Spending My Thursday Afternoon with Thomas A. Arne

This afternoon’s office insanity was set to the musical ramblings of Baroque master Thomas Arne, highlighted by Trevor Pinnock’s performance of this Presto movement from his Keyboard Sonata #6.

“But who,” you ask, “is Thomas Arne?”

“Who’s Thomas Arne?” I respond, shocked. “Thomas Augustine Arne? ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘A-Hunting We Will Go?’ How could you possibly not know about Tommy Arne?

…OK, fine. I admit it. I don’t think I knew him (by name, at least) until my trek through the vast, unexplored wasteland of Obscure Baroque Composer Clips Available on YouTube earlier this morning. Once I started searching for him specifically, though, I realized I’d stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove of music.

Here’s a couple three concerti to get you started. Once you get done with those, I recommend moving along to a few trio sonatas or one of his charming (if not entirely groundbreaking) harpsichord sonatas. And you must finish things off with the vocal music for which he achieved some not-insignificant fame during his lifetime: a piece from “Alfred”, one from “Artaxerxes” (that features Joan Sutherland), and one from a cantata called “The Morning.”

One Internet article, discovered during my efforts to dredge up biographical details, contained this note:

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.

Man! What is it with English Catholic composers? Those guys are awesome! (And speaking of Arne’s Catholicity, that same article notes the cause behind his failed marriage as either his wife’s “frequent illnesses” — Arne’s account– or “his repeated philandering” — his wife’s account. After filing for “legal separation alleging that she was mentally ill,” Arne spent most of the latter part of his life alone, but was eventually reconciled with his wife shortly before his death. Sounds kind of like the rest of us Catholics — far better at trying than at succeeding, and hoping all along for the gift of Final Perseverance.)

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