Skip to content

Biography of Thomas Arne

Portrait of Thomas Arne

Thomas Arne was an eighteenth century composer.

When and Where was he Born?

12th March 1710, London, England.

Family Background:

Thomas Arne was the son of an upholsterer in King Street, Covent Garden, London.


Eton College.

Timeline of Thomas Arne:

The young Arne was keen on the opera and legend has it that he smuggled himself into London’s Italian Opera dressed as a liveryman. Whether this is true or not, he met and became friends with the composer Michael Festing at the opera who taught him the violin and took him to various musical performances.

1732: His father is keen that he should follow the law and he is articled to a solicitor for three years after leaving Eton but is finally persuaded, probably by Festing, that Thomas should follow music as a career. He begins to teach his brother and sister to sing and the three of them perform at the Haymarket Theatre during April.

1733: Thomas Arne goes to see Handel’s opera “Athalia” with Festing. His first composition, a setting of Addison’s “Rosamond”, is performed ten times at the theatre at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. This is soon followed by his comic opera “Tom Thumb”.

1736: He marries Cecilia Young, a young singer and daughter of the organist of All Hallows Church, Barking.

1738: The first of his three successful masques “Comus” is performed at Drury Lane Theatre.

1740: “The Judgment of Paris” is first performed in front of the Prince of Wales at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire to celebrate the birthday of his daughter Princess Augusta. Arne also writes “The Masque of Althred” for this fete which includes the very famous piece “Rule Britannia”. At the end of the year he composes music for the first of his Shakespeare plays “As You Like it”.

1741: He composes music for “Twelfth Night”.

1742: Arne composes music for “The Merchant of Venice”. He visits Dublin to arrange a benefit concert for Mrs Arne.

1744: He performs the oratorio “The Death of Abel” in Dublin.

1745: His setting of “God Save the King” is played at Drury Lane Theatre every night. His piece “Colin and Phoebe” is to become immensely popular in the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall for the next 20 years.

1746: Arne composes music for “The Tempest”.

1747: He composes music for “Love’s Labour’s Lost”.

1750: His sister, now Mrs Cibber, gets into an argument with David Garrick over her salary and moves on to Covent Garden where she is quickly followed by Arne himself.

1755: He separates from his wife who he claimed had mad passions and leaves for London whilst leaving Cecilia in Dublin. He signs a contract to allow his wife £40 per year. Later in the year he publishes Eight Sets of Lessons for the Harpsichord, Seven Sonatas for Two Violins and a collection of songs.

1759: Arne is awarded the degree of Doctor in Music at Oxford University.

1761: He performs his oratorio “Judith” at Drury Lane Theatre.

Theatre Royal
The present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened in 1812.
(copyright Anthony Blagg)

1762: His great success comes with his performance of his opera “Artaxerxes the Great” at Covent Garden.

1764: More success comes with the masque “The Arcadian Nuptials” written to celebrate the marriage of Princess Augusta.

1766: Death of his sister Mrs Cibber.

1767: Arne’s Four Symphonies are published in London by John Johnston. These show the influence of J.C. Bach who had visited London and also of Michael Haydn.

1770: His lack of recent theatre work has an effect on his income and his wife threatens legal action after he falls behind with his payments to her.

1771: The masque “The Fairy Queen” helps provide him with a revival in fortunes.

1775: First performance of “Caractacus”.

1778: After a separation of over 20 years he gets back together with his wife Cecilia but is to die soon after.

When and Where Did he Die?

5th March 1778, London, England. The cause of his death is unknown.

Age at Death:


Musical Works:

1733: “Rosamond”.
1733: “Tom Thumb”.
1740: “Alfred” (A masque for the Prince of Wales which includes the song Rule Britannia).
1761: “Judith”. (Had the first appearance of women singers in the chorus).
1762: “Artaxerxes”.


To Cecilia Young, a young singer and daughter of the organist of All Hallows Church, Barking, in 1736.

Site of Grave:

St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London, England.

Covent Garden Church
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.