of Michael Arne and brother of Susanna Maria Cibber; b. London, March 12, 1710; d. there, March 5, 1778. His father, an upholsterer and undertaker, sent him to Eton to study law, but also permitted him to take violin lessons from Michael Festing. Arne’s love for music eventually prevailed. With Henry Carey and J. E Lampe, he organized a theater company in London in 1732 to present in English operas “after the Italian manner” Their company broke up later that same year, and Arne then founded his own enterprise at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. On March 7, 1733, his company staged the premiere there of his opera Rosamond with his sister in the title role. His company soon merged with Theophilus Cibber ‘s company at the New Theatre, Haymarket, where Arne scored a notable success with the premiere of The Opera of Operas, or Tom Thumb the Great on Oct. 29, 1733. In 1737 Arne married the singer Cecilia Young. On March 4, 1738, his music for Milton’s masque Comus was first performed at Drury Lane and secured his reputation as one of the leading English composers of his time. A commission from Frederick, Prince of Wales, led to the composition of music for James Thomson’s patriotic masque Alfred, which received its premiere in an open-air theater at the Prince’s home in Cliveden on Aug. 1, 1740. The final chorus, Rule Britannia, became Arne’s most celebrated work. In 1742 Arne and his wife visited Dublin, where she sang in the premiere of his oratorio The Death of Abel on Feb. 18, 1744. From 1744 to 1749 Arne composed several works for Drury Lane, and thereafter for Covent Garden. In 1755 Arne, his wife, and his gifted pupil, Charlotte Brent, visited Dublin. Arne’s marriage had become tempestuous, and in 1756 he and Brent returned to London alone. In 1759 Arne was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music at Oxford. On Oct. 10, 1759, his setting of The Beggar’s Opera, with Brent as a leading singer, scored a great success at its first performance at Covent Garden. Success continued there with the premiere of his comic opera Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return on Nov. 28, 1760. His greatest triumph followed there on Feb. 2, 1762, with the first performance of his opera Artaxerxes . His pasticcio, Love in a Village, also proved highly popular at its premiere there on Dec. 8, 1762. However, his subsequent works were failures. Ill health and the loss of Brent in marriage to the violinist Thomas Pinto in 1766 added to his woes. However, his fortunes rebounded when Garrick asked him to compose an ode for the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford in 1769. On Nov. 21, 1772, his opera Elfrida was premiered at Covent Garden with much success. Shortly before he died, Arne and his wife were reconciled.

Arne composed some 90 works for the stage, including operas, masques, pantomimes, and incidental music. Although his output is uneven, he was without question one of the major English dramatic composers of his time. He also wrote a number of fine instrumental pieces.

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