Samuel Arnold was a major figure in the musical life
of eighteenth-century London. When, in 1794 one J. Doane
published A Musical Directory, he dedicated it to “Samuel
Arnold, Mus. D. … In Testimony of his eminent Abilities,
and laudable Exertions for the Promotion and Encouragement
of the Science and Practice of Music”. Arnold’s story is
fascinating and touches the cultural life of his time at
many points. After receiving his early musical education
at the Chapel Royal, he became harpsichordist and house composer
at Covent Garden in 1764, where he produced a number of very
successful operas (often pasticcios), not least The Maid
of the Mill (1765), which was frequently played and revived,
at home and abroad. He also pursued a career as an organist.
He wrote the first (The Cure of Saul, 1767) of a substantial
series of oratorios – some of which were pasticcios, some
of which were entirely made up his own music.
In 1769 he
was able to purchase the lease of Marylebone Pleasure Gardens
which, throughout the summer, presented lavish musical entertainments.
Arnold’s years in charge involved him in the presentation
of many short comic-operas, and a range of orchestral music.
The entertainments were spectacular. One later account (Public
Characters of 1799-1800) tells us that “Doctor Arnold,
at very great expense, engaged … that ingenious artist Signor
Torré, whose fire-works excited the admiration of all who
witnessed their beauty and magnificence; and whose representation
of the Cave of Vulcan was allowed by all connoisseurs in
the art to be the most striking and stupendous performance
ever exhibited in this country”. Arnold’s days at Marylebone
Gardens came to an end in 1774, when embezzlement by an employee
caused him huge financial losses.
He turned back to the theatre. In 1777 he was made musical
director of the Little Theatre in Haymarket; for the rest
of his life he was a prolific composer of a great variety
of music for the theatre – operas, incidental music, pantomimes
and much else. In 1783 he also became organist to the Chapel
Royal; in 1789 he became conductor of the Academy of Ancient
Music and in 1783 he was appointed organist of Westminster
Abbey. A man of immense energy (and fond of a drink), he
was also very active as an editor, revising and extending
Boyce’s Cathedral Music and undertaking an edition
of the entire works of Handel, on which he began work at
the end of the 1780s; forty volumes were published before
his death. Only an accident – a fall from the steps in his
library in 1798 – did much to slow Arnold down.
of his music does not, sadly, survive. What does survive
has been relatively little explored by modern performers.
It is a great pleasure then, to welcome this collection from
Naxos, containing, we are told, all of Arnold’s surviving
orchestral scores (as well as operas and oratorios, he also
wrote songs and keyboard music).
The Overtures were written for performance in Marylebone
Gardens. Each is in three movements, with a simple pattern
of fast-slow-fast. There is much to enjoy, not least in the
final movements, which are well calculated for outdoor performance,
with their effective use of horns and the often striking
use of imitation amidst a general air of sociable vivacity.
The slow movements are thoroughly galant, their polite
lyricism expressed in some attractive themes.
The music for Macbeth was
written for the Little Theatre and its precise relationship
to the play is well explained in the excellent booklet notes
by Robert Hoskins, one of the leading scholars in the field.
The opening March is a fine piece, played with dignity and
energy by Mallon and his orchestra; some of the other movements
are arrangements of Scottish airs and all of them breathe
the air of the London stage in the late eighteenth century.
Anyone with an interest in theatre music, or in the reflection
of Shakespeare in music will, I think, be delighted to hear
these performances. John Gay’s Polly, with tunes harmonised
by Pepusch and designed as a sequel to The Beggar’s Opera,
was banned by Walpole’s government when first written in
1728. It only reached the stage in June 1777 at the Little
Theatre. Arnold wrote an Overture and some incidental dances
for the production. Here we hear the Overture, made up of
thirteen airs from The Beggar’s Opera very
attractively arranged and coloured. The result is an absolute
delight, witty and purposeful, amounting almost to a critical
essay on the relationship between The Beggar’s Opera and
its sequel, now performed for the first time. Arnold’s splendid
Overture deserves to be heard far more often.
Throughout, Mallon and the Toronto Camerata, a modern
instrument ensemble, play with commitment and a pleasant
feel for the appropriate idioms.
This is a CD which should be snapped up by anyone interested
in the music – or larger cultural life – of eighteenth-century
London. Much of it would surely delight listeners without
any such specialist interest. Strongly recommended.
by John France