Alfred (Arne opera)

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For the opera by Antonín Dvořák, see Alfred (Dvořák opera).

Alfred is a sung stage work about Alfred the Great with music by Thomas Arne and a libretto by David Mallet and James Thomson. The work was initially devised as a masque in 1740 and was first performed at Cliveden, country home of Frederick, Prince of Wales, on 1 August 1740, to commemorate the accession of George I and the birthday of the Princess Augusta.[1] Arne later revised the work turning it into an all-sung oratorio in 1745 and then an opera in 1753. It is best known for its finale "Rule, Britannia!".


In its original form, Alfred contained only seven musical numbers, including the famous patriotic song "Rule, Britannia!" With successive additions, Arne significantly expanded the music, and the final version was an all-sung opera in three acts. Today, the third and final version of the work is the one that is most often performed.

Frederick, a German prince who had grown up in Hanover, arrived in Britain as an adult and was on very bad terms with his father. He made considerable efforts to ingratiate himself and build a following among his subjects-to-be (although he never ultimately reigned, as he died before his father in 1751). A masque linking the prince with both the ancient hero-king Alfred the Great's victories over the Vikings, together with the contemporary issue of building British sea-power, went well with his political plans and aspirations.

Thomson was a Scottish poet and playwright who spent most of his adult life in England and hoped to make his fortune at Court. He had an interest in helping foster a British identity, including and transcending the older English and Scottish identities.


Roles Voice type Premiere cast, 1 August 1740,[2]
Conductor: Thomas Arne )
Alfred tenor Thomas Lowe
Emma/Venus soprano Kitty Clive
Spirit/Pallas/Paris mezzo-soprano Susannah Maria Cibber
Bard/Mercury bass


A somewhat degraded copy of a phonograph cylinder recorded by Albert Farrington in 1914 for Edison Records

Problems playing this file? See media help.
  • Thomas Arne's AlfredOrchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Nicholas Kreamer (conductor), 1997. BBC Music Vol.V No. 10
  • Thomas Arne: Alfred – Philarmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, Nicholas McGegan (conductor), 1999. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi


  1. ^ Scholes p. 897.
  2. ^ Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Alfred, 1 August 1740". Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).


External links[edit]

  • Review of the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording of Alfred in Goldberg Magazine.