About this Recording
8.554237 - ARNOLD, M.: Violin Trio, Op. 54 / Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Cello Fantasy, Op. 130

Sir Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921): Chamber Music
Piano Trio, Op. 54; Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2, Opp.15 & 43
Five Pieces for violin and piano, Op. 84; Fantasy for cello, Op. 130

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, particularly with the help of his aunts, and subsequently with music lessons from the organist of St Matthew's Church in Northampton. As a twelve-year-old he found anew interest in the trumpet and in jazz alter 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 compositions that included the popular overture Beckus the Dandipratt, a clarinet concerto and a symphony for strings, as well as a variety of chamber music, the latter including the well known Three Shanties for wind quintet.

From 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, including music for the David Lean film The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won an Oscar, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and David Lean's The Sound Barrier. He has written concertos for flute, guitar, harmonica, French horn, oboe, organ, piano duet and two pianos, the last of these for three hands for the use of Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick, recorder, trumpet, viola and two violins, 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.

Malcolm Arnold's Piano Trio, Opus 54, was written in 1956. In the first movement, marked Allegro con fuoco, the violin and cello offer a strong theme, in unison, while the piano, which has joined in the first three notes, adds three other thematic elements, a running semi-quaver figure, falling fourths and a simple chromatic chordal pattern. A cantabile cello melody is taken up by the violin and then, in canon, by the piano, as the strings take over the latter's accompanying rĂ´le. The descending fourths already heard from the piano now return in plucked strings and subsequently the running semi-quavers are heard again. These varied elements form the substance from which the whole movement grows, with its lyrical melodic material, contrapuntal technique and unified structure, to end after the piano has returned to the cantabile theme, with its accompaniment from violin and cello. The Andante offers an opening canon, in which the violin enters in imitation of the cello, at a written interval of a compound diminished fourth, convenient enharmonic notation. The piano seems about to follow suit, but offers, instead, an expressive complementary melody, before the violin returns to the canon, now inverted, followed by the cello at the interval of a major sixth. The piano answers as before in an inverted version of its earlier passage. There follows a section of dramatic dynamic contrast, before the cello returns with the violin in canon, as at the opening of the movement, answered by the piano, which ends the movement. The last movement is in the form if not the mood of a chaconne, its chromatic basis stated emphatically by all three instruments. The seven-bar ground, often varied, returns a semitone higher each time, passing through twelve tonalities, before reaching again the final tonality of D, the tonality of the whole work, in conclusion.

The first of Malcolm Arnold's violin sonatas was written in 1947. It opens with an Allegretto which introduces highly characteristic figuration for both violin and piano. Elements that appear early in the movement, notably in the strongly marked themes for violin and for piano with which the work opens, are developed to form its substance in a generally contrapuntal texture. The tonality of B flat, to which the Allegretto returns in conclusion, is followed by that of G in the following Andante tranqaillo, with its repeated accompanying pattern for the piano and its initial lyrical violin theme, interrupted by the intrusion of a fierce passage marked Allegro iracondamente (quick-tempered), an unusual direction that has already been briefly suggested. The original mood returns, with the piano accompanying pattern and the gentle principal theme of the violin. The final movement opens brusquely and once again the elements from which it develops make an early appearance. There are lilting passages in the prevailing 6/8 metre, cross rhythms suggesting a lighter idiom and at times a more percussive element, the last of which dominates the final Presto coda.

The second of the violin sonatas was written in 1953 and is in one continuous movement of four short sections, embryonic movements in themselves. All four sections make use of the same thematic material, although its first lyrical appearance is markedly different from the mainly pizzicato scherzo that follows. The third section transforms the material yet again in an Andantino quasi allegretto waltz and the work ends with an Adagio that reaches a final resolution in its last bars.

The Fantasy for cello, Opus 130, is a further example of Arnold's understanding of the instruments for which he writes, as he had done in earlier fantasies for solo instruments. The new work was written in 1987 for the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and is framed by its gently lilting opening Andantino, in which the cello offers a generally descending melody. The following Vivace makes use of the same melodic contour in a very different context, as does the succeeding Lento. A similar pattern to that of the first sections marks the Alla marcia, its course interrupted by insistently repeated octaves, and the pizzicato section that follows. It is again the descending melodic contour that characterizes the second Lento, before the return of the framing first section.

Malcolm Arnold wrote his Five Pieces for violin and piano, Opus 84, in 1964 for Yehudi Menuhin, intending them primarily as encore pieces, although they form a possible suite. The Prelude, like some latter-day Kreisler tribute to Vivaldi, opens boldly with a rising sequential pattern that takes the violin into a high register, with something of its figuration taken into the contrasting piano part. The Con energico of this first piece leads to a remarkably energetic Aubade, marked Vivace, derived from an Indian raga, the notes of which are repeated insistently in increasingly rapid accompaniment to a melody derived from the same material. There is a Waltz, marked Grazioso, and a moving Ballad that makes use of material from Arnold's earlier ballet Rinaldo and Armida, written for Covent Garden and Frederick Ashton in 1955. The set of pieces ends with an asymmetrical Moto perpetuo, with jazz-like implications in its rhythms and descending sequences.

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