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8.557484 - ARNOLD, S.: 6 Overtures, Op. 8 / Macbeth (Incidental Music)
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Samuel Arnold (1740–1802)
Six Overtures, Op. 8 • Incidental Music to Macbeth

Samuel Arnold was born in London, the son of Thomas Arnold and probably Princess Amelia, Handel’s pupil. He studied under Bernard Gates, a student of John Blow, at the Chapel Royal and from the mid 1760s he was an active composer for the summer gardens concerts. Arnold began his theatrical activities in 1764 and within a decade established his reputation with works such as The Maid of the Mill (1765), the first modern English opera with action-finales, and The Prodigal Son, an oratorio performed at the Oxford University encaenia in 1773.

At the age of 29, Arnold, in partnership with the violinist Thomas Pinto, took up the proprietorship of Marylebone Gardens but despite good quality music performed there, the owners faced a constant struggle against financial adversity and strenuous efforts were necessary to attract the public. Burlettas (Italian comic operas in translation) were a particular speciality, being staged in a separate small theatre, and so were Torre’s fireworks displays. François Hippolyte Barthelemon, one of London’s foremost virtuosi (admired by Fanny Burney’s Evelina) was leader of a small but accomplished orchestra. Arnold retired from Marylebone in financial ruin when he lost around £10,000 as a result of embezzlement.

Arnold resumed his professional association with the patent theatres when, in 1777, he was engaged by George Colman the elder as composer and music director of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. He composed over sixty stage works over the next twenty years, some with impressive overtures, such as those for The Castle of Andalusia (1782) and Turk and No Turk (1785). From the mid 1780s Arnold was in a position to combine his summer directorship of the Little Theatre with several other posts in London, such as organist and composer to the Chapel Royal (from 1783) and organist to Westminster Abbey (from 1793). In 1789 he became conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music and in 1790 founded the Graduates Meeting, a society of academic musicians that included Haydn among its associates. From 1786 Arnold was dedicated to editing a complete Handel edition, 180 parts of which were completed. He died in 1802 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Six Overtures, published in orchestral parts by John Welcker in about 1771, were composed by Arnold for the Marylebone Gardens. His brand of symphonic writing, a spirited homophonic idiom with fast tempos, pleasing tunefulness, striking tutti style and colourful contrasts, had resonances with gardens’ audiences; the style is recognisably English even if the idioms are ultimately derived from Mannheim or the symphonies of J. C. Bach. First movement expositions begin fierily, taking a picaresque trajectory as they move through a series of sharply-etched motivic themes linked by active passage-work as in, for example, Overture No. 4, the central section of which settles on the relative minor and a subtle re-working of the third idea before migrating obliquely to the first and a well-prepared return to D major. The opening Allegro of Overture No. 2 is a particularly fine example of Arnold’s quirky structural thinking: the central section starts with the syncopated opening theme followed by modulatory passage-work which issues into a new idea to close, while other expectations are teased in the recapitulation when new motives playfully replace old. Slow movements are scored for strings alone, except in the case of Overture No. 2 which exploits colourful instrumental timbres. All are within the galant lingua franca and chiefly they are in duple Andante metre, sometimes sophisticated in phrasing and texture, but always limited in range and rhythmic variety, with Overture No. 4 (in triple metre) elegantly suave. Arnold interestingly favours the subdominant key for central movements, a practice he shares with Mozart, among others. Catchy finale-tunes produce a characteristic English jollity, as, for example, in the buoyant “hunting” theme of Overture No. 5 and the John Bull type melodies of Overture No. 6, while episodes offer brief contrasts with perhaps a breathless hint of minor mode.

The Incidental Music to Macbeth is one of a halfdozen Shakespeare pieces by Arnold. The focus of Arnold’s music for the play is Scottishness, with five of the eight pieces based on Scottish folk-song and two newly composed in quasi-Scots style. All the music is intended to engender strong associative qualities with Scottish feudal society.

George Colman the elder produced Macbeth at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket on 7th September 1778. The performance was advertised to include “the original music composed by Matthew Locke” but Arnold is not cited. The “original” music referred to was in fact by Richard Leveridge, who composed it for a new Drury Lane performance in 1702, but even Boyce’s edition of 1770 misattributes the score to Locke. Leveridge’s music is exclusively for the witches and this is the reason for Arnold’s elimination of any reference to the supernatural. The Haymarket Macbeth was given a lukewarm reception by the critics. The Morning Post of 8th September 1778 told how Digges as Macbeth had “botched his lines and ranted at climaxes”, Mars Massey as Lady Macbeth drawled in a “provincial dialect” and Aickin as Macduff overly wept at Ross’s bad news. The Morning Chronicle of the same day considered the costumes too “gaudy” for the tragic action and suggested that the witches paint face wrinkles to look more haggish; the “witches shewing Macbeth the figures of the future King through a transparent scene” was liked and also “the scene of witches, and all the musical parts, were well given”.

Arnold’s Macbeth music serves to give a view of the action, expressing what has happened and to show it in perspective. The opening military march presents Macbeth as a soldier, wielding, when we first hear of him “his brandish’d steel / Which smok’d with bloody execution” (I.i.17-18). On the other hand, the banquet minuet in imitation-Scots style, signals the feast as a symbol of order, against which Macbeth appears appalled and disorientated by the appearance of Banquo’s ghost (III.iv). Arnold is sensitive to the meaning of source texts in the Scots songs he employs. The Birks of Invermay is a spring-song, inviting comparison with the arrival of Duncan and Banquo at Inverness. when they construe Macbeth’s moral character in terms of beneficent and procreative nature, commenting on “the halcyon air” and nesting birds. The Yellow-Hair’d Laddie (for the end of Act I) is a sweetand- sour portrait of women, which is here associated with the presence of Lady Macbeth. The Braes of Ballenden (for the end of Act II) is a nocturnal, now marking the murder of Duncan. Lochaber (for the end of Act III), a song of exile, follows the news of Macduff and Duncan in England, working for restoration. Having the innocent Macduff family slaughtered is the low point in Macbeth’s decline, indicating a complete break with the normal bonds of humanity. The bereaved Macduff, realising the full import of Ross’s bitter news, is imagined in The Earl of Douglas’s Lament (otherwise known as Lady Randolph’s Complaint), a chivalrous song of piety and farewell. At the end of the play Macbeth is conquered by the English forces and Arnold, in an arrangement of Purcell’s quasi-nationalistic ‘Briton’s strike home’ from Bonduca (1695), employs full orchestra in the way he did for the soldierly march at the beginning.

Polly (1728), sequel to The Beggar’s Opera, with tunes harmonized by Johann Christoph Pepusch to a libretto by John Gay, was banned by Walpole’s government but Gay’s Tory friends ensured that the printed text sold well; the overture, though mentioned in the libretto, is missing, and was probably never written. Almost fifty years later, on 19th June 1777, the opera was staged at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. The libretto was a cut version by George Colman the elder, with music revised, rescored and partly new-composed by Samuel Arnold.

The long-awaited Haymarket performance of Polly, possibly stimulated by a new Drury Lane production (29th January 1777) of The Beggar’s Opera re-scored by Thomas Linley, was only a fair success. The problem was partly that Hester Boyd in the title-rôle sang “horribly out of tune” but more, that Polly was a very different kind of work: The Beggar’s Opera is a colourful political satire, mainly at the expense of Sir Robert Walpole, whereas Polly explores the idea of nature as culture. Set in the West Indies, the heroine Polly rejects the values of her materialistic society to live apart from other colonists, sharing the life of the wilderness with her Indian husband, Cawwawkee. Arnold captures the shift in perspective between The Beggar’s Opera and its sequel by looking backwards in the overture and forwards in subsequent instrumental dances. By composing a medley overture of themes culled from The Beggar’s Opera, Arnold cunningly recovers the heroine’s past while the crisis of her present is represented in a central suite-like dance of pirates (during which Cawwawkee is captured); a group of Indian dances at the end shows in the resolution a definite step towards reconciliation when doublestopping, made to sound exotic, celebrates the quest of spiritual renewal in a savage wilderness. Arnold acknowledges Polly as protagonist in music by investing her new-composed songs with a special kind of lyricism. In his borrowings Arnold creates additional openings for ironic cross-reference - for example, Polly’s lament for the pirate Morano (Macheath) is set to Arne’s pungent music for Abel’s death in the oratorio The Death of Abel (1744). The first-night critics applauded Arnold’s achievement, especially the overture. The Morning Chronicle of 20th June 1777 reported “we do not remember any Overture being more enjoyed” and The Morning Post of the same day observed that the medley “airs were arranged and blended with great judgement” adding “though we cannot but condemn the Doctor’s policy in the playing of the finest tunes out of the Beggar’s Opera, lest a comparison might the more easily be drawn to the disadvantage of the airs that succeeded in the new opera”.

The thirteen tunes from The Beggar’s Opera which make up the overture to Polly were selected and grouped by Arnold with particular care. The first six make up a kind of Allegro exposition, framed by drinking songs (the first, second and sixth); the first of two inner “quarrel” songs sharpens the tonality into the dominant and Macheath’s ‘dilemma’ song, with its raised pulserate, leads into an accelerated close. The central sections are reserved for Polly with orchestral tutti now reduced to strings for her protest song (the seventh) and strings with oboes for the ruminative ‘love’ music (the eighth) placed in the tonic minor. Allegro and 6/8 serve a bristling ‘resolution’ of five tunes bound by the theme of ‘womankind’ (wenching, jealousy, fading beauty); not even a tonic minor episode checks the teasing comic tone. Orchestrally, this closing section is like a rondo alternating tutti with string episodes; the rounding-off bars connect directly to the cackling quavers in the finale of Pepusch’s overture to The Beggar’s Opera. Although Arnold’s overture resembles a structured “logical improvisation” in three sections its inner fibre is subtly centred on Polly, who enshrines the main moral concerns of both parent opera and sequel.

Robert Hoskins


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