Thomas Arne was born into a family of London
upholsterers and educated at Eton College. A quick grasp of music
enabled him to teach his brother and sister to sing; when he was
23, they appeared in his first opera, Rosamond, styled
"after the Italian manner." Its success led to commissions to
write music for Drury Lane Theatre.
Arne composed many songs for productions of
Shakespeare's plays, including As You Like It and The
"Under the greenwood tree" and "Where the bee sucks", for example,
reveal his unique talent for lyrical, melodic writing. Of his
other songs, the most famous is "Rule Britannia", from the masque
Alfred, which was requested by the Prince of Wales and
performed at Cliveden House on the Thames in 1740. Arne published
annual collections of his vast output of songs, which in the main
celebrate the rhythms of life and nature. In 1745, during the
threat to the English Crown posed by the Young Pretender, Bonnie
Prince Charlie, Arne's setting of "God Save the King" was sung
every night by the gentlemen in the audience until the dangers had
He had married the singer Cecilia Young in 1
737, but after a trip to Ireland in 1755 - during which, together
with Arne's sister, they gave musical performances m Dublin,
including Handel's Messiah — the marriage broke down.
Arne also turned his hand to the oratorio,
for Lent in 1761. In 1762 he premiered Artaxerxes,
introducing the grander Italian style to many English
concert-goers; it was the only English opera to be regularly
performed until the nineteenth century.
For 20 years Arne gave concerts at London's
pleasure gardens, such as Mary-lebone, Ranelagh, and Vauxhall. In
his last decade he wrote Shakespeare ode and the masque
The fairy prince.
Rheumatism finally affected his ability to play, and he died
in March 1778, comforted by a reconciliation with his wife