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Malcolm Arnold (1921 - 2006)

Malcolm Arnold

Bridge over the River Kwai

This classic British film of 1957 was directed by David Lean, and won him an Oscar as Best Director. He only directed 19 films in 40 years, but what a success rate! Brief Encounter, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, A Passage to India. etc.

The music was by English composer Malcolm Arnold. Though not the march “Colonel Bogey”, which is by Kenneth Alford, and that is what we are playing tonight.

The Padstow Lifeboat

Northampton born composer Malcolm Arnold studied at the Royal College of Music in London, and played first trumpet in the London Philharmonic Orchestra until 1948. He was awarded a CBE in 1970, and knighted in 1993. He died last year (2006). His output includes several film scores of which Bridge over the River Kwai won him an Oscar. His orchestral output is considerable, including 8 symphonies, 18 concertos and 5 ballets.

In 1965, Malcolm Arnold and his second wife settled in St Merryn, near Padstow, Cornwall, where he entered fully into local musical life, even becoming a bard of the Cornish Gorseth. His compositions of this period included the Cornish Dances and this Padstow Lifeboat march, which introduces the lifeboat's claxon as a jarring dissonance.

Scottish Dances, Op. 59
III. Allegretto
II. Vivace

Northampton born composer Malcolm Arnold studied at the Royal College of Music in London, and played first trumpet in the London Philharmonic Orchestra until 1948. He was awarded a CBE in 1970, and knighted in 1993. His output includes several film scores of which Bridge over the River Kwaiwon him an Oscar.

His orchestral output is considerable, including 8 symphonies, 18 concertos and 5 ballets. His sets of British Dances - Cornish, English and Scottish - are particularly entertaining. Tonight we play the third and second from the set of Four Scottish Dances.

Tam O'Shanter, Op. 51

This concert overture is closely based on the poem "Tam O'Shanter" by Robert Burns. The action is precisely located at Alloway, the village where Burns was born in Ayrshire.

Tam O'Shanter, is the story of a hard drinker who ignores his wife's warning that he will one day be "catch'd wi' warlocks" for his bad behaviour. Late one momentous night, in tempest and roaring thunder, he sets out from the pub and drives his mare, Meg, on the homeward road. When they reach the church they see lights shining from inside, and Tarn takes a look - he sees a wild party of witches and warlocks, dancing to the bagpipes. One dancer, wearing a dress "in longitude tho' sorely scanty" (a "cutty-sark" in native Scots dialect, a mini-skirt in modern English), pleases Tam so well that he cries out "Weel done, cutty-sark!" In an instant all is dark, and the hellish legion are after him like a swarm of bees. If he can reach the river bridge he is safe, for spirits cannot cross running water. He escapes narrowly - but his gallant mare loses her tail, which had been grasped by a witch.

The overture begins slowly. Clarinets put in a bagpipe drone; the piccolo whistles a fragment of melody with a Scottish flavour; bassoons amble along in an inebriated rhythm; muted brass slithers in glissandi (a recurring device). Soon, with growing velocity, Tarn is on his wild ride into the storm. Lightening flashes and thunder roars. Tam gallops harder and harder, cracking his whip. Brass and drums suddenly lead to shivering string tremolos, and Tam watches the-unholy dancers - in hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels. The Scottish character of the music is evident. "Weel done, Cutty-sark!" cries Tam, in a trombone phrase that all but articulates the words - and the chase is on. It comes to a sudden end and there is a short scud of woodwind solos (Tam disappearing in the distance) ending in a high trilling note on the first violins. Flutes and clarinets, perhaps sarcastically, point the moral of the story and with a terrific flurry, the overture ends.

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