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Sir Malcolm Arnold's 60-year career has shown him to be perhaps the most versatile and prolific of the many British composers who emerged in the post-World War II era.
Born in Northampton in 1921, Arnold was trained as a composer and trumpeter at the Royal College of Music from 1938 to 1941 (under Gordon Jacob for composition and Ernest Hall for trumpet), after which he won a trumpet position with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. After a promotion to principal trumpet in 1942, Arnold's career there was interrupted by two years of military service (1944-1945) and a year with Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony (during the 1945-1946 season). Arnold returned to the London Philharmonic in 1946, but soon found that composition was exercising an increasingly strong hold over his musical attention. Upon receiving the Mendelssohn scholarship in 1948 (which, in addition to prestige, provided the young composer with funds to spend a year in Italy), Arnold resigned from the orchestra to devote himself to composition (and, later, conducting) on a full-time basis.
Arnold's output over the next 50 years was prodigious: nine symphonies, 20 concertos, five ballets (including a version of Sweeney Todd in 1959), and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of smaller pieces for all kinds of ensembles. A successful secondary career as a film composer resulted in over 80 scores, including the Academy Award-winning Bridge on the River Kwai. Arnold has been the recipient of many public and academic honors, including honorary doctorates from the universities of Exeter, Durham, and Leicester, and the Ivor Novello Award for "Outstanding Services to British Music" in 1986. Named Commander of the British Empire in 1970, he was further honored in 1993 when his name appeared among those selected as Knights of the British Empire.
His resistance to identification with any of the various and ubiquitous "schools" of composition during the latter half of the twentieth century earned him the unbridled displeasure of many critics and fellow composers. On the surface, his music seems more intended to welcome audiences than to put his formidable technical skills on display, or to make musical or artistic "progress." While at times the overly accessible surface contours of his work (particularly the large-scale orchestral pieces) obscure the fundamental tensions that drive the music at a deeper level, Arnold's sense of craftsmanship -- an aristocratic pride that prohibits him from engaging in what he sees as vulgar twentieth century techniques, while also perhaps causing his music-making to fall short of its deeply expressive potential -- has resulted in an enviable consistency of output. Arnold named Berlioz as an inspiration; influence also came from a composer who provided England with its wartime anthem and who was always more popular in England than on the Continent -- the similarly anti-modernist and individualist Jean Sibelius.