Britten and Malcolm ArnoldStories
Sir Malcolm Arnold’s links with Aldeburgh are recorded in the Archive collections and his centenary year is an appropriate occasion to focus on some of them.
Programmes mark performances of Arnold’s music at the Festival between 1957 and 1976, which included three premieres. In December 1958 Britten wrote to Arnold regarding a guitar concerto he was composing for Julian Bream. The concerto was an early commission by Bream from one of several major contemporary composers with an aim of expanding the instrument’s repertoire. Encouraged by this news, Britten invited Arnold to premiere the work at Aldeburgh and, if possible, to conduct it as well. The concerto (Arnold’s op. 67) was first performed in the Jubilee Hall by Bream and the Melos Ensemble under Arnold’s musical direction on the 25 June 1959.
Flautist Richard Adeney, a regular performer at Aldeburgh, played with the Melos that evening. A longstanding friend and colleague of Arnold’s, Adeney was also the recipient of several new works by the composer, including two flute concertos. The second was first performed with the English Chamber Orchestra at Snape Maltings on the 28 June 1973. ‘To be asked by a performer whose accomplishment one admires so much is a great incentive to write music,’ Arnold wrote of his concerto in the accompanying programme note. ‘[A]nd the style and form of the piece are dictated by what I consider to be the main characteristics of Richard Adeney’s great artistry.’
Another talented musician for whom Arnold composed was the pianist Paul Hamburger, who worked as vocal coach with the English Opera Group (EOG) during the 1950s. Hamburger’s printed and manuscript music collections, which are kept at the Archive, contain two autograph scores in Arnold’s hand, both good examples of his highly legible script. One of the manuscripts is a foray into chamber music, the Sonata No.2 for violin and piano, op. 43 (1953) which is dedicated to both Hamburger and EOG orchestra violinist Suzanne Rosza. Hamburger was also dedicatee, along with Helen Pyke, of the Concerto for Piano Duet and Strings, op. 32 (1951). This extraordinary, dramatic piece is less well known than the later Concerto for Two Pianos (three hands) but certainly deserves to be played more frequently. A number of Arnold’s manuscripts are kept in various locations, such as the British Library and the Library at Eton College. However, a number are unaccounted for, so it is good to be able to take a small role in the preservation of some of his extraordinary legacy.
The two piano, three hands concerto for Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith (one of several works by composers written in response to Smith’s loss of the use of his left arm) received its premiere not at Aldeburgh but at a Henry Wood Promenade Concert in August 1969. A Britten connection exists nevertheless as the same programme also featured a performance of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. A reminder that both composers often wrote with an eye to making their music useful, accessible and greatly entertaining.
The final Arnold work to receive its first performance at the Aldeburgh Festival was String Quartet No. 2, op. 118, an important although not often heard addition to the chamber music repertoire. It was played by the Allegri String Quartet at Snape Maltings on the 12 June 1976 and a recording of the concert is held in the Archive.
Live recordings can provide the closest experience to being present at a performance. Correspondence can have a similar effect, capturing a piece of history in the space of a few important words. Britten and Arnold respected and appreciated one another’s music. This is made clear in Arnold’s generous birthday greeting to Britten of November 1973, in which he thanks him for ‘the intense pleasure all your work has given me and will always give me.’ He also acknowledged the impression the Maltings made on him, remarking on ‘the wonderful acoustics’ and ‘marvellous atmosphere … It was a great experience. Thank you very much for everything. With every good wish, Yours Malcolm Arnold.’
- Dr Nicholas Clark, Librarian