Born in Northampton in 1921, Malcolm Arnold is one of the towering figures of the 20th century, with a remarkable catalogue of major concert works to his credit, including nine symphonies, seven ballets, two operas, one musical, over twenty concertos, two string quartets, and music for brass-band and wind-band. He also wrote132 film scores, among these are some of the finest works ever composed for the medium including Bridge on the River Kwai (for which, in 1958, he was one of the first British composers ever to win an Oscar), Inn of the Sixth Happiness (for which he received an Ivor Novello Award in 1958), Hobson’s Choice and Whistle Down the Wind.
Arnold began his professional musical life in July 1941 as second trumpet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Acknowledged as one of the finest players of the day, he eventually became the orchestra’s Principal Trumpet. By the end of the 1940s he was concentrating entirely on composition. The long and close relationship established between Malcolm Arnold and the LPO continues unabated, with the orchestra performing and recording the composer’s music widely.
In 1969 he was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth and was awarded the CBE in 1970. He holds Honorary Doctorates of Music from the Universities of Exeter, Durham and Leicester - and in America from the Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1983 and is an Hon. R.A.M. and an Hon. F.T.C.L. In 1985 Malcolm Arnold received an Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Services to British Music”, the Wavendon Award in 1985, and a knighthood in the 1993 New Years Honours List for his services to music. In 1994 the Victoria College of Music appointed Malcolm Arnold as their President. In 2001 he was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. In 2004 he was also honoured with the Incorporated Society of Musician’s Distinguished Musician Award “for his lifetime’s achievements as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.” In 1989 he received the Freedom of Northampton. In 2003 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Winchester. On 29th June, 2006, the University of Northampton conferred on Malcolm Arnold an Honorary Doctorate.
Throughout his life Malcolm Arnold has maintained a strongly held social conscience. In May 1957, as a guest of the Union of Czechoslovak Composers, he represented the British Musicians Union at the Prague Spring Festival. It was at this time that Arnold first met Shostakovich. To mark the Centenary of the Trades Union Congress, he was commissioned to write the Peterloo Overture; a work premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Festival Hall on 7 June 1968.
His most popular works have a global audience and his finest body of music, the nine symphonies, are available in numerous recordings including two complete cycles on the Chandos and Naxos labels – and, from September 2006, on Decca. Malcolm Arnold’s music has – and continues to be – performed and recorded extensively by leading orchestras both nationally and internationally. His work in musical education has been impressive and consistent. He helped establish and support, through the writing of works and fundraising, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. His belief in contemporary music led him to be an influential advocate for Pierre Boulez’s entry into British musical life.
Special musical tributes took place throughout 2006 to mark Malcolm Arnold's 85th anniversary year.
A revival by the Royal Ballet of the Malcolm Arnold/Fredrick Ashton acclaimed ballet Homage to the Queen, opened on 5 June at the Royal Opera House. Commissioned to honour the Queen’s Coronation, this work was first performed by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden on 2 June, 1953. On 23 September 2006 the Northern Ballet Theatre embarked on a UK tour with the world premiere of a new full length Arnold ballet, The Three Musketeers. The first Arnold Festival took place on 21st and 22nd October at the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton, the composer’s birthplace.
Sir Malcolm Arnold died on 23 September 2006