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A Lost Legacy

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Friday 12 March 2010

Arne has often been written off as an unsavoury character who failed to capitalise properly on his talent, but today Donald Macleod explores how much of this composer's story remains untold.

Thomas Arne is remembered today, if he's remembered at all, by just a handful of popular songs. Even so, these are some of Britain's most enduring melodies. 'Rule Britannia' has its annual outing at the Last Night of the Proms, and his setting of Shakespeare's 'Where the bee sucks' remains the best known of the very many versions of that song. The lasting appeal of these tunes gives us just a hint of the fame and popularity he enjoyed as one of London's most successful stage composers in the 18th century. He had a knack for entertaining the city's well-to-do middle-classes, and wasn't afraid to pander to their more low-brow tastes if that was what put bums on seats.

His friends and colleagues, while full of praise for his art, scorned his ungentlemanly character. His self-cultivated image as a 'man of pleasure' was combined with an unscrupulous head for business that Arne inherited from his father. We can all too easily imagine him drooling with anticipation, as he took under his wing yet another talented young actress, dreaming of the riches her voice might bring him. His reputation as a lecher and a bad husband did him no favours, though, and rather tarnished his professional career.

History has not been kind to his memory. The masques and plays that served as vehicles for his music were not designed for posterity and much of his legacy has been lost. Plus, he had the misfortune to live and work alongside England's brightest musical genius, George Frederick Handel, whose brilliance consigned a whole generation of British composers to shadowy obscurity. Nevertheless, even though his story is full of missing chapters, Arne is revealed as one British music's most vibrant characters.

Music Played

15 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Thomas Arne

    Thomas Arne The Street Intrigue

    Performer: The Deller Consort

    Vanguard, 08503971, 28

  • Image for Thomas Arne

    Thomas Arne Elegy on the death of Mr Shenstone

    Performer: The Hilliard Ensemble

    Harmonia Mundi, HM901153, 17

  • Image for Thomas Arne

    Thomas Arne Ode upon dedicating a building to Shakespeare

    Performer: Emma Kirkby (soprano) Performer: The Parley of Instruments Performer: Roy Goodman (conductor)

    Hyperion CDA66237, 6

  • Image for Thomas Arne

    Thomas Arne Piano Concerto in A major

    Performer: Paul Nicholson (piano/director) Performer: The Parley of Instruments Baroque Orchestra

    Helios CDH55251

  • Image for Thomas Arne

    Thomas Arne Artaxerxes (Act III, Scenes 6-11)

    Performer: Christopher Robson (Artaxerxes, countertenor) Performer: Ian Partridge (Artabanes, tenor) Performer: Patricia Spence (Arbaces, mezzo-soprano) Performer: Richard Edgar-Wilson (Rimenes, tenor) Performer: Catherine Bott (Mandane, soprano) Performer: Philippa Hyde (Semira, soprano) Performer: Colin Campbell (bass) Performer: Charles Gibbs (bass) Performer: The Parley of Instruments Performer: Roy Goodman (conductor)

    Hyperion, CDD22073

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:00

    Thomas Arne The Street intrigue for 3 voices

    Ensemble: Deller Consort.

    Anon: He that will an alehouse keep, VANGUARD, 28

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:01

    Thomas Arne The Street intrigue for 3 voices

    Ensemble: Deller Consort.

    Anon: He that will an alehouse keep, VANGUARD, 28

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:03

    Thomas Arne Elegy on the death of Mr Shenstone for chorus

    Ensemble: The Hilliard Ensemble.

    HARMONIA MUNDI : HM-901153, HARMONIA MUNDI, 17

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:04

    Thomas Arne Elegy on the death of Mr Shenstone for chorus

    Ensemble: The Hilliard Ensemble.

    HARMONIA MUNDI : HM-901153, HARMONIA MUNDI, 17

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:10

    Thomas Arne Thou soft-flowing Avon - ode for voice, strings & bc [upon dedicating a building

    Singer: Emma Kirkby. Ensemble: The Parley of Instruments. Conductor: Roy Goodman.

    HYPERION : CDA-66237, HYPERION, 6

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:11

    Thomas Arne Thou soft-flowing Avon - ode for voice, strings & bc [upon dedicating a building

    Singer: Emma Kirkby. Ensemble: The Parley of Instruments. Conductor: Roy Goodman.

    HYPERION : CDA-66237, HYPERION, 6

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:16

    Thomas Arne Concerto no. 3 in A major for keyboard and orchestra

    Director: Paul Nicholson. Orchestra: Parley of Instruments Baroque Orchestra.

    HELIOS : cdh-55251, HELIOS, 10

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:17

    Thomas Arne Concerto no. 3 in A major for keyboard and orchestra

    Director: Paul Nicholson. Orchestra: Parley of Instruments Baroque Orchestra.

    HELIOS : cdh-55251, HELIOS, 10

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:35

    Thomas Arne Artaxerxes - opera Act 3;

    Singer: Christopher Robson. Singer: Ian Partridge. Singer: Patricia Spence. Singer: Richard Edgar-Wilson. Singer: Catherine Bott. Singer: Phillipa Hyde. Singer: Charles Gibbs. Ensemble: The Parley of Instruments. Conductor: Roy Goodman.

    HYPERION : CDD-22073, HYPERION, 18

  • Image for Thomas Arne
    00:36

    Thomas Arne Artaxerxes - opera Act 3;

    Singer: Christopher Robson. Singer: Ian Partridge. Singer: Patricia Spence. Singer: Richard Edgar-Wilson. Singer: Catherine Bott. Singer: Phillipa Hyde. Singer: Charles Gibbs. Ensemble: The Parley of Instruments. Conductor: Roy Goodman.

    HYPERION : CDD-22073, HYPERION, 18

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