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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sir Malcolm Arnold 1921 - 2006

As reported yesterday, Oscar-winning composer Sir Malcolm Arnold has passed away in hospital, after a short illness, just short of his 85th birthday, unfortunately missing out on many planned celebrations, not least in his home town of Northampton.
Arnold won his Oscar for David Lean's splendid The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957, a score in which Arnold, ever the great wit, combined Colonel Bogey with his own march theme. He also received the Ivor Novello Award for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness the following year, a score again memorable, not only for Arnold's own stirring main and love themes, but for his incorporation of "This Old Man."
In all, Arnold composed the music for more than 50 feature films, as well as documentaries, radio, TV and the theatre, between his debut with the documentary Avalanche Patrol in 1947 and his final feature David Copperfield in 1970, including The Sound Barrier in 1952, The Captain's Paradise and Hobson's Choice (both 1953), The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), Trapeze and 1984 (both 1955), The Roots of Heaven and Dunkirk (both 1958), Tunes of Glory and The Angry Silence (both 1960, Whistle Down the Wind (1961), The Lion (1962), Nine Hours to Rama (1963), The Chalk Garden (1964) and The Heroes of Telemark (1965).
Recommended are two excellent volumes of The Film Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, released by Chandos Records, which includes new digital recordings of suites and themes from The Bridge on the River Kwai, Whistle Down the Wind, The Sound Barrier, Hobson's Choice, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Trapeze, The Roots of Heaven, David Copperfield, The Belles of St. Trinian's and The Captain's Paradise. Marco Polo also recorded his scores for The Roots of Heaven and David Copperfield, a disc that again is well worth seeking out.
Arnold was one of those rare composers equally celebrated both in film music and classical music circles, having during the same period written many pieces for the concert hall, including full-blown symphonies, concertos and popular pieces like his Irish Dances, Tam O'Shanter, Four Cornish Dances, Four Scottish Dances, A Grand Grand Overture, The Padstow Lifeboat and A Sussex Overture.
Throughout much of his work, his marvellous sense of humour shone through, utilising such offbeat elements as vacuum cleaner and bird song, and he even arranged an annual concert of musical jokes at the Royal festival Hall.
In 1966 Arnold relocated to Cornwall to escape the pressures of living and working in the Capital and although he still produced many fine works there and participated in the local musical community, he was soon to experience a downward slide into alcoholism and depression, leading to attempted suicide and breakdown. However, having been largely out of fashion in the 1970s, Arnold experienced a revival of interest in his works throughout the 1980s, leading to a second Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Services to British Music in 1985, a Knighthood in 1993 and a Fellowship of the British Academy of Composers in Songwriters on the occasion of his 80th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall.
For the last twenty years or so, Arnold had been resident in Norfolk, in the devoted care of companion Anthony Day, and it was during these years that ITV's The South Bank Show made a wonderfully frank, two-part documentary film, which hopefully will be resurrected to mark the passing of one of Britain's finest composers. And suitable tributes are surely forthcoming from the BBC, they having shamefully neglected his music in their recent Proms season.


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