Malcolm Arnold: Padstow Lifeboat


Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton, England in October 1921. He took up playing the trumpet at age 12, and after studying and practising intensely for five years, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. Whilst at RCM, Arnold studied both composition, with Gordon Jacob, and trumpet studies with Ernest Hall. Although primarily remembered as a composer, for the first part of his musical career, Arnold focused on being a trumpeter. He was principal trumpet for the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as other London-based ensembles.

By age 30, Arnold devoted most of his time to composition. Known for his ‘light British music’, Arnold’s composition style is heavily influenced by folk melodies, which resonate in his English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish dance suites. As well as concert overtures and dances, Arnold is also remembered for his film music and more “serious” symphonic works. He has penned over one hundred film scores including: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Hobson’s Choice (1954), The Key (1958), Africa Texas Style (1967) and David Copperfield (1969). Arnold also won an Ivor Novello Award for his score for the 1958 film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. 

He often took influence from jazz, folk and composers such as Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler. Throughout his musical career, Arnold worked with a variety of well-renowned musicians such as Benny Goodman, Julian Lloyd Webber and Larry Adler. As well as this, he also won a plethora of honours and awards for his services to music, including a CBE in 1993. In October of each year there is an annual Malcolm Arnold festival held in Northampton, which celebrates Arnold’s life and music.

All was not always well throughout his life, however. Around the middle of his life, Arnold had built a negative reputation of himself due to his general unpleasantness. He was often drunk and “highly promiscuous” and in 1961 he divorced his first wife, with his second also taking a court order out against him after their divorce. After the second divorce, Arnold became depressive and attempted suicide twice. 

In 1978 he was an in-patient in the psychiatric ward at the Royal Free Hospital, London. After being treated on and off for alcoholism and depression, Arnold overcame them and lived until  2006, with Anthony Day being his carer from the 1980s. Arnold died in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on 23rd September 2006, after a fatal chest infection. That same day, his final work, The Three Musketeers, was premiered in Bradford by the Northern Ballet.


The Music

Composed in 1967 when Arnold was residing in St Merryn, Cornwall, Padstow Lifeboat remains a very popular march for brass bands. A new boathouse and slipway had been commissioned at Trevose Head new Padstow in October 1967, therefore Padstow Lifeboat was written to commemorate the official inauguration. 

The main premise of the piece is a foghorn that interrupts the lively march:


“The Padstow Lifeboat has a long and distinguished record. The new lifeboat station is near Trevose lighthouse, whose foghorn varies in pitch between middle C and D. For the sake of musical unity, it remains at D throughout the march.”


Packed with churning waves and the famous foghorn, the march is packed full of fun musical tricks from Arnold. The march opens with a tumultuous theme that is answered by the foghorn. As the upper band leads with the march theme, players from the lower band add to the foghorn sound. The quick changes between very loud and soft dynamics creates a buzz around the march. The sea-inspired central melody is joyful and is decorated by dancing solo and soprano cornets. 

As the band begin to reprise the opening theme a perilous section breaks out that showcases brash sounds, loud bass sections and sliding trombones. The music is then brought back with the help of the bass drum. A quick reprise of the main march theme leads the band to the triumphant conclusion of this popular march.


Ⓒ Alex Burns 

Happy Reading!

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