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SIR MALCOLM ARNOLD 1921-2006

By Scott Bettencourt

Malcolm Henry Arnold was born in Northampton, England on October 21st, 1921, the youngest of five children of a successful shoe manufacturer. His family were all music lovers -- his father was an amateur organist and both parents were amateur pianists -- and as a child he received music lessons from the organist of Northampton's St. Matthew's Church. His sister instilled in him an interest in jazz, and after seeing Louis Armstrong perform at the Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth and meeting the performer, he was inspired to learn the trumpet, despite his childhood asthma (years later, he would honor the performer with his Fanfare for Louis, written for Satchmo's 70th birthday). He earned a scholarship to the Royal College of Music (where one of his classmates was future film composer John Addison), studying composition with Gordon Jacob and trumpet with Ernest Hall; in his spare time, he played trumpet in jazz bands. After two years, Arnold left the Royal College to become second trumpet for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Around the same time, his Phantasy for String Quartet -- Vita Abundans won the Corbett Prize.

During World War II, Arnold registered as a conscientious objector and continued with the Philharmonic, becoming first trumpet. In 1941, Arnold married Sheila Nicholson, and the couple had two children, Katherine and Robert. After his brother died flying for the RAF, Arnold enlisted in the armed forces. He was turned down by the parachute regiment as well as the Navy, and after infantry training he was assigned to play cornet in a military band. Arnold shot himself in the foot -- literally -- and was released from the service on a medical discharge. He joined the BBC Symphonic Orchestra, playing second trumpet for his former teacher, Ernest Hall, and ultimately rejoined the London Philharmonic, again becoming first trumpet. He spent part of 1947 apart from his family, studying music in Italy on a Mendelssohn Scholarship, and returned to England determined to make his living as a composer.

The success of his concert pieces such as the comic overture Beckus the Dandipratt helped lead to work scoring shorts and documentaries, as well as his first feature, 1948's Badger's Green, a comedy based on an R.C. Sherriff play. That year, Arnold gave up performing and was able to make a living from his composing alone. He wrote his first symphony in 1949, and it received its first performance, under his own direction, in 1951.

Throughout the early fifties he scored a wide variety of features, including the Hammer sci-fi drama Four Sided Triangle, the first film of George Orwell's 1984, and the Christopher Isherwood adaptation I Am a Camera (better known for its musical remake, Cabaret), but two collaborations with director David Lean were particular critical and artistic highlights of this period, the fact-based aviation drama The Sound Barrier, and the romantic comedy Hobson's Choice. (Passages in italics are excerpted from Kevin Brownlow's definitive David Lean: A Biography [St. Martin's Press, 1996])

"When I was asked to do the film [The Sound Barrier]," said Arnold, "the film composers of Britain were amazed. John Hollingsworth said, 'I know David well, he'll ask you for a big tune, romantic feeling and all he wants is Rachmaninov, but it'll be Rachmaninov and Arnold. That's why he asked you.' That's the advice he gave me and that's what I did -- just Rachmaninov with Arnold. But there is more than Rachmaninov in The Sound Barrier. Where the Spitfire goes through the clouds, I made a rhapsody of it, which I recorded with the Royal Philharmonic in the Festival Hall. I asked David, 'Would you mind if I made it into a rhapsody?' and he said, 'No, it's publicity for the film.' I sent him a copy which I'm sure he used to play. I knew David had an ambition to be a jazz pianist, but he didn't play the piano, couldn't even read music. I said, 'In some of your spare and depressed moments, I'll come over to wherever you live and teach you to read music. I'll teach you the piano.' He never took up the offer."

Malcolm Arnold had enjoyed working on The Sound Barrier -- it proved to be the film experience he relished most. He also had a marvelous time on Hobson's Choice. It was Arnold's Rabelasian sense of humour that had decided Muir Mathieson to recommend him once again. He also worked extremely quickly. Arnold saw the fine cut on 14 November 1953 and was recording the music nine days later. The territory was familiar to Arnold because he was the son of a shoe manufacturer. And David gave him his head, especially in the wedding night scene. As Willie nervously prepares to enter the nuptial chamber, the music is of "expensive Straussian splendour," wrote Hugo Cole, "with an eloquent violin solo of a type that Arnold never allows himself to write in his concert music. The music changes to a brisk, semi-military march as Willie enters the bedroom." "David's advice was sound on everything except marriage," said Arnold. "Northerners adore the film and you know why? Because of the music. The shop opening, the Dance of the Puddles...David said 'Try to get the flavour of Peel Park.'" In the Dance of the Puddles there is a spine-tingling sound. "That was a musical saw," said Arnold, "played by a man who kept a cafe in Belgium, Jacques Loussier. They got him over at great expense and he was marvellous."

Arnold treated his film work as seriously as his concert work, traveling to Grenada to research Caribbean music for Island in the Sun, and to India for musical research for Nine Hours to Rama, the docudrama about the assassination of Gandhi. In 1957, he represented the British Musicians Union at the Prague Spring Festival, and befriended Dmitri Shostakovich. Around this time he scored his third and most famous film for David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai, incorporating his own original themes as well as the familiar Coloney Bogey March.

David was so deeply immersed in the editing that he left Leila [his fourth wife] to her own devices. Malcolm Arnold befriended her, and they used to go shopping. "She was enchanting," he said, "but the loneliest person I have ever met...I had to write Kwai in less than three weeks. The whistlers, incidentally, were a piccolo and seventeen members of the Irish Guards. They weren't handpicked; anybody can whistle. I said, 'Look, gentlemen, we all know both world war versions of "Colonel Bogey." But here, because of censorship*, you've got to whistle it.' I had the piccolo to give them the pitch. And I'd already recorded the military band, so I had that over my ear and I conducted them to the picture and that was a nightmare -- terribly difficult to fit." David and Malcolm Arnold were a mutual admiration society. "He adored what I did with the films he made," said Arnold. "He never cut a single quaver, and he observed all my decrescendos. When it came to the scene of the troops marching into the prison camp, David said 'Look, Malcolm, take "Colonel Bogey" and add the guard outside Buckingham Palace to it. Give it a grandeur, a real swagger.'" "Malcolm did a marvelous job," said David. "He made 'Colonel Bogey' twice as good as it was. I love those swaggering marches."

River Kwai won Oscars for Picture, Director and Original Score, though despite what some of Arnold's obituaries claimed, he was not the first British composer to win the Oscar -- Brian Easdale had won for 1948's The Red Shoes. One fan of Arnold's film work was aspiring composer Howard Blake, who later went on to write such scores as The Duelists, Flash Gordon and Amityville 3D. The young Blake wrote to Arnold and a correspondence began between the two men, with Arnold providing encouragement to Blake, who later said "Like his music, he is outrageous, earthy, hilarious and utterly unpredictable. But on every occasion I have learned something new about music or about people or about the mind of a most unusual and brilliant man."

Another future film composer, John Scott, was a flautist on several Arnold scores, and helped lead the whistlers for the recording of the Colonel Bogey March. Scott said of Arnold, "We all admired him, knowing that he had come from the ranks of orchestral players. He was a star trumpet player, and we musicians always enjoy playing for people who understand musicians' problems. He was loved by all."

The success of River Kwai's score and Arnold's Oscar put him greatly in demand for features, and he scored such high profile films as Tunes of Glory, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, John Huston's The Roots of Heaven, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz' Suddenly, Last Summer. He also reportedly turned down such projects as The Vikings, The Blue Max, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ken Russell's The Rainbow. Another classic he nearly scored was Lean's next epic, Lawrence of Arabia.

As far as David was concerned, there had never been any question of who should compose the music -- it had to be Malcolm Arnold, who had done Kwai. [Lawrence producer] Sam Spiegel, obsessed with prestige, acceded to David's demand then added an even more distinguished name. "He wanted Sir William Walton to write all the dramatic music," said Malcolm Arnold, "and me to orchestrate and conduct the whole bloody score. I said the only man who can do these Eastern things is my good friend Aram Khatchaturian. You can contact him in Russia. He will do it as he knows it's me." According to [Lawrence's editor] Anne Coates, Arnold and Walton, having imbibed too freely at lunch, arrived in no mood to take the film seriously. They sent it up. "We saw about two hours of it," said Arnold. "I said, 'William, it's terrible.' He said, 'I know, but I need the money.' I said, 'So do I. But it's so bad.' Walton felt it was a travelogue needing hours of music. Arnold had been asked to telephone Spiegel with an immediate decision, but delayed doing so until the evening, when he called Spiegel from Wheeler's Restaurant and turned the film down on behalf of them both. Walton never saw the completed film and he never saw David Lean again.

Arnold was remarkably prolific from the late '40s to the early '60s, composing regularly for the cinema and the concert hall as well as conducting, but his exertions took their toll, leading to bouts of depression and the end of his first marriage. His film work became less frequent, and after such projects as the Oscar-nominated drama The Chalk Garden and the film version of James Jones' The Thin Red Line (famously remade by Terence Malick in 1998 with a Hans Zimmer score), he scored his last project in 1970, a TV version of David Copperfield, which featured one of his loveliest themes.

In the mid-'60s he moved to Cornwall with his second wife, Isobel Gray, and she gave birth to Arnold's third child, Edward, who was eventually diagnosed as autistic. In 1972 the family moved to Dublin, but through this period Arnold battled alcoholism, and in 1977 his second marriage fell apart and he returned to England. He spent much of the late '70s and early '80s in ill health, but a man named Anthony Day helped Arnold turn his life around. The pair moved to Norfolk, where Day served as Arnold's personal assistant, handyman and caregiver, and helped Arnold regain his financial footing. With Day's encouragement, Arnold began composing again, and his ninth symphony, which premiered in 1992, was dedicated to Day.

The comparatively old fashioned, melodic nature of Arnold's music had caused his critical reputation to suffer over the years, but in the last decades of his life his work gained a critical and popular resurgence, and his concert works -- which along with his nine symphonies included five ballets, two operas, 20 concertos (including a harmonica concerto composed for Larry Adler and a clarinet concerto for Benny Goodman), overtures and orchestral dances, two string quartets and other chamber music, choral music, song cycles and works for wind and brass band -- as well as many of his film themes received new recordings. Arnold had been named a Commander of the British Empire in 1970, and, along with the many other honors he received in the last two decades of his life, he was knighted in 1993. Recent years saw the publication of two books on the composer, The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Brilliant and the Dark by RM Jackson and Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris.

Arnold died on September 23, 2006 in Norfolk of natural causes.


THE FEATURE FILM SCORES OF MALCOLM ARNOLD:

BADGER'S GREEN
AFFAIRS OF ADELAIDE
UP FOR THE CUP
EYE WITNESS
NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (uncredited)
HOME TO DANGER
IT STARTED IN PARADISE
MURDER ON MONDAY
DEAD ON COURSE
STOLEN FACE
8:05 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
THE SOUND BARRIER
Rhapsody for Orchestra (op. 38) featured on the Cloud Nine CD The Sound Barrier and the Chandos CD Film Music of Malcolm Arnold
THE RINGER
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY
8:55 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
MAN OF AFRICA
CURTAIN UP
FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE
THE CAPTAIN'S PARADISE
4:05 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
BREAK TO FREEDOM
DEVIL ON HORSEBACK
YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE
2:34 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
A QUEEN'S ROYAL TOUR
HOBSON'S CHOICE
16:42 re-recorded for the Chandos CD Film Music of Malcolm Arnold
THE BELLES OF ST. TRINIAN'S
8:05 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
THE SLEEPING TIGER
TWIST OF FATE
THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM
THE WOMAN FOR JOE
VALUE FOR MONEY
THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP
MARRIAGE A LA MODE
I AM A CAMERA
THE DEEP BLUE SEA
A HILL IN KOREA
PORTRAIT IN SMOKE
TRAPEZE
13:29 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
PORT AFRIQUE
1984
TIGER IN THE SMOKE
BLUE MURDER AT ST. TRINIAN'S
ISLAND IN THE SUN
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI
Original score CD on Legacy/Columbia; 28:58 re-recorded for the Chandos CD Film Music of Malcolm Arnold
DUNKIRK
THE KEY
Score LP on CBS
THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN
Original score LP on 20th Fox; 33:59 re-recorded for the Marco Polo CD David Copperfield/The Roots of Heaven; 4:49 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS
Original score LP on 20th Fox; 14:08 re-recorded for the Chandos CD Film Music of Malcolm Arnold
THE BOY AND THE BRIDGE
SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER
THE ANGRY SILENCE
TUNES OF GLORY
THE PURE HELL OF ST. TRINIAN'S
OPERATION SNAFU
NO LOVE FOR JOHNNIE
10:31 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2
WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
9:04 re-recorded for the Chandos CD Film Music of Malcolm Arnold
LISA
THE LION
Score LP on Decca
NINE HOURS TO RAMA
Score LP on London
TAMAHINE
THE CHALK GARDEN
THE THIN RED LINE
THE HEROES OF TELEMARK
Score LP on Mainstream
GYPSY GIRL
THE GREAT ST. TRINIAN'S TRAIN ROBBERY
AFRICA -- TEXAS STYLE!
THE RECKONING
DAVID COPPERFIELD [TV]
Original score LP on GRT; 28:04 re-recorded for the Marco Polo CD David Copperfield/The Roots of Heaven; 11:10 re-recorded for the Chandos CD The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold Vol. 2


*A common World War II version of Coloney Bogey's lyrics:

Hitler has only got one ball,
Goring has two but very small,
Himmler is rather sim'lar,
But poor old Goebbels, has no balls, at all.


Research sources for this article, besides Kevin Brownlow's David Lean biography, include John Morgan's liner notes for the Marco Polo re-recording of David Copperfield and The Roots of Heaven; the liner notes for the Naxos recording of Arnold's Symphonies 1 & 2; the Wikipedia entry on Arnold; the official Arnold website; Arnold's homepage at Novello & Co.; The Malcolm Arnold Society homepage; and obituaries from the BBC, The Observer, and The Times.

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