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[This is from a ‘about this recording’ note of a Naxos disc with 2 of Arnold’s symphonies.]
Malcolm Arnold was born in 1921 in Northampton, where his father was a well-to-do shoe manufacturer. There was music in the family, both from his father and from his mother, a descendant of a former Master of the Chapel Royal. Instead of the usual period at a public school, he was educated privately at home. As a twelve-year-old he found a new interest in the trumpet and in jazz after hearing Louis Armstrong, and three years later he was able to study the instrument in London under Ernest Hall, subsequently winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where his composition teacher was Gordon Jacob. Two years later he left the College to join the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet. Meanwhile he had won a composition prize for a one-movement string quartet. It was as an orchestral player that he was able to explore the wider orchestral repertoire, in particular the symphonies of Mahler.
Early in the 1939-45 war Arnold was a conscientious objector, in common with a number of other leading musicians. He was allowed to continue his work as an orchestral player, taking the position of first trumpet in the London Philharmonic in 1943. In the same year, however, he volunteered for military service, but was discharged after shooting himself in the foot, playing, thereafter, second trumpet to his teacher Ernest Hall in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and then rejoining the London Philharmonic, where he served as principal trumpet until 1948. During these years he had continued to work as a composer, with a series of successful orchestral compositions, as well as a variety of chamber music.
Since 1948 Malcolm Arnold has earned his living as a composer. In the 1960s he settled in Cornwall, where he became closely involved with the musical activities of the county. In 1972 he moved to Dublin, his home for the next five years, and then, in 1977, to Norfolk. Over the years his work has been much in demand for film scores, of which he has written some eighty. He has written concertos for an amazing variety of instruments, nine numbered symphonies, sinfoniettas, concert overtures and other orchestral works. His chamber music is equally varied and there is a set of works for solo wind and other instruments, aptly meeting the demands of competitive as of solo recital performance.
In style Malcolm Arnold has a command of popular idiom and this may have suggested to some an unfavourable identification with the world of light music. He is, in fact, a composer of considerable stature, technically assured, fluent and prolific, providing music that gives pleasure, but also music that may have a more sombre side, work that may be lyrical and tuneful, or even astringent and harsh in its revelations. Donald Mitchell has compared Arnold, illuminatingly, with Dickens, both of them great entertainers but both well aware of the human predicament, unsettlingly revealed, as he points out, in the remarkable series of symphonies.
(Contribution by Th.)