SymphonyNo.1, Op. 22
SymphonyNo.2, Op. 40
Malcolm Arnold was bornin 1921 in Northampton, where his father was awell-to-do shoe manufacturer. There was music in the family, both from hisfather and from his mother, a descendant of a former Master of the ChapelRoyal. Instead of the expected period at a public school, he was educatedprivately at home, particularly by his aunts, and subsequently with musiclessons from the organist of St Matthew's Church in Northampton. As a twelve-year-oldhe found a new interest in the trumpet and in jazz after hearing LouisArmstrong, and three years later he was able to study the instrument in London under Ernest Hall,subsequently winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where hiscomposition teacher was Gordon Jacob. Two years later he left the College tojoin the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet. Meanwhile he had wona composition prize for a one-movement string quartet. It was as an orchestralplay that he was able to explore the wider orchestral repertoire, in particularthe symphonies of Mahler.
Early in the 1939-45 warArnold was a conscientiousobjector, in common with other leading musicians. He was allowed to continuehis work as an orchestral player, and was appointed first trumpet. In 1943,however, he volunteered for military service, but was discharged, aftershooting himself in the foot, playing thereafter second trumpet to his teacherErnest Hall in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and then rejoining the LondonPhilharmonic, where he was principal trumpet until 1948. During these years hehad continued work as a composer, with a series of works that included thepopular overture Beckus the Dandipratt, a clarinet concerto and asymphony for strings, as well as a variety of chamber music, that included the ThreeShanfies for wind quintet.
From 1948 Malcolm Arnoldhas earned his living as a composer. In the 1960s he settled in Cornwall, where he becameclosely involved with musical activities in the county. In 1972 he moved to Dublin, his home for the nextfive years, and then, in 1977, to Norfolk. Over the years his work has been much in demandfor film scores, of which he has written some eighty , including music for theDavid Lean film The Bridge on the Rjver Kwaj, for which he won an Oscar,The Inn of the sixth Happiness and David Lean's The Sound Barrjer. Thereare concertos for flute, guitar, harmonica, French horn, oboe, organ, pianoduet and two pianos, the last for three hands for the use of Cyril Smith andPhyllis Sellick, recorder, trumpet, viola and two violins, nine numberedsymphonies, sinfoniettas, concert overtures and other orchestral works. Hischamber music is equally varied and there is a set of works for solo windinstrument, meeting the demands of competitive set- pieces.
In style Malcolm Arnoldhas a command of popular idiom and this may have suggested to some an unfavourableidentification with the world of light music. He is, in fact, a composer ofconsiderable stature, technically assured, fluent and prolific, providing musicthat gives pleasure, but also music that may have a more sombre side, work thatmay be lyrical and tuneful, or even astringent and harsh in its revelations.
Donald Mitchell has compared Arnold, illuminatingly, with Dickens, both of them greatentertainers but both well aware of the human predicament, unsettlinglyrevealed, as he points out, in the remarkable series of symphonies.
Malcolm Arnold's symphonyNo.1, Opus 22, was written in 1949 and was first performed by theHall Orchestra under the composer at the Cheltenham Festival in 1951. The firstmovement draws much of its substance from the opening unison, particularly fromthe interval of a rising second and the figure of a third that occur in thefirst phrase. There is a more lyrical secondary theme introduced by mutedviolins and this material is developed in a mood that is often mysterious andeven ominous. The thematic material re-appears in recapitulation, this thirdsection of the movement opening with woodwind and harp, moves forward to a muchmore forceful statement of the second subject and ends with the brusque returnof the opening theme. The slow movement, Andantino, provides a necessarycontrast in its gentle and meditative lyricism, although there areinterruptions from the brass and percussion, momentarily shattering the calm.
Thematically there are here unifying references to the opening phrase of thesymphony, notably the rising second and the interval of a minor third. It isfollowed, in abrupt dynamic contrast, by a final Vivace confuoco, whichopens with a fugue, its subject announced by the violins, followed by woodwind,horns and basses. The fugue is not worked out in the conventional manner, withtwo further returns to the substance of a fugal exposition, when the subjectand answers return, and there is additional thematic material, with the Mahleriantransformation of the subject itself into a popular march, played by thepiccolos. This lapse from the high seriousness of a symphony is repaired by thesolemnity of the final metamorphosis of the theme, over a bass figure providedby double basses, timpani and tuba.
Symphony No.2, Opus 40, was completed early in1953 in response to a commission from the Bournemouth Winter Gardens Society tocelebrate the diamond jubilee of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, now theBournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It was first performed there in May 1953 underthe conductor Charles Groves, a continuing champion of Arnold's music, who shared thededication of the work. The opening Allegretto, after the brief initialmotif, which will re-appear, gives the first theme to the clarinet, to berepeated by muted first vio1insand a third statement of the subject. The themeforms much of the substance of the tripartite movement, with a second subjectintroduced by clarinets and flutes in thirds. The first theme provides thesubstance of the central development and the recapitulation starts with theopening theme, loudly proclaimed. The scherzo that follows is in ternary form,with fragmentary thematic material. There is a marked theme distinguished bythe descending interval of a seventh and in the central section room for thebrusque intrusion of percussion and brass. The slow movement allows theappearance of a melancholy bassoon theme, accompanied by the sustained notes ofthe violins. The theme is taken up by the violas and then by the oboe, leadingto a second theme of brighter connotation. This material returns final1y inreverse order, leaving the final feeling of melancholy, as the French hornrestates the melody of the opening. The symphony ends with a final Allegrocon brio, a brief introduction, in abrupt contrast with what has gone before,leading to a dance-like melody for woodwind. A second theme appears in thehorns, followed by trumpets and trombones in a fugal texture. The material ofthe first section returns and there is a passage for piccolo over artificialstring harmonics and fragmentary appearances of xylophone and flute. The starksecondary theme returns, in substance, before the last appearance of the danceand a majestic coda.