Tuesday, December 07, 2010

If you like Mahler - and who doesn't? - try this


Malcolm Arnold's music was heavily influenced by his time as a trumpeter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1940s when he played in pioneering performances of Mahler's symphonies. If you like Mahler but do not know Arnold's symphonies his Fifth, with its mighty Mahlerian adagio second movement, is a very good place to start.

My love of Malcolm Arnold's music dates back to the composer's own recordings on Lyrita LPs. But in the 1990s chance brought me to live near to Sir Malcolm here in rural Norfolk, and that led me to editing the composer's personal website for the last years before his death in 2006. Those final years were not easy for the composer or for his tireless carer and champion Anthony Day. The bardo like nature of that period is presaged in Sir Malcolm's Ninth Symphony, written in Norfolk in 1986, with its haunting twenty-three minute concluding slow movement.

The Ninth Symphony is dedicated to Anthony Day and my 2005 post about it was written with his collabaration. It was an extraordinary experience sitting in the house in Attleborough where Sir Malcolm and his carer lived discussing one of contemporary music's most enigmatic works. The composer remained totally silent and expressionless in the room as I talked with Anthony Day. But how could his silent presence be ignored as we pondered over the enigma of that last symphony?

Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony was composed twenty-five years before the sparse Ninth, but already there is a sense of approaching darkness. Mahler's presence is felt not only in the central adagio but also in the juxtaposition of the banal and the profound in the surrounding movements. But whereas the angst of Mahler's Fifth is resolved in a rousing rondo finale, Arnold's Fifth sinks further into darkness in the closing bars as tubular bells toll against a minor chord in the cellos and basses.

Gustav Mahler famously predicted "My time will come", but it did not happen in his lifetime. Let us hope that Sir Malcolm, whatever his present reincarnation, does not have too long to wait before his music receives the recognition it so deserves.

* What is it
about fifth symphonies?

** Header image shows Richard Hickox's recording of Malcolm Arnold's Fifth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra on Chandos. It comes in ravishing sound captured in All Saint's Church, Tooting. A fine EMI recording of the Fifth with Malcolm Arnold conducting the CBSO coupled with Charles Groves conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Arnold's Second Symphony is now deleted.

*** Music trivia - Sir Malcom is celebrated for his brilliant film scores, among them the 1958 Inn of the Fifth Happiness which starred Ingrid Bergman. A gold statue of Buddha used in the film is now at the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales.

Chandos' recording of Sir Malcolm Arnold's Fifth and Sixth Symphonies was bought at retail. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

8 comments:

Pliable said...

Email received:

I never liked Mahler.

When I was a teenager I heard his music for the first time. I didn’ t like it. I liked renaissance music, baroque, the great classical composers, only partly 19th century, and most of all Stravinsky, Berio, etc. Beside – later – pop & jazz.

Later I kept having the same appreciation. Mahler: who understands that music? You just run away from it.

And now, after so many books about his “ World famous” wife ( ie a bitch) I understand why. The poor Mahler guy….

See amongst other books: the best

http://www.perlentaucher.de/buch/18425.html

There’ s also a EN translation. Or it was written in EN. I don’t know.

Ok, this was about the old Bagehot ( The Economist ) trich “ simplify & exaggerate”. However it’s true.

BT

Pliable said...

A regular reader has emailed the following:

That's bugging me- the headline to your last post. I'm sure that's from dialogue in a movie but i can't place it. I remeber seeing a scene in some movie where a girl asks the star "Do you like Mahler? and he replies "Yeah, who doesn't?" Maybe not.

I'm not aware of that quote from a movie. In fact my headline was inspired by the Amazon 'if you like this you'll like that' meme. But that's not to say it did not appear in a film. Can any readers help?

This headline has provoked more discussion than any other. There was quite a bit of agonising before it was posted about the correct punctuation for when a rhetorical question appears in the middle of a sentence, as it does in that headline. The punctuation actually used is not mine, it comes from a friend whose grammatical and musical knowledge I am quite happy to defer to.

Seymour said...

Hello, there is a film called "Aimez-vous Brahms?" (Do You Like Brahms?), the English title was Goodbye Again (1961)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054936/


ps: I LOVE MAHLER :)

Halldor said...

When I saw the headline, I assumed it was a paraphrase of that line from Willy Russell's "Educating Rita": "Wouldn't you simply DIE without Mahler?!"

Originally intended as a satirical comment on precious, emotionally incontinent wallowing in a then (1980) fashionably "difficult" composer, it seems - this year - to have become the default critical position on this overplayed composer.

Pliable said...

'...it seems - this year - to have become the default critical position on this overplayed composer'.

Interesting comment, let me explain. The first version of this post was written some weeks ago when BBC Radio 3's Mahler fest was at its peak, and that original version started with these words:

"Here in the UK we currently have wall to wall Mahler to the detriment of many other fine composers."

Before uploading I decided that it was better to let the Malcolm Arnold advocacy speak for itself and the opening was axed. Which I am not sure was the right decision.

Nick said...

Sorry to be a pedant - the Arnold conducted version of the 5th is with the CBSO (originally coupled on the LP with the Cornish Dances and the Peterloo Overture)and Groves conducts the BSO in the 2nd (originally coupled with the English Dances as I recall. Arnold's own recording of the 2nd was in pick-up session with the LPO. But in essence you are quite right the 5th is wonderful but the 9th is a masterpiece as yet unacknowledged generally.

Pliable said...

Nick, no pedantry at all. I had my wires crossed in that section and many thanks for straightening them out. No excuse as I had the EMI LP in front of me as I typed - it has one of those awful HMV Greensleeve cover designs. But the error has now been corrected in the post and I am grateful to you for pointing it out.

Bodie said...

Arnold's 5th may descend from Mahler, but, having just listened to his 1st, I believe it descends from Berlioz. Thoughts?