ClassicsOnline Home » ARNOLD, M.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
"Andrew Penny and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland are particularly good at making sense of Arnold's quixotic changes of mood"
Malcolm Arnold (b.1921)
Symphony No.1, Op. 22
Symphony No.2, Op. 40
Malcolm Arnold was born in 1921 in Northampton, where his father was a well-to-do shoe manufacturer. There was music in the family, both from his father and from his mother, a descendant of a former Master of the Chapel Royal. Instead of the expected period at a public school, he was educated privately at home, particularly by his aunts, and subsequently with music lessons from the organist of St Matthew's Church in Northampton. As a twelve-year-old he found a new interest in the trumpet and in jazz after hearing Louis Armstrong, 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 his composition teacher was Gordon Jacob. Two years later he left the College to join the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet. Meanwhile he had won a composition prize for a one-movement string quartet. It was as an orchestral play that he was able to explore the wider orchestral repertoire, in particular the symphonies of Mahler.
Early in the 1939-45 war Arnold was a conscientious objector, in common with other leading musicians. He was allowed to continue his work as an orchestral player, and was appointed first trumpet. In 1943, however, he volunteered for military service, but was discharged, after shooting himself in the foot, playing thereafter second trumpet to his teacher Ernest Hall in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and then rejoining the London Philharmonic, where he was principal trumpet until 1948. During these years he had continued work as a composer, with a series of works that included the popular overture Beckus the Dandipratt, a clarinet concerto and a symphony for strings, as well as a variety of chamber music, that included the Three Shanfies for wind quintet.
From 1948 Malcolm Arnold has earned his living as a composer. In the 1960s he settled in Cornwall, where he became closely involved with musical activities in the county. In 1972 he moved to Dublin, his home for the next five years, and then, in 1977, to Norfolk. Over the years his work has been much in demand for film scores, of which he has written some eighty , including music for the David 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. There are concertos for flute, guitar, harmonica, French horn, oboe, organ, piano duet and two pianos, the last for three hands for the use of Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick, recorder, trumpet, viola and two violins, nine numbered symphonies, sinfoniettas, concert overtures and other orchestral works. His chamber music is equally varied and there is a set of works for solo wind instrument, meeting the demands of competitive set- pieces.
In style Malcolm Arnold has a command of popular idiom and this may have suggested to some an unfavourable identification with the world of light music. He is, in fact, a composer of considerable stature, technically assured, fluent and prolific, providing music that gives pleasure, but also music that may have a more sombre side, work that may be lyrical and tuneful, or even astringent and harsh in its revelations. Donald Mitchell has compared Arnold, illuminatingly, with Dickens, both of them great entertainers but both well aware of the human predicament, unsettlingly revealed, as he points out, in the remarkable series of symphonies.
Malcolm Arnold's symphony No.1, Opus 22, was written in 1949 and was first performed by the Hall Orchestra under the composer at the Cheltenham Festival in 1951. The first movement draws much of its substance from the opening unison, particularly from the interval of a rising second and the figure of a third that occur in the first phrase. There is a more lyrical secondary theme introduced by muted violins and this material is developed in a mood that is often mysterious and even ominous. The thematic material re-appears in recapitulation, this third section of the movement opening with woodwind and harp, moves forward to a much more forceful statement of the second subject and ends with the brusque return of the opening theme. The slow movement, Andantino, provides a necessary contrast in its gentle and meditative lyricism, although there are interruptions from the brass and percussion, momentarily shattering the calm. Thematically there are here unifying references to the opening phrase of the symphony, notably the rising second and the interval of a minor third. It is followed, in abrupt dynamic contrast, by a final Vivace confuoco, which opens 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, with two further returns to the substance of a fugal exposition, when the subject and answers return, and there is additional thematic material, with the Mahlerian transformation of the subject itself into a popular march, played by the piccolos. This lapse from the high seriousness of a symphony is repaired by the solemnity of the final metamorphosis of the theme, over a bass figure provided by double basses, timpani and tuba.
Symphony No.2, Opus 40, was completed early in 1953 in response to a commission from the Bournemouth Winter Gardens Society to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, now the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It was first performed there in May 1953 under the conductor Charles Groves, a continuing champion of Arnold's music, who shared the dedication of the work. The opening Allegretto, after the brief initial motif, which will re-appear, gives the first theme to the clarinet, to be repeated by muted first vio1insand a third statement of the subject. The theme forms much of the substance of the tripartite movement, with a second subject introduced by clarinets and flutes in thirds. The first theme provides the substance of the central development and the recapitulation starts with the opening theme, loudly proclaimed. The scherzo that follows is in ternary form, with fragmentary thematic material. There is a marked theme distinguished by the descending interval of a seventh and in the central section room for the brusque intrusion of percussion and brass. The slow movement allows the appearance of a melancholy bassoon theme, accompanied by the sustained notes of the violins. The theme is taken up by the violas and then by the oboe, leading to a second theme of brighter connotation. This material returns final1y in reverse order, leaving the final feeling of melancholy, as the French horn restates the melody of the opening. The symphony ends with a final Allegro con 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 the horns, followed by trumpets and trombones in a fugal texture. The material of the first section returns and there is a passage for piccolo over artificial string harmonics and fragmentary appearances of xylophone and flute. The stark secondary theme returns, in substance, before the last appearance of the dance and a majestic coda.