Arnold (1921-) - Symphony No. 2
of the élitists was, with Malcolm Arnold, not limited to his Second
Symphony, but generously extended to his entire output. Fortunately,
he is lately gaining some recognition, but for too long his "problem" was
that he wrote nice tunes in an age when tunes (except those to facilitate
respiration) were well and truly "out".
he also wrote music for films - the Establishment was definitely
not amused: anyone who writes tunes and film music cannot possibly
have any real substance (and yet the St. Trinians “Flash 'arry” soundbite,
to cite just one example, is a small stroke of pure genius). What amazes
(and amuses) me is that Shostakovich was not similarly condemned. After
all, he committed the same crimes. But then, I suppose, it was alright
because he was foreign.
was written to a commission from the Bournemouth Winter Gardens Society,
completed in 1953, and premièred by its dedicatees, the then Mr.
Charles Groves and the then Municipal Orchestra, in May of that year. As
an orchestral player himself, Arnold had studied the reactions of both
musicians and audiences, and consciously set about crafting music that
would be gratifying to play as well as to hear.
happens, the parallel with Shostakovich goes deeper. In both, a carefree
surface often conceals a dark and dangerous undercurrent, which can rise
to conflict with the superficial jollity, or simply "blow it away". Arnold
is something of an "English Shostakovich", as exemplified, I think, by
the Second Symphony. This is a symphony suffering psychoses, a distant
relation perhaps of the Symphonie Fantastique?
movement (allegretto) sets out with a characteristically genial, mildly
cheerful tune which soon begins to suffer disfiguring waves of anxiety,
even the odd fit.
movement (vivace) dances happily, but rapidly develops schizoid tendencies
with sudden, violent bursts of anger, and obsessive chattering.
In a film
3rd movement (lento) might well have been used to underpin some scene
of a post-nuclear holocaust desert, but here the landscape is that of the
hopeless mind of a depressive.
movement (allegro con brio) is a nightmare, a succession of surreal
images that might be comical were they not so fearful. The real shock comes
at the end: a colossal, grinding crisis suddenly dissolves into catharsis,
a brief, unexpected awakening. So, it was really only a "Dream of a Psycho-Sabbat"
after all - phew, what a relief...
a symphony worthy in every respect to be ranked alongside the best. It
is full of technical subtlety for the cerebral listener, and yet (no mean
feat, this) is not afraid to entertain the public at large. As was said
on the way to the Forum, "Something for everyone, a Comedy tonight!", an
apt quote for a man who sees music as "a social act of communication among
people", had no time for purveyors of ivory tower élitism, and had
the courage to stick to his principles while they ruled the roost and committed
him to the sidelines. Tonight you have a golden opportunity to rise and
shout "Viva, Malcolm Arnold!"
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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