Malcolm Arnold: Three Sea Shanties


Composed in 1943 for Wind Quintet, Malcolm Arnold’s Three Sea Shanties are full of character and exciting twists and turns. Set into three movements, each little ditty pays homage to a different sea shanty. The three short movements offer a playful take on these songs, whilst also highlighting Arnold’s incredible talent for making quality music. 


The Music
Movement I – What Should We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

Based on the popular sailor song What Should We Do With A Drunken Sailor? The peppy first movement shows the various stages of intoxication. The racey tempo paired with the music that shows the sailor in states of ecstasy, remorse and excitement makes a truly evocative movement. 

The drunken is shown chasing something, developing hiccups, finding himself feeling remorseful, dancing the tango and then pulling himself together. The jaunty melody and the impact of the unison sections adds to the gravitas of this movement. The fast pace adds to the excitement, with the fast tonguing needed for the reprise of the song being a real highlight of this. 


Movement II – Boney was a Warrior

The sensitively scored second movement offers some sort of respite between two intensely fast movements. A horn solo opens this movement and sets the more relaxed scene. Long sustained notes supports the melody line creating a stark change in atmosphere. The lack of movement in the accompanying parts keeps the focus on the solo line. In this movement all five instruments gets a chance to sit in the solo spot. The melody is slowly passed around the ensemble. 


Movement III – Johnny Come Down to Hilo

The humorous and boisterous final movement sees Arnold writing bright and intricate melodies for the quintet. Not one instrument manages to get through the whole melody before being interrupted by another taking over. The quick changes and variations on the melody keeps the excitement and humour going through this movement. Arnold’s clever orchestration for this movement gives each instrument a chance to be a soloist and an accompanist. This movement truly shows Arnold at his best. 


Final Thoughts

Malcolm Arnold’s Three Sea Shanties shows his humorous side, whilst also keeping his integrity in tow. The intricate scoring and manipulation of the melodies shines through, with each movement offering a quirky take on the music. A really enjoyable work for wind quintet that will no doubt remain popular for years to come!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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