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Malcolm Arnold

British composer born 21 October 1921 in Northampton; died 23 September 2006 in Norwich.

Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton in 1921. After studying at the Royal College of Music in London he joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra, becoming principal trumpet in 1943. In 1948, he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and left the London Philharmonic to spend a year in Italy, after which he devoted himself to composing. He rapidly made a reputation for himself in the field, both as a multi-talented composer and a brilliant orchestrator, which won him many commissions. He composed for numerous ensembles, both professional and amateur, as well as writing scores for a multitude of theater and film productions (he wrote nearly one hundred film scores, including The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won an Oscar, and Inn of the Sixth Happiness, for which he received an Ivor Novello Award). In 1969, he was made a Bard of Gorseth Kernowil and the following year was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He received honorary doctorates from institutions of higher education including the Universities of Exeter (1969), Durham (1982), and Leicester (1984). In 1983 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Music and an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1985. In 1986, at the age of 65, he won the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Services to British Music. In 1993, he was knighted for his service to music.

The roots of Malcolm Arnold’s music may be found in dance and song: his music is luminous in texture and limpidly written. His lightest pieces, which are both easy to listen to and gratifying to play, are among the rare contemporary equivalents of 18th-century serenades and divertimenti. His inexhaustible creativity as a songwriter has astonished his public; the “big tune” one hears in his humble Toy Symphony, is just as powerfully written and memorable as his major works, which are an established part of the concert repertory. Beneath the charming surface of his music, however, if one is willing to listen closely, it is possible to glimpse a complex musical personality and great dramatic tension. In places, Malcolm Arnold’s music reveals his profound interest in the human condition and his belief in music as “a social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is.”


© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 1997