Malcolm Arnold - Writer

Composer. Nationality: British. Born: Northampton, England, 21 October 1921. Education: Attended the Royal College of Music, London, 1938–41. Military Service: British Army, 1944–45. Family: Married; two sons and one daughter. Career: 1941—joined London Philharmonic Orchestra as trumpeter (principal trumpet, 1942); 1945–46—played for the BBC Orchestra; 1946–48—rejoined the LPO; 1949—score for first fiction film, Britannia Mews ; also composer of works for orchestra, incidental music for plays, the ballet Homage to the Queen (for 1953 coronation). Awards: Academy Award, for The Bridge on the River Kwai , 1957. Commander, Order of the British Empire, 1970. Knights Batchelor, 1993.

Malcolm Arnold
Malcolm Arnold

Films as Composer:


Avalanche Patrol (Swain)


Charting the Seas (Lowenstein); Gates of Power (Squire); Badgers Green (Irwin); Women in Our Time (Nolbandov—short)


Britannia Mews ( The Forbidden Street ) (Negulesco); The Frazers of Cabot Cove (Swingler); Drums for a Holiday (Taylor); Terra Incognito (Verity)


Your Witness ( Eye Witness ) (Montgomery)


Home at Seven (Richardson)


The Ringer (Hamilton); The Sound Barrier ( Breaking the Sound Barrier ) (Lean); Stolen Face (Fisher); The Holly and the Ivy (O'Ferrall); Curtain Up (Smart); It Started in Paradise (Compton Bennett); Four Sided Triangle (Fisher)


Albert, R.N. ( Break to Freedom ) (Gilbert); The Captain's Paradise (Kimmins)


The Night My Number Came Up (Norman); Hobson's Choice (Lean); The Sea Shall Not Have Them (Gilbert); The Sleeping Tiger (Losey); The Beautiful Stranger ( Twist of Fate ) (Miller); The Belles of St. Trinian's (Launder); You Know What Sailors Are (Annakin)


1984 (Anderson); I Am a Camera (Cornelius); The Deep Blue Sea (Litvak)


Tiger in the Smoke (Baker); Trapeze (Reed); Port Afrique (Maté)


Island in the Sun (Rossen); The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean); Wicked as They Come (Hughes)


The Roots of Heaven (Huston); The Key (Tully); The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (Robson); Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (Launder); Dunkirk (Norman)


Suddenly Last Summer (Mankiewicz)


The Angry Silence (Green); Tunes of Glory (Neame); The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (Launder)


No Love for Johnnie (Thomas); Whistle Down the Wind (Forbes); On the Fiddle ( Operation Snafu ) (Frankel)


The Lion (Cardiff); The Inspector ( Lisa ) (Dunne)


Nine Hours to Rama ( Nine Hours to Live ) (Robson); Tamahine (Leacock)


The Thin Red Line (Marton); The Chalk Garden (Neame)


The Heroes of Telemark (A. Mann)


Sky, West, and Crooked ( Gypsy Girl ) (Mills); The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (Launder and Gilliat)


Africa—Texas Style! (Marton)


Battle of Britain (Hamilton) (co); The Reckoning (Gold)


David Copperfield (Delbert Mann)


N.E.L. Offshore News (doc) (co)


The Wildcats of St. Trinian's (Launder)


By ARNOLD: articles—

"I Think of Music in Terms of Sound," in Music and Musicians (London), vol. 6, no. 11, 1956.

In British Composers in Interview , by M. Schafer, London, 1963.

On ARNOLD: book—

Poulton, Alan, The Music of Malcolm Arnold: A Catalogue , London, 1987.

Cole, Hugo, Malcolm Arnold: An Introduction to His Music , London, 1989.

Craggs, Stewart R., Malcolm Arnold: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, 1998.

On ARNOLD: articles—

Fistful of Soundtracks (London), October 1980.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 7, no. 26, 1988.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 7, no. 27, September 1988.

Score (Lelystad), June 1993.

On ARNOLD: film—

1991 Malcolm Arnold at 70 (Rusmanis)

* * *

One of the later recruits to the distinguished group of orchestral composers who worked for British films more especially during and after World War II, Malcolm Arnold began his main contribution to films in the 1950s. His first notable score was for David Lean's The Sound Barrier . Initially a trumpeter in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Arnold had received his training at the Royal College of Music; as a composer he was outstanding for the range of his musical styles, which made him ideally adaptable as a composer for film, since he readily adjusted himself with an infectious enthusiasm to each individual film's dramatic needs, exploiting his evident skill in pastiche composition. This was demonstrated early in his notable screen career in his close collaboration with Lean on The Sound Barrier . In the opening sequence, in which a Spitfire fighter test pilot, while descending in a steep dive, inadvertently hits the sound barrier, the music blends brilliantly with the sound effects that represent the onset of the battering of the aircraft and the pilot's momentary loss of consciousness before he regains his self-control and manages to pull his aircraft out of trouble. Lean, as the former meticulous film editor-turned-director calculating every frame of every shot, required of his composer a split-second response to each nuance of the action, integrating momentary musical phrasing, or brief stretches of musical composition with the orchestration of the carefully selected sound effects. As the Spitfire lifts and soars so do the strings of Arnold's composition, and when the diving aircraft begins to batter, the music shifts into an ominous, chattering sound which ceases only when the half-swooning pilot pulls the craft out of its dangerous dive.

In another of Lean's films, Hobson's Choice —the film version of a celebrated stage comedy about an alcoholic Lancashire bootmaker and domestic tyrant, played by Charles Laughton—the opening scene again shows the inventive integration of Arnold's work. The film combines a vigorous and tuneful music hall-style pastiche with significant sound-effects—the squeaky pendant sign outside the oldfashioned bootshop, a striking city clock, slow pans accompanied by music over the variety of shoes on display, all culminating in a sudden zip-pan to the shopdoor as it crashes open and Hobson staggers back home with a monstrous, climactic belch.

For Arnold, film music only became a branch of musical creativity if it was fully integrated with the visual-aural action of the picture, an inventive component in a multiple art-form, as it is in ballet and opera. Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock's key composer) used to claim that film is truly "melodrama"—music-drama. Otherwise, he claimed, film music becomes a mere hybrid, just background music, trying to exist alongside , not with the movie. His view was to be shared by most of the prominent British composers of the period who were also enthusiastic composers for film, including William Alwyn, Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Arnold Bax, and others. Though Alwyn preferred to begin composition at script stage, working closely with the director, Arnold, a very rapid worker, preferred to work only at the rough-cut stage of the picture. He also preferred to use small combinations of instruments rather than large orchestral effects—25 instruments only, for example, in the case of Hobson's Choice . He was to work with Lean again on The Bridge on the River Kwai , which earned him an Oscar; other prominent films for which he wrote the music were The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and David Copperfield .

—Roger Manvell

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: