Discovering Malcolm Arnold
When Malcolm Arnold died in September, the obituaries in several of England’s leading newspapers referred to him in the headline as a “film composer.” The Guardian summed up his life’s work as follows:
The tormented but irrepressible career of Sir Malcolm Arnold, the most recorded British composer of all time and the first to win an Oscar, ended last night with his death at the age of eighty-four.
Not until the fourth paragraph did readers of the Guardian learn that in addition to scoring The Bridge on the River Kwai (for which he won his Oscar in 1958) and 131 other movies, Arnold also found time to write nine symphonies, two dozen concertos, and numerous other orchestral and chamber works.
While the critical “appreciations” that ran the next day were better informed, few did more than sketch the outlines of this composer’s controversial career, and they did so at times evasively. The BBC, for instance, declared that “while some regarded [Arnold] as one of the pre-eminent composers of his generation, others saw him as superficial and flippant.” The BBC failed to mention that its own music controllers had long made no secret of their disdain for his music.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.