A popular composer silenced by the BBC

The Lebrecht Album of the Week has a premiere recording of an opera by Malcolm Arnold:

The most popular and prolific composer of his time, Malcolm Arnold was shunned by the British music establishment for being, mostly, too popular and prolific, and therefore a potent threat to the nonentities who were not. Arnold (1921-2006) had other crosses against his name. He was a former orchestral player (working class), an Oscar winner (disgraceful), a tonal symphonist (non-BBC-pc), an alcoholic and a philanderer who suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. In short, he was everything the suits hated….

Read on here.

And here.

In The Critic here.

In Spanish here.

In Portuguese here.

In Czech here.

In French here.

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  • I don’t suppose the suits had a problem with the drinking or the philandering as such. The suits probably saw them as mitigating factors.
    I don’t know what the far more accomplished musicians on this site will think, but when I was still playing as an amateur, I found his orchestral writing to be very enjoyable and rewarding, despite his music not really being my thing.

  • A minor correction to your piece – The Ealing Symphony Orchestra has performed all the Arnold symphonies in sequence I believe.

  • The late Ruggiero Ricci had works by Malcolm Arnold in his (huge) repertoire, and years ago the difficult-to-find Hong Kong label “One-Eleven” (largely devoted to live performances by Ricci) included his Five Pieces for Violin and Piano op. 84 (with Rebecca Penneys on piano) one One-Eleven URS-93040. Arnold’s Sonata No. 2 op. 43 is on One-Eleven URS 91060, which also contains the Five Pieces – same performance I think, because it is also with Penneys, but a better tape, and here is the kicker: “read and performed AT SIGHT with the composer’s presence in the audience.” (Mr. Ricci was one of a kind.) Both works are enjoyable for an audience and good workouts for the musicians. We can’t blame the BBC for other violinists not picking them up.

      • That’s a rather big curmudgeonly analytical comparison to make, and as we know, comparisons are odious .
        Let people enjoy it, without preemption, especially as NL has highlighted it, without prejudice

  • Always loved Arnold Symphony 5. Sure it’s tonal but so whaaaat? It has a wonderful structure, great pacing, drama, wit, excitement, anger.. just a great piece of orchestral music. Check it out!

  • The BBC’s modernist bias is well known, but I wonder which of the modernists William Glock supported count among the “nonentities” — and which of them NL accepts as “entities” despite their enjoying BBC patronage.

    I enjoy some of Malcolm Arnold’s music; my comment above should not be taken as countenancing Glock’s anti-tonalism or as disparaging Arnold and the other tonalists ignored by the Beeb.

    • Glock was an ideologist trying to get progressiveness off the ground in an overal traditional country. That is why he rejected Goldschmidt, for instance, ignoring his talent and sending him back into isolation.

  • I don’t dispute that Arnold deserves far, far better from posterity – his career problems in his lifetime stemmed from a complex mixture of personal issues.

    But William Glock actually commissioned him; and in the sleevenotes of this recording you’ll learn that the only prior performance of this opera was actually by a BBC orchestra.

  • Malcolm Arnold was also a very accomplished composer of film scores, including one of my favorites, The Chalk Garden, a classic mid-1960s film with Deborah Karr, Dame Edith Evans, Haley Mills, and John Mills, based on a play by Enid Bagnold.

    • I was amazed to see how many of the films I had loved as a child — The Chalk Garden, Whistle Down the Wind, Sky West ad Crooked (did the Mills family have shares in Arnold?) — had been scored by him.

      He always seemed to be on the radio when I was a child.

  • I’ve always liked Malcolm Arnold’s music, at least what little I know of it. I’ve never had the opportunity to perform one of his symphonies or other major works, but I like playing his Three Shanties for wind quintet, and his Fantasy for bassoon.

    And, of course, I love his association with Jon Lord and the Concerto for Group and Orchestra.

  • After WW II the British isles got, quite late in comparison with the continent, infected with modernist thought from Vienna, in an attempt to leave tradition behind (of which Benjamin Britten was the figurehead). Not only British composers (who innocently thought that something precious better not be thrown away) but also immigrant great talents like Berthold Goldschmidt and Hans Gal became something that the ‘forward-looking elite’ became ashamed of, as if it were a symbol of the Great Empire’s backwardness.

  • Malcolm Arnold is a wonderful composer – perhaps the English Shostakovich – but it’s worth remembering that his 4th Symphony (1959-60) was commissioned by that arch-modernist (Sir William Glock.) What’s unforgiveable is his continued absence of his symphonies from the Proms long after the Continental modern tide had turned.

  • I have never understood the relative neglect of his works. In my forty years of concert going I think I have heard only some of his Cornish dances, but my memory is a bit blurry that far back. I would like to see the excellent set of his symphonies conducted by him (and the Penny set) augmented by some from a conductor like Vanska or Brabbins (are you reading this, Robert von Bahr?). His film music also needs more exposure. I am glad to see from Wikipedia that he accumulated a good number of honorary degrees.

  • Shunned enough to get a CBE.

    How much could the BBC have been shunning him when they were commissioning and premiering music from him?

    The classic “Four Scottish Dances” and “Four Cornish Dances” were such and probably a number of others.

  • Over the years, I’ve heard many performances of Arnold’s music, a few in the concert hall and most on BBC radio 2 and 3. And here was me thinking that the reason his music isn’t much played is because not many people want to listen to it. But no, it’s all the fault of the BBC.

  • He may not have fitted the BBC template of the time but, while they didn’t exactly promote his music, neither did they wholly ignore it as a BBC double cd shows.

  • I’m listening to his 3rd symphony, on youtube, someone was kind enough to share it.

    I also read somewhere (wiki) that he was a “rather conservative” composer who wrote tonal music. That’s quite amazing, when someone hasn’t done something akin to taking a knife to a painting like Dorian Gray at the end of his lifetime, a painting reducing art to an artifice of effect, then they are “rather conservative.”

    No insult to Webern or Schoenberg, but I wonder what they would have thought was anyone still doing their own thing called “conservative” rather than following said method, I don’t think they would have liked it.

    Like The interview with Gelsey Kirkland where she actually exposes that Balanchine not only had a nice pill for her, when she was not feeling up to dancing, but said that she actually got plastic surgeon to look more like Balanchine’s ideal dancer Suzanne Farrell. Someone not going along with such is “conservative.”


  • So what’s the difference between the treatment of him then from the ‘establishment’ and the ostracism and cancel culture of the Woke brigade today. Answer: none. The establishment has just changed its livery, that’s all. Now they’re all Woke and they will not tolerate non-conformity. One thing that both cohorts have in common; the establishment then and now – they’re all rabid conformists who’ve merely changed their uniforms.

  • Malcolm Arnold was the principal trumpet for the LPO in this recording of Mahler’s Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen


    under Edward van Beinum. The disc also features the world premiere recording of Arnold’s first major compositional success, his overture “Beckus the Dandipratt”.

    His biography records that as he was practising for this concert, a voice cried up to his window, “my father wrote that”. The lady was, of course, invited in.

  • Another Malcolm Arnold story in his biography. Arnold visited Shostakovich. They went into the bathroom and ran the taps full on, so they couldn’t be overheard by the KGB. I would have to read this again, because as I write, I wonder how good Shostakovich’s English was or Arnold’s Russian. But the story is in “Malcolm Arnold – Rogue Genius: The Life and Music of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Composer”

  • Go over to Youtube and type in Malcolm Arnold. I would guess that 50% of the recordings of his music were with BBC symphony orchestras, including his symphonies 1, 5 & 9. Is that “silencing” him?

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