Centenary of the composer Malcolm Arnold

Today marks the centenary of Sir Malcolm Arnold, who was born in Northampton on 21 October 1921. Arnold died in 2006, leaving behind a huge body of work including symphonies, concertos, chamber music and many film scores.

As well as being one of Britain’s greatest composers, he is one of Northampton’s most famous sons and he is celebrated around the town. There is a bronze statue of him at the Guildhall, sitting on a bench in a relaxed pose with his trumpet. A famously affable character, you can imagine sitting with him and chatting about his passions such as jazz.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I first encountered Arnold’s music as child, since he wrote some fine pieces for youth orchestras, and the one I was in played his Little Suite Number 1. Although short and easy to play, it is a superb piece of music that really made an impression on me.

When I moved to Northampton to work at the university, I made an effort to get to know more of his music. There is a lot of it, so I am still discovering works that are new to me. I seek out performances of his works and go along to the Malcolm Arnold Festival that is held in Northampton every October.

Arnold is primarily known for his film music. He wrote music for over a hundred films between the 1940s and the 1960s, and was a master of the art. His music is colourful and tuneful, and he could write very quickly to order, which was crucial to the film making process. He won an Oscar for his score for The Bridge on the River Kwai and barely a day goes by without one of his films being on TV.

Perhaps because of his success in the film industry and the popularity and accessibility of his work, he was rather looked down upon by the classical music establishment. His music was not programmed or recorded as often as it might have been, and sometimes the critics were sniffy. But nowadays his reputation is much higher, and he is undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest symphonists.

Now we are coming out of lockdown and live music is starting up again, it is great to see that there are many performances of his music taking place in celebration of his centenary year. Do check these out if you get the chance – if you are new to classical music, maybe start with his English Dances.

Happy birthday, Sir Malcolm.

Matthew McCormack

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