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Samuel ARNOLD (1740-1802)
Overture in B flat major, Op.8 No.1 (1771) [8:39]
Overture in D major, Op.8 No.2 (1771) [6:37]
Overture in F major, Op.8 No.3 (1771) [9:44]
Overture in D major, Op.8 No.4 (1771) [7:25]
Overture in G major, Op.8 No.5 (1771) [9:46]
Overture in D major, Op.8 No.6 (1771) [10:41]
Incidental Music to Macbeth (1778) [18:15]
Overture: Polly (1777) [5:20]
Toronto Camerata/Kevin Mallon
rec. 5-8 January 2004, Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto. DDD
NAXOS 8.557484 [76:27]

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.
Much 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.

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by John France 


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