MALCOLM ARNOLD: A Composer of Real Music: Symphonic Writing, Style and Aesthetics

By Matthew-Walker, Robert | Musical Opinion, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview

MALCOLM ARNOLD: A Composer of Real Music: Symphonic Writing, Style and Aesthetics


Matthew-Walker, Robert, Musical Opinion


MALCOLM ARNOLD: A Composer of Real Music: Symphonic Writing, Style and Aesthetics By Raphael D Thöne Entercom Saurus Records Edition Wissenschaft 208 pages softback ISBN 978 39 3774 806 1 £13:95

A serious book analysing Malcolm Arnold's compositional procedures in his concert music is badly needed, but this, despite the best of intentions, is centrifugally not it. The author, born in 1980, is a German composer, writer and musicologist, whose PhD Thesis on Arnold's symphonic music gained him his Doctorate. We do not know if this book is the Thesis, but if it is it is an unworthy one in several major respects.

In the first place, the title will get many people's backs up, if not cause them to ignore it completely. Secondly, it is riddled with factual errors and has been poorly proofed. Wrong titles, repeated time and again, of Arnold's works abound, for example A Grand, Grand Festival Overture, and Hommage to the Queen and not every reader will immediately recognise an English composer such as Brax, instead of Bax! Such errors badly disfigure the text, revealing the author's incomplete knowledge of his subject. Thirdly, whilst the reader has a right to expect that every one of Arnold's eleven symphonies will be treated equally in a book of this scope to virtually ignore Symphonies 1, 3, 5, 7 and 8 and the symphonies for Strings and for Brass, at the same time as devoting a relatively great deal of attention to Symphonies 2, 6 and 9, and scant attention to No 4, all with copious, oddly-reproduced, music examples - I won't bore you with the details - is simply not good enough at any level, and certainly not on a musicological one. Fourthly, the author completely misunderstands the nature of Hans Kellers criticism of Arnold in the late 1950s. Keller knew that Arnold was a genuine and original composer, with a real and distinctive voice, but he equally knew that Arnold, as with any creative artist, should not be beyond criticism. …

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