Thomas Augustine Arne (12 March 1710 – 5 March 1778) was an English composer, violinist, and keyboard player. He was the father of composer Michael Arne and the husband of lauded soprano Cecilia Young. A prolific composer of music for the stage, he was the most significant figure in 18th-century English theatre music and is considered the catalyst for the revival of English opera in the early 1730s. While he was alive, England’s musical scene was for the most part dominated by foreign music and musicians. Arne was the only native English composer of his day that was able to compete successfully with composers like George Frideric Handel who monopolized the British music scene during the eighteenth century.[1]

Between 1733 and 1777, Arne wrote music for about 100 stage works, including plays, masques, pantomimes, and opera. Many of his dramatic scores are now lost, probably destroyed in the disastrous fire at Covent Garden in 1808. He showed little interest in writing concert music. The symphonies and overtures he composed derive mostly from his stage works, and his keyboard concertos were mainly a by-product of his work in the theatre. His music exemplifies a diversity of styles which utilize not only the essentials of Italian opera but also rudiments of English folk music and eighteenth century galante music.

As a Catholic, Arne’s career suffered in a community where writing music for the Church of England was profitable, both financially and politically. As a result he was denied the sort of official patronage given to his most important English contemporaries, William Boyce and John Stanley, a fact that hurt him financially later in his life. Regardless, Arne dominated the various genres of English theatre music for several decades and is considered one of the finest composers of the era. Today he is probably best known for writing the British patriotic song, Rule, Britannia! which is part of his opera Alfred (1740) and for his opera Artaxerxes (1762). Many of his songs and incidental theatre music are still performed in concerts and recitals today.

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