English Dances (Arnold)

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This article is about the Malcolm Arnold composition. For traditional English dance in general, see English country dance.
Lyrita recording of Malcolm Arnold's Orchestral Dances

English Dances, Opp. 27 and 33, are two sets of light music pieces, composed for orchestra by Malcolm Arnold in 1950 and 1951 (Burton-Page 2001). Each set consists of four dances inspired by, although not based upon, country folk tunes and dances. Each movement is denoted by the tempo marking, as the individual movements are untitled.


Bernard de Nevers, the head of the composer's then publisher Alfred Lengnick & Co. asked Arnold to write a suite of dances akin to Antonín Dvořák's Slavonic Dances. This resulted in the first set. The set was premiered on 14 April 1951 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

After the success of the first set, de Nevers asked for a second set, which the composer completed the following year. The second set was premiered on 5 August 1952 at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent.

The first movement of the second set, Allegro non troppo, was used from 1969 to 2008 as the theme music for the long-running UK television programme What the Papers Say, and was used again for the revived version of the programme on BBC Radio Four.

Shades and passages of the third movement of the first set, Mesto, are recognisable in the main title of Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning music for David Lean's 1965 film Doctor Zhivago. The two pieces are of similar length.


English Dances, Set I, Op. 27

I. Andantino
II. Vivace
III. Mesto
IV. Allegro risoluto

English Dances, Set II, Op. 33

I. Allegro non troppo
II. Con brio
III. Grazioso
IV. Giubiloso - lento e maestoso


In 1956 Kenneth MacMillan created the one act ballet Solitaire based on the two sets of English Dances. MacMillan created two new pieces for the ballet, the "Sarabande and Polka". It was first performed at Sadler's Wells London on 7 June 1956.

Ballet sequencing[edit]

1. Set II, No. 3
2. Set I, No. 1
3. Set I, No. 2
4. Set I, No. 3
5. Set I, No. 4
6. Sarabande
7. Polka
8. Set II, No. 2
9. Set II, No. 1
10. Set II, No. 4
11. Set II, No. 3 (reprise)


Selected commercial recordings[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Burton-Page, Piers. 2001. "Arnold, Sir Malcolm (Henry)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

External links[edit]