Few world-class composers can rival the dazzling Sir Malcolm Arnold in terms of voluminous output. His résumé alone -- 132 film scores (an average of six per year), seven ballets, 20 concertos, nine symphonies, and a host of compositions for brass bands, chorales, and chamber musicians -- suggest a creative mind that never ceased, and would doubtless have kept on producing music, indefinitely, for as long as Arnold lived.
Arnold also demonstrates (as do so many of his contemporaries) that the most enviable creative gifts and the most troubling behavioral dysfunction often walk hand in hand. The victim of schizophrenia at an early age, a well-publicized alcoholic, a survivor of numerous mental breakdowns and suicide attempts, and the recipient of severe treatments for mental illness including institutionalization and a possible lobotomy, Arnold suffered from tremendous psychiatric strain. His life was also fraught with external difficulty, including the death of an infant daughter, the birth of an autistic son, and two failed marriages (to Sheila Nicholson and Isobel Gray, respectively), the second of which saw his wife filing a restraining order against the increasingly violent Arnold. He nonetheless survived these traumas, grew stronger, and -- despite a lengthy period in the middle of his life, sans output -- continued to author music right up through the end.
A Northampton native born on October 21, 1921, Arnold studied music theory and composition as a youngster, then picked up a trumpet after hearing a Louis Armstrong performance at age 12. In time, the young man became so proficient that he secured a job performing with local orchestras, while enrolled at the Royal College of Music. He voluntarily enlisted in the RAF in 1944, but so hated the armed forces that he shot his own foot to get discharged. He then occupied a seat as a trumpeter in the London Philharmonic, but withdrew upon receiving the prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enabled him to devote all of his time to compositions. As the decades passed, he became a key crossover artist who incorporated eccentric (and, by formally accepted standards, inappropriate) instrumentation into symphonies, and even at one point conducted a symphonic work written by the psychedelic rock band Deep Purple.
Even more incredible, given the size of Arnold's output, is the fact that he composed the preponderance of his significant musical works during the 1940s, '50s, '60s. Over the next two decades, Arnold's emotional and psychological difficulties made it virtually impossible for him to compose anything of significance, but he reportedly picked up his rapid-fire pace again in the '90s. Arnold's most famous film score was unquestionably the one he wrote for David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won an Oscar. Though too numerous to list in full, some of his additional film credits as composer include Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952), Hobson's Choice (1954), The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), The Holly and the Ivy (1954), 1984 (1956), Trapeze (1956), The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Whistle Down the Wind (1962), The Thin Red Line (1964), and Gypsy Girl (1966). He composed his final film score for 1980's The Wildcats of St. Trinian's, directed by Frank Launder, who had directed the original Belles of St. Trinian's.
Queen Elizabeth knighted Arnold in 1993. He died of a chest infection on September 23, 2006, just under a month prior to his 85th birthday and a Northampton-based musical celebration scheduled in his honor. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi