Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sir Malcolm Arnold

In this conformist, Toyota-fied world, where we expect everything to be slickly packaged, reliable and safe, British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold was definitely a breath of fresh air. His humor, his pathos and technical ability were often seen in the same piece, and often in the same passage. Arnold died this past weekend at the age of 84.

Although his creative period had ended, I feel a sense that we have lost a great voice, one that will be appreciated more as time passes.

Arnold wrote in about every musical form imaginable. He scored 132 films including Whistle Down the Wind, The Bells of St. Trinian's, Hobson's Choice and Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won an Oscar. In more "serious" forms he wrote nine symphonies, more than 20 concertos, including ones for harmonica, recorder, guitar and organ theatre music and a musical. He was knighted for his service to British music in 1993.

Arnold's personal life however, was marked by tragedy, alcoholism and mental illness. He suffered repeated bouts of severe depression, made several suicide attempts and was hospitalized for a long period receiving electroshock therapy. He was also chronically alcoholic. Both of his marriages fell apart straining his relationship with his children. Sir Malcolm was well known for his ill temper and rude behavior; even his most ardent supporters contend he was difficult.

Many called his work uneven yet few composers compose masterpiece after masterpiece. The same thing could be said of Shostakovich. His works were filled with humor (especially his signature piece "A Grand, Grand Overture" which included parts for floor polisher, 3 vacuum cleaners and 4 rifles), inventive sounds (he was a master at writing for brass, especially trumpet which he had played professionally)and a great sense of rhythm (the set of Dances from the British Isles are a perfect example). I had the privilege of hearing his "Philharmonic Concerto" played live no long after its creation in 1976 by Haitink and the London Philharmonic. The passage for harp and snare drum is fresh even 30 years later.

I invite you to explore the website devoted to Sir Malcolm and perhaps discover this wonderful composer. SIR MALCOLM ARNOLD, CBE

RIP Sir Malcolm, you deserve it.

No comments: