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Malcolm Arnold: Catalogue of Works
By Alan J Poulton
Foreword by Julian Lloyd Webber
157 pages, including index (paperback)
Published January 2021 Malcolm Arnold Society
Alan J. Poulton is something of a pioneer in this sort of project: its preparation and its bringing to publication. His impressive and extremely practical Dictionary-Catalogue of Modern British Composers is in three imposing volumes. In the 1980s he prepared and published, via Bravura Press, large format catalogues of the music of William Alwyn, Alan Bush and Alan Rawsthorne.
I have not done a work-count, but
Malcolm Arnold (21 October 1921 – 23 September 2006) must have a list, numerically, up there with Martinů, Villa-Lobos and Hovhaness. A catalogue helps you find your bearings and leads you onwards to discoveries and lists of things you wish to see revived, recorded and broadcast. It’s good news that there is so much music to explore. There are twelvesymphonies (OK, only nine of them are numbered), a crowded field of concertos, many orchestral works and so much more. Operas and ballets are there. It’s difficult to get a handle on the Arnold world. That’s why catalogues like this (issued in his centenary year) have value for occasional consultation on specifics, for inspiration and for a methodical read. There was a hardback Faber and Faber Arnold catalogue published in 1987, but that was written twenty years before the composer’s death. Once you have been seized by Arnold’s music - perhaps the Oboe Concerto or Symphony No. 5 or Whistle Down the Wind - you may well have imbibed a compulsion to explore.
Also, in the UK at least, radio and the concert-hall cater to those wanting to embrace or, at least, assay the Arnold experience. The Arnold Festival in October in the composer’s Northampton birthplace continues to return each year, thanks to Arnold co-biographer, Paul Harris (Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius). In October 2011, in the space of a single weekend, the Festival put on performances of all of the nine numbered symphonies in celebration of what would have been the composer’s ninetieth birthday (review). The Malcolm Arnold Society, publishers of the present catalogue, seems to thrive.
There are 83 pages of entries for his works, arranged in date order from 1936 to 1991. These range across overtures, symphonies, concertos, musicals, film music, operas, music for brass and military bands, chamber music, songs, piano solos, incidental music, his works for Hoffnung, ballets, and music for TV. Along the way we also encounter works left incomplete and lost works (like the 1945 Symphonic Suite for orchestra) which may yet turn up.
Most of the entries detail the following components: title, year, approximate duration, authors of words set or serving to inspire, dedications or circumstances that prompted the work, instrumentation, publishers and date of publication, who premiered and where and when premiered. These latter details stretch as far as UK, broadcast, London and non-London and international premieres.
The other components of the book are an index, list of major articles in Beckus and Maestro, Arnold’s arrangements of music by other composers, scores he wrote for documentaries, for feature films and film music arranged for the concert hall. Then ballets are tabulated, both those drawing on other Arnold works (45 of them) and their apportioning across seven ballets.
Let’s take some gems and leave more than a few for readers to unearth:
Symphony No. 8 - rather underestimated, I think, was commissioned by the Rustan K Kermani Foundation in Albany. The same foundation also commissioned Rubbra’s late Sinfonietta for strings and George Lloyd’s last two symphonies.
Parasols is from the 1960s and is a BBC musical with words by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin
There’s a 1944 work called Burlesque. It is scored for horn and orchestra. It’s quite a different thing from the rather astringent Horn Concerto No. 1
His op. 1 - a work for piano solo - was written in 1935. It’s the March for Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, was in the news in those days, not least because Mussolini had ordered an invasion of Ethiopia.
Arnold’s grand opera Jean Christophe was written for the Festival of Britain but did not find favour with the Committee. I heard the overture and the first doughtily impressive thirty minutes at the Arnold Festival in 2016. Someone should record what exists and/or complete the work, even if this does involve a deal of speculation. Jean Christophe was the first black ruler of Haiti.
We know about Holst’s admiration for Humbert Wolfe’s poetry but in 1938 Arnold wrote a song-cycle Kensington Gardens which set nine Wolfe poems.
Arnold was commissioned by the Indian High Commissioner to orchestrate India’s National Anthem.
Bolivar is a seven-minute piece written for a Venezuelan film about Simón Bolivar. Bolivar has been the subject of full-scale operas by Darius Milhaud and Thea Musgrave while Henry Cowell wrote an opera about a liberator ally of Bolivar, Bernardo O’Higgins.
In sketch form there is a Sinfonia Concertante for horn, viola and orchestra.
A piece entitled A Flavour of Ischia was dedicated to, who else but William Walton. Arnold made an arrangement for full string orchestra of the last movement of Walton’s String Quartet and on Walton’s (ultimately largely unused) score for the 1969 film The Battle of Britain.
There are sketches for a Violin Concerto that Arnold was writing for Nigel Kennedy. A complete work did not emerge, unlike the one written at much the same time by fellow British composer Arthur Butterworth. Mind you, Butterworth’s concerto appears to have been given a premiere by this starry soloist but no later Kennedy performances materialised, as far as I know. There’s a track record of sorts. Recall that Yo-Yo Ma gave the premiered recording of Finzi’s Cello Concerto (Lyrita) but there were no live concert performances. The Arnold was written between 1988 and 1989 and there are 23 minutes of music in short score.
Ruth Gipps is, quite rightly, in the spotlight at present. That said, we should recall that Arnold took the theme for Gipps Coronation March for a 13-minute set of orchestral variation.
The march Overseas dates from 1960 and was written for the New York British Trade Fair. It was commissioned by the Central Office of Information.
There’s an entry for Songs for Julie Felix but no one knows whether these songs were completed and lost or never written.
The Song of Accounting Periods - Arnold had a seemingly dyspeptic relationship with HMRC. This song dates from 1969.
The Concerto Gastronomique is from 1961. It has movements entitled: Oysters, Brown Windsor, Roast Beef, Cheese, Peach Melba and Coffee, Brandy.
In reading this work, you will be struck by the number of composers and others, known and unknown to the wider music fraternity, who in one way or another, crossed Arnold’s path: William Walton, Denis Bloodworth (1927-2016), Roger Steptoe, Ruth Gipps, Arthur Bliss, William Blezard, Christian Darnton, Christopher Palmer, Franz Reizenstein, Maurice Johnstone and Humphrey Searle
There’s no discography nor any discographical data in the work entries. That’s a shame, but if that aspect had been dealt with the book would have been more expensive and possibly even unwieldy.
It’s to the credit of this soberly presented but methodically inspiring book that an attentive editorial eye has attended to many traps for the unwary. I noticed only one lapse and that was in the index of people: ‘Speigel’ instead of the correct ‘Spiegel’. The spelling is correct in the relevant main text entry.
The present volume is an excellent reference work. It is not academically dry yet in so many beneficial ways it serves academics, musicologists and Arnold enthusiasts. It puts down resilient roots for musicians and listeners. Unlike so many composer catalogues the accessible price of this volume has been held in amicable check.