Born in Northampton on 21 October 1921, the popular and much-decorated English composer Malcolm Arnold studied trumpet from the age of twelve and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music when he was sixteen. Ernest Hall taught him trumpet, and Gordon Jacob composition.
Beginning his professional career in 1941 as second trumpet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Arnold was promoted to principal trumpet in 1946 after military service. In the same year his Phantasy for String Quartet - Vita Abundans [listen] won the Cobbett Prize, and within ten years he turned all his energy to composition. His relationship with the LPO continued, with the orchestra performing much of his flamboyant and often raucous music [listen - 'The Pre-Goodman Rag' (Clarinet Concerto)].
But there was an especially English sadness to Arnold's music too [listen - Symphony No 5, slow movement], which, light on the surface [listen - Little Suite for Brass Band], plummeted to strange and rare emotional depths, and earned him the title of 'Britain's most misunderstood composer' (Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris, Thames, 2004).
One of his 132 film scores, Bridge on the River Kwai, won him, in 1958, the first ever Oscar awarded to a British composer. A friend of Walton and Shostakovich, Arnold was also associated, along with colleagues John Amis, Lawrence Leonard and Gerard Hoffnung, with the notorious Hoffnung music festivals, for which he wrote A Grand Grand Overture for vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, rifles and orchestra.
Arnold died on 23 September 2006, aged 84, following an illness which had lasted more than twenty years. Although both the composer's pen - he wrote his music straight into full score - and his baton had been silent for some years before his death, much of his music had been played, recorded and become popular [listen - Symphony No 5, first movement]. Some of his best scores, such as the Double Violin Concerto, still remained comparatively unknown, however.
British conductor George Vass described Arnold's death as 'the end of an era in English music. What he actually did, he did brilliantly' [listen - String Quartet No 2, Finale].
A selection of M&V articles about Malcolm Arnold
CD Spotlight. Spectacular Virtuosity - Michala Petri plays English recorder concertos, enjoyed by Gerald Fenech. '... nimble fingering and miraculous breath control ...'
Ensemble. Thoroughly Enjoyable - Mike Wheeler listens to the Richard Roddis Singers on tour
CD Spotlight. Farrago of Fun - The Hoffnung Music Festival Concert, recommended by Howard Smith. '... though these show their age, the sound remains adequate.'
Ensemble. A Riotous Production - Mark Anthony Turnage's 'Anna Nicole', reviewed by Robert Hugill
CD Spotlight. Tough Assignment - Michelle Stebleton plays music for solo horn, and Paul Sarcich is impressed. '... both musical and technical satisfaction ...'
Ensemble. Discoveries Ahead - Malcolm Miller samples 'The World of Jewish Music' in London
A Stressful Collaboration - Gerard Schurmann describes his involvement with the music score for 'Lawrence of Arabia'
CD Spotlight. Pride of Place - Piano music by Frank Bridge, praised by Howard Smith. 'A standing ovation for Mark Bebbington ...'
Ensemble. Lively Playing - A concert by Zephyr, appreciated by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Emotional Extremes - Malcolm Arnold string quartets [listen], reviewed by Ron Bierman. 'I recommend savoring the Maggini's outstanding advocacy ...'
CD Spotlight. Across the Meadow - British light music, reviewed by George Balcombe. '... a wasteland of clone music.'
Ensemble. Elegance and Agility - Bach, Arnold and Haydn from Sinfonia Viva in Derby, enjoyed by Mike Wheeler
Editorial musings with Basil Ramsey - Mere ramblings
Record box - Basil Ramsey with Malcolm Arnold's symphonies