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Arnold, Samuelfree

  • Eva Zöllner

Samuel Arnold (1740–1802)

by George Dance, 1795

Arnold, Samuel (1740–1802), composer, was born in London on 10 August 1740, the son of Thomas Arnold; he may have been the Samuel Arnull, son of Thomas and Mary Arnull, baptized at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 21 August that year. During his time as a choirboy in the Chapel Royal, Arnold received his first musical training under Bernard Gates and James Nares. In the autumn of 1764, succeeding Jonathan Battishill, he was engaged by John Beard as harpsichordist at Covent Garden. He also acted as house composer there, producing and compiling pasticcio operas and other music. One of his major successes during his Covent Garden appointment was The Maid of the Mill (1765), with a libretto by Isaac Bickerstaff, based on Samuel Richardson's Pamela. Arnold compiled the music for this pasticcio opera from works by about twenty composers, also adding some numbers of his own. Away from the theatres, Arnold pursued a career as an organist, and he is known to have held such an appointment at the Asylum for Female Orphans in 1767.

At about the same time, Arnold took a keen interest in oratorios, and in 1768 he ran his first Lenten oratorio season at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. He moved this series to Covent Garden Theatre in 1770, and continued the venture until 1777. For part of that time he shared the burden of management with Edward Toms (d. 1775), trumpeter-in-ordinary in the royal music, who also helped Arnold with the compilation of his pasticcio oratorios. One of their joint efforts, the pasticcio Omnipotence (1774), proved an astounding success, and was performed no fewer than eight times during its first season. Apart from oratorio pasticcios, Arnold composed no fewer than six new oratorios, The Cure of Saul (1767), Abimelech (1768), The Resurrection (1770), and The Prodigal Son (1773), followed after a period of nearly thirty years by Elisha, or, The Woman of Shunem (1801) and The Hymn of Adam and Eve (1802).

Arnold's manifold activities extended not only towards the theatres but also to London's pleasure gardens, which were open during the summer months. In 1769 he took over the lease of Marylebone Gardens. Like Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh, Marylebone offered ambitious and substantial musical entertainments alongside refreshments and all manner of spectacles, including fireworks. Daily concerts lasted from six to ten, providing summer employment for the singers and musicians engaged at the capital's theatres during the winter. In his capacity as proprietor of Marylebone Gardens, Arnold specialized in arranging and composing short burlettas. These miniature all-sung comic operas were ideal for the purposes of the gardens, as acting space was limited and spoken dialogue was not permitted outside the licensed playhouses. Among the popular pieces performed during Arnold's time at Marylebone Gardens were Pergolesi's La serva padrona, for which he wrote additional music in 1770, and a new work entirely from Arnold's pen, The Magnet, first performed in 1771.

In 1771 Arnold married Mary Ann Napier, the daughter of Dr Archibald Napier. The couple had four children, the eldest of whom, Samuel James Arnold (1774–1852), later became known as a dramatist and manager of several London theatres. As far as the other children are concerned, only the dates of birth and death of the daughter Caroline Mary (1778–1795) are known, but there was also an elder daughter, whose name remains unknown, as well as a younger daughter, Marianne.

The year 1774 saw the first performance of Arnold's last burletta for Marylebone, Don Quixote, as he had to give up the lease following the criminal activities of one of his employees and the resultant loss of a considerable sum of money. A severe financial blow, this set-back did not, however, harm his career as a musician. Indeed, one year earlier, on the strength of his best-known oratorio, The Prodigal Son, performed at the installation ceremony for Lord North as chancellor of the University of Oxford, Arnold had been offered the honorary degree of doctor of music. He declined this honour, however, and preferred to obtain it in the accustomed way. As the obligatory exercise he proffered the ode The Power of Music, set to a text by John Hughes, and on 5 July 1773 he was duly awarded his doctorate.

After having supplied some music for productions at Covent Garden in the intermediate years, in 1777 Arnold was engaged by George Colman the elder as composer and music director of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket. Arnold's connection with this theatre, which from 1789 was run by the younger George Colman, proved to be exceptionally long-lived; he worked there for a quarter of a century up to his death in 1802. During this time he provided the Colmans with almost 100 operas, musical afterpieces, and pantomimes. For the most part these were arrangements and compilations of works by other composers, with some pieces by Arnold himself thrown in. However, as the Little Theatre was open only during the summer months, this still left some room for other activities and by the 1780s Arnold was already casting round for new opportunities.

In 1783 Arnold succeeded his former teacher James Nares as organist and composer to the Chapel Royal. He was a governor of the Royal Society of Musicians, and in 1784 he also joined its concert committee, which was responsible for the organization of the massive Handel commemoration festivities in Westminster Abbey.

In 1786 Arnold once again resumed his interest in oratorio management. Following the death of his long-term oratorio co-manager John Stanley (1712–1786), the elder Thomas Linley was left to run the Drury Lane oratorios on his own and Arnold immediately stepped into the breach, continuing with Linley until 1793. Not surprisingly, the oratorio programmes were dominated by Handel's works and by large-scale selections from them, modelled on the programmes of the Handel commemoration festivities of the 1780s and 1790s. Arnold's oratorio activities may well have inspired him to embark on yet another project, a complete edition of Handel's works, which he first advertised in 1786. Even though this gargantuan project never reached fruition, it none the less secured Arnold lasting fame. Between 1787 and 1797 180 numbers of this edition were published in forty volumes. Another major music edition of his was a four-volume revision and continuation of William Boyce's Cathedral Music, which he published in 1790.

In the late 1780s and early 1790s Arnold, by now one of the leading figures in London's musical life, was appointed in breathtakingly quick succession to several of the most prestigious posts available: in 1789 he became official conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music, a position which he held until 1794, and he was appointed director of the Anacreontic Society in 1791. In 1793 he succeeded Benjamin Cooke as organist of Westminster Abbey. From 1793 he additionally directed the annual concerts for the benefit of female orphans and children of distressed freemasons. He also gave occasional oratorio performances, and applied for, and was granted, a licence for two full-length oratorio series at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket in 1801 and 1802. Arnold's astonishing industry is clear from the fact that throughout this period he also attended various musical clubs and charities and fulfilled his duties as a theatre composer, providing, as before, small-scale operas and other entertainments for the Little Theatre.

In the autumn of 1798 Arnold fell off the steps in his library, severing a tendon in his leg and sustaining internal injuries that were to lead to his death four years later. Arnold died on 22 October 1802 at his home, 22 Duke Street, Westminster, and was buried in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey on 29 October.


  • R. H. B. Hoskins, ‘Dr Samuel Arnold (1740–1802), an historical assessment’, 2 vols., PhD diss., University of Auckland, New Zealand, 1982
  • R. H. B. Hoskins, The theater music of Samuel Arnold: a thematic index, Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, 79 (1998)
  • E. Zöllner, ‘English oratorio after Handel, 1760–1800’, PhD diss., University of Hamburg, 1998
  • E. Zöllner, ‘Israel in Babylon, or, The triumph of truth?, A late eighteenth-century pasticcio oratorio’, The Consort, 51/2 (autumn 1995), 103–17


  • BL, MSS
  • Bodl. Oxf., MSS
  • L. Cong., MSS
  • NL Scot., MSS relating to musical type invented for edition of Handel's works
  • Royal College of Music, MSS
  • University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, letters to Marianne Ayrton


  • oils, 1780, Royal College of Music, London
  • stipple, pubd 1790 (after J. Russell), BM, NPG
  • G. Dance, pencil drawing, 1795, NPG [see illus.]
  • T. Hardy, stipple, pubd 1797, BM
  • W. Ridley, stipple, 1803 (after S. J. Arnold), BM; repro. in Monthly Mirror (1803)
  • W. Daniell, etching, pubd 1812 (after G. Dance), BM

Wealth at Death

goods and chattels est. at ‘less than £2000’: Highfill, Burnim & Langhans, BDA

P. H. Highfill, K. A. Burnim, & E. A. Langhans, , 16 vols. (1973–93)