Malcolm Arnold: Fantasy for Tuba


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

During the 1960s, Arnold wrote a number of fantasies for solo instruments, including trumpet, trombone and tuba.  The brass fantasies in particular have remained highly popular, with the lower brass community being pleased they could show off their skills too. The versatile Fantasy for Tuba showcases the instrument and allows the performer to display, technique, range and sound. 

Opening with a simple theme that the tuba plays in a number of different styles, Arnold shows off both the lower range and clear high range of the instrument. A quick change in pace sees the tuba run off with a dramatic new theme that focuses on neat tonguing and fast scalic runs. The central ‘Andante’ section is very peaceful in comparison, with the main material being based on a Scottish folk song. By this point the full range of the tuba has been utilised, with harsh pedal notes outweighing the lighter upper register.

The ‘Vivace’ returns near the end of the fantasy, with this recapitulation showing the power and sheer stamina of the instrument and player. Fantasy for Tuba concludes quietly and slowly dies away.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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