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Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton, England, the youngest of five children from a prosperous Northampton family of shoemakers. As a rebellious teenager, he was attracted to the creative freedom of jazz. After seeing Louis Armstrong play in Bournemouth, he took up the trumpet at the age of 12 and five years later won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music (RCM).
In 1941 he registered as a conscientious objector with a condition of joining the National Fire Service, but in the event he was allowed to continue in the LPO. In 1944, after his brother in the Royal Air Force had been killed, he volunteered for military service. When the army put him in a military band he shot himself in the foot to get back to civilian life. After a season as principal trumpet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra he returned to the London Philharmonic in 1946 where he remained until 1948 when he left to become a full-time composer.
Arnold began his career playing trumpet professionally, but by age 30 his life was devoted to composition. He was ranked with Benjamin Britten as one of the most sought-after composers in Britain. His natural melodic gift earned him a reputation as a composer of light music in works such as in some of his concert overtures and the sets of Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish and Cornish Dances. He was also a highly successful composer of film music, penning the scores to over a hundred features and documentaries, including titles such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Hobson's Choice and the St Trinian's series. His nine symphonies are often deeply personal and show a more serious side to his work, which has proved more controversial. Arnold also wrote a variety of concertos and chamber works, as well as music for the theatre including major ballets. His brass music is widely acclaimed.
Later years and death
By 1961, he had a reputation for being unpleasant, frequently drunk and highly promiscuous. He divorced his first wife in that year. His second wife was forced to take out a court order after they separated. After the divorce, he made two suicide attempts.
His later years saw a decline in both health and finances. In 1978 he was treated as an in-patient for several months in the acute psychiatric ward at the Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London, and in 1979 he entered St Andrew's Hospital in his home town of Northampton to be treated for depression and alcoholism.
He overcame both, despite being given only a year to live in the early 1980s. He lived for more than 20 more years, completing his Ninth and final symphony in 1986. By the time of Arnold's 70th birthday celebrations in 1991, his artistic reputation with the general public was recovering and he was even able to enjoy a triumphant appearance on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall to receive an ovation after a Proms performance of his Guitar Concerto.
Arnold died at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich, on 23 September 2006, after suffering from a chest infection. His last work, The Three Musketeers, was premiered at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford on the same day in a Northern Ballet production. The score included no new music by Arnold, but excerpts from various of his compositions were arranged by John Longstaff. The original score was compiled by Anthony Meredith.
Arnold was a relatively conservative composer of tonal works, but a prolific and popular one. He acknowledged Hector Berlioz as an influence, alongside Gustav Mahler, Béla Bartók and jazz. Several commentators have drawn a comparison with Jean Sibelius. Arnold's most significant works are generally considered to be his nine symphonies. He also wrote a number of concertos, including one for guitar for Julian Bream, one for cello for Julian Lloyd Webber, one for clarinet for Benny Goodman, one for harmonica for Larry Adler, and one – enthusiastically welcomed at its premiere during the 1969 Proms – for three hands on two pianos for the husband-and-wife team of Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. His sets of dances — comprising two sets of English Dances (Opp. 27 and 33), along with one set each of Scottish Dances (Op. 59), Cornish Dances (Op. 91), Irish Dances (Op. 126), and Welsh Dances (Op. 138) — are mainly in a lighter vein and are popular both in their original orchestral guise and in later wind and brass band arrangements. The English Dances also form the basis for Kenneth MacMillan's short ballet Solitaire, and one of them is used as the theme music for the British television programme What the Papers Say (the Cornish Dances provide the theme music for the television programmes of the cook Rick Stein). Arnold also wrote some highly successful concert overtures, including Beckus the Dandipratt (an important stepping stone in his early career), the strikingly scored Tam o' Shanter (based on the famous Robert Burns poem), the rollicking A Grand Grand Festival Overture (written for a Hoffnung Festival and featuring three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher, all in turn polished off by a firing squad in uproarious mock 1812 manner), and the dramatic Peterloo Overture (commissioned by the Trades Union Congress to commemorate the historic massacre of protesting workers in Manchester). Another popular short work is his Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet (Op. 37). Arnold is also known for his relatively large number of compositions and arrangements of his own compositions for brass band.
A prolifically successful composer for the cinema, Malcolm Arnold is credited with having written over a hundred film scores for features and documentaries between 1947 and 1969. In 1957, Arnold won an Academy Award for the music to David Lean's epic film The Bridge on the River Kwai. His two other collaborations with David Lean were The Sound Barrier (1952) and Hobson's Choice (1954), both of which were also resoundingly successful. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) won Arnold an Ivor Novello Award. Also during the 1950s — an especially prolific period for Arnold — he provided a series of successful scores for major British and American feature films, such as The Captain's Paradise (1953), You Know What Sailors Are (1954),Trapeze (1956) and The Roots of Heaven (1958). He also wrote the music for the entire series of St Trinian's films, including The Belles of St Trinian's (1954), which was a particular favourite with the composer. Other successes included No Love for Johnnie (1960), the classic Whistle Down the Wind (1961), as well as The Inspector and The Lion (both released in 1962). Arnold's last major film score was for a star-studded version of David Copperfield (1969).
He was the patron of the Rochdale Youth Orchestra until his death in September 2006. The Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra made the first commercial recording of Arnold's Divertimento for the Pye label in July 1967 and regularly performed many of his works in the UK and abroad. Arnold also conducted the orchestra in a 1963 De Montfort Hall concert that included his own English Dances and Tam O'Shanter. Malcolm Arnold wrote the Trevelyan Suite to mark the opening of Trevelyan College, University of Durham. His daughter was among the first intake of students. He conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the recording of Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra in the Gemini Suite composed by the group's organist, Jon Lord. Since the 1980s there have been frequent concerts and festivals dedicated to his music. In October of each year there is an annual Malcolm Arnold Festival in his birthplace Northampton. A secondary school in Northampton, was renamed the Malcolm Arnold Academy after the composer on 3 September 2010.
Honours and awards
- 1937 - won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music
- 1941 - W. W. Cobbett Prize, 2nd prize for Vita Abundans
- 1948 - awarded scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music's Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation
- 1951 - Venice Film Festival 1st prize in the music documentary class for Science in the Orchestra
- 1958 - won Academy Award for the music to The Bridge on the River Kwai
- 1959 - Ivor Novello Award for the music to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
- 1969 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Exeter
- 1969 - created a Bard of Gorseth Kernow, taking the Bardic name Trompour ('Trumpeter').
- 1970 - appointed a Commander (CBE) of the Order of the British Empire
- 1982 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Durham
- 1983 - Fellowship of the Royal College of Music, London
- 1984 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Leicester
- 1985 - Honorary Member, Royal Academy of Music, London
- 1986 - Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Services to British Music
- 1987 - Wavendon AllMusic Composer of the Year
- 1989 - Honorary Doctorate, Miami University of Ohio
- 1989 - Freedom of the Borough of Northampton
- 1992 - Fellowship of the Trinity College of Music, London
- 1993 - knighted for services to music
- 1994 - Honorary President, Victoria College of Music, London
- 1997 - Fellowship of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
- 2001 - Fellowship of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors
- 2003 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Winchester
- 2004 - Distinguished Musician Award, Incorporated Society of Musicians
- 2006 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Northampton
- Thöne, Raphael D. (2007-08-20). Malcolm Arnold - A Composer of Real Music: Symphonic Writing, Style and Aesthetics. US/UK: Entercom Saurus. ISBN 978-3-937748-06-1.
- Meredith, Anthony; Paul Harris (2004-09-24). Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius. UK: Thames / Elkin. ISBN 0-903413-54-X.
- Schafer, (Raymond) Murray (1963). British Composers in Interview. UK: Faber & Faber.
- Burton-Page, Piers (1994). Philharmonic Concerto: the Life & Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-45651-X.
- Davies, Barbara (2008). Composer Sir Malcolm Arnold's less than harmonious legacy. Daily Mail online, 28 February 2008. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Meredith and Harris, p 480.
- Obituaries: Sir Malcolm Arnold, The Daily Telegraph (25 September 2006). Retrieved 3011-06-28.
- Cooke, Mervyn (2005). Malcolm Arnold: Concert Overtures (PDF). Chandos Records. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- Palmer, Christopher (1992). Malcolm Arnold: Film Music Suites - Premier Recordings, sleeve notes (PDF). Chandos Records. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
- Cox, James (2000). The Film Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, Volume 2, sleeve notes (PDF). Chandos Records. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
- Official Sir Malcolm Arnold website with performance diary, news, and discography
- Official Malcolm Arnold Festival website
- Malcolm Arnold at the Internet Movie Database