We are very honoured to have the possibility of interviewing one of the greatest musicians ever and we would like to thank you for your thoughtfulness.
You are indebted to your mother, pianist, for transmitting you her passion for the music, however you were interested by the trumpet, how did your passion arose?
If I can put the record straight - I actually took up the trumpet when I was about nine years old. It was to help with my asthma.
But it seems that it was Louis Armstrong, whom you saw in Bournemouth when you were 12 years old, you decided the trumpet was your instrument.
Seeing Louis Armstrong in Bournemouth was a great experience and gave me my deep love of Jazz. He has always been an inspiration to me, but I had already made quite a lot of progress by then.
After studies of composition and trumpet at the Royal College of Music, London you joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet until 1948.
It was having lessons with the wonderful Ernest Hall that really made the trumpet for me. I began as second trumpet in the LPO but soon moved up to principal.
Can you please explain how the London Philharmonic Orchestra influenced your aspirations towards composition?
Certainly sitting in the orchestra playing the great repertoire had an effect on my composing - but the seed was already there! Perhaps the most important moment was when Edward van Beinum recorded my Overture Beckus the Dandipratt with the LPO. It helped others recognise that I was a serious composer.
You left the London Philharmonic Orchestra after obtaining a Mendelssohn scholarship in 1948 and spending one year in Italy.
I was in Italy on the Mendelssohn scholarship for only about five months as I already had a wife and two young children to support.
At that time, you concentrated on composing and declared your admiration for Mahler, Sibelius and specially Berlioz. Your music reflects dramatic tension, dialogue and shows an undeniably true ability to convey emotions through melodic textures. How would you define yourself as composer and what does really mean music for you as a way of expression?.
My music is about my life. I once said that all my music is autobiographical and this is true. Sometimes I even put particular characters, friends or relations, in the music by using their initials and the names of things associated with the piece. The 5th Symphony, for example, includes Gerard and Annetta Hoffnung - two great friends.
When composing, you seem to always have in mind the soloists and how they play it…. people like Larry Adler, Julian Bream, Benny Goodman, Yehudi Menuhin, etc. Has your past experience as trumpeter reinforced the necessity of emphasising the soloists’ role as an instrument to the composer’s service?.
Yes playing the trumpet helped me tremendously in writing for orchestra and writing for soloists - I always wrote music that would be challenging but ultimately very satisfying to play. It is always a great feeling to know that musicians enjoy playing my music - they actual enjoy the sensations because of the way that it is written. I can’t really say that I have favourites among those wonderful soloists for whom I wrote my concertos - but of course Richard Adeney was a wonderful exponent of both my flute concertos, Jack Thurston the first and Benny Goodman the second clarinet concerto and the great Yehudi Menuhin of course, with his pupil, played the Double Violin Concerto superbly
How did you introduce yourself into the cinema world, and what attracted you as way of expressing a musical emotion subject, a priori, to the image?
My first work for the cinema was the documentary film Avalanche Patrol in 1947 and it was John Hollingsworth who made the contacts for me. He actually conducted the LSO in the soundtrack - I didn’t begin conducting my own scores until much later. I found writing film music a fascinating challenge - form, for example, is one of the most difficult problems in music - but in films you already have this solved for you! I enjoyed working things out in seconds - or even fractions of them!
From those early years, it is worth mentioning your relation with director Terence Fisher and Hammer Productions, specialized in terror movies. You scored “Home to danger” (1951), “Wings of danger” (1952) and, specially, a wonderful score for “A stolen face” (1952) whereby you composed a beautiful piano piece which was played by the film star. How was your experience with Hammer and what are your memories about the creative process of such a piece?.
The most important thing about Stolen Face and Wings of Danger is that I began then to conduct my own scores which is very preferable to having some other conductor who might easily get some inflection or tempo incorrect. The creative process is always the same - I would watch the film; my secretary would work out the timings - down to a fraction of a second and then I would retire to my studio and write the music - which I usually did very quickly, with the thoughts of the pictures still in my head.
At the begining of the 50's, you star to work with important directors...
Sure, by the early 1950s I was working for many leading film directors….
... but I wish to emphazise your collaboration with David Lean on "The sound barrier" (1952), your first important movie. What can you tell us about this work, how did you know David Lean and how the director-composer relation was?
The Sound Barrier was the first of three films I did for David Lean and the relationship was mutually very respectful. I used all sorts of interesting chromatic writing in this film to create a sort of eerie outer-space kind of music.
Your last collaboration with David Lean, “The bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) made your name widely known. There is a perfect combination of music and image and, deservedly, you were awarded an Oscar for such a magnificent score. How came about the idea of introducing the “Colonel Bogey” march composed by Kenneth Alford in 1914 and your own “The River Kwai” march?.
Kwai did have to be written very quickly - about ten days is right. I wanted to use a tune that was connected with both world wars - virtually any tune with that kind of period flavour would have done. There was no special reason why I chose Colonel Bogey. I wasn’t able to collect the Oscar so it had to be flown over as my work schedule would not allow it - those were the days when no one really knew what an Oscar was - the man at the airport said “What is an Oscar - we’ve never heard of it!!”
Another director with whom you have reached heights is Mark Robson. You started this collaboration with “A prize of gold” (1955) and ended with “Nine hours to Rama” (1963). In between, another of your best remembered works: “The Inn of the sixth happiness” (1958) a score all soundtrack lovers treasure, with a beautiful love theme and that sweet children march. Globally speaking, how was your experience with Robson and what can you tell us about scoring “The Inn of the sixth happiness”?.
Well, I think the best part of writing the music for the Inn of the Sixth happiness was meeting Ingrid Bergman. I sat at the piano and played her some nursery rhymes that my own nanny, Lizzie Witts, had played to me when I was three. Knick Knack, Paddy Wack was in fact chosen by Ingrid. Rather like Kwai, I had only ten days to complete the score again - and this time wrote nearly an hours worth of music. This is because the director kept on changing his mind.
In the 50's you worked with Sir Carol Reed in a couple of films, Did you find noticeable differences between working in the U.K. and the U.S.A., where there is a more tight control from the Studios?
I just worked in the same way as I was doing for films made in the UK.
With “Trapeze” (1956) your music shared pieces by Strauss, Fucik or John Philip Sousa. What did you remember about this film?
I didn’t go to America when I worked on Trapeze. I wanted to go for authenticity which is why I included music by Strauss, Chopin and the others. I think the music for the opening credits is among the most dramatic I ever wrote.
In your curriculum, we see that you have worked with some of the Hollywood’s most significant directors. It comes to our mind names such as John Huston (“The roots of heaven”), Robert Rossen (“Island in the sun”), Joseph Losey (“The sleeping tigre”), Joseph Leo Mankiewicz (“Suddenly, last summer”) or Anthony Mann (“The heroes of Telemark”). Which of these scores is the one you are more satisfied with, and are there any anecdotes you particularly remember from your work with these directors?.
I enjoyed all those later films. My favourite memory was when Mankiewicz and myself met Sam Spiegel at the Dorchester Hotel in London. I was told he’ll be in his dressing gown and he’ll come rushing out saying he was on the telephone all morning to America - he was and he did!
"David Copperfield” (1970), is your legacy for the cinema. It contains one of the most memorable melodies ever composed for the cinema...
David Copperfield was a wonderful film and it was particularly good to be working with old friends again like Dickie Attenborough. You may notice that I used the clarinet a lot in this film - a favourite instrument for which I wrote two concertos as well as lots of solos in films - especially when my great friend Jack Thurston was alive to play them. It was my last film…..
The problems in your collaboration with Walton in "Battle of Britain", has it influenced in your decision to left the fillmusic?
I did help Walton a little with the music to the Battle of Britain - mostly on the orchestration. I was very annoyed when the makers of the Battle of Britain, threatened to remove all of Walton’s great score. I never returned to the cinema after that.
You are part of a generation of high level British composers such as William Wordsworth, William Alwyn, Benjamin Britten, Richard Addinsell, Arthur Bliss, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams or William Walton to name just a few. What is your opinion about this generation and his influence on the music of the XX century?.
These are all important composers and their music will live on - which is probably more than a lot of music written by the so-called progressives!
You have shown an interest in jazz from your early days (you composed improvised pieces with your brothers and friends) and you even collaborated with the Deep Purple rock Group by conducting their “Concerto for Group and orchestra” with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the London Symphony for Jon Lord’s recording of his “Gemini Suite” . Can yourself be defined as a “musical rebel”, somebody who rejects critics’ opinions which tend to discredit all music outside the so called “cult world”?.
No I’m not a musical rebel - but I don’t reject a style just because someone says it lacks seriousness. There’s good and bad music. But you can’t otherwise compartmentalize music. If I ever thought a musical style to be interesting - jazz, serial, pop, whatever, then I would give it equal consideration.
Although our page is basically focused on movie music, we cannot ignore your great, valuable contribution to the field of classical music to which you have dedicated the major part of your life. Considering that between the first and the last symphonies there is a lapse of time of 37 years, in which way your work is a reflection of the passing of time, or your own mood?.
My Symphonies are my most important works. In a way they tell the story of my life and all its changing moods and experiences. But you’ll find many similarities in style from the first to the last - I don’t think my style really changed.
Finally, of all you have done, what are you more proud of…. what you would not do again and, finally, what have you not yet done and would like to do?
I am proud of all the music I have griten. My vision of music has never changed. I have always considered music to be greatest act of friendship that there is, and I still do.
It has been Mr. Arnold a great pleasure for us to be in contact with you, and we sincerely appreciate your effort and kindness in completing this questionnaire.
Many thanks Maestro for your courtesy towards us.
For more info about Sir Malcolm Arnold, we recommended this website:
Special thanks to Anthony J.Day, Sir Malcolm´s Assistant, for his kindness collaboration with us. Without him, we wouldn´t have had this interview.