Secret symphonies on internet radio

My Overgrown Path radio programme on Future Radio on Sunday Oct 14 at 5.00pm UK time features two secret symphonies which are rarely heard either in the concert hall or in broadcasts. Fashion is as important as merit in contemporary music today. Which probably explains why the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich and Henryk Górecki are heard so often, and why those of Malcolm Arnold and Paul Creston languish in obscurity.

Sir Malcolm Arnold (above) is, by far, the better known of the two composers. His film music, English Dances, and Guitar Concerto have already featured on my radio programme. But his gritty and uncompromising symphonies stay resolutely out of fashion, and out of performance, despite their considerable merit.

Arnold’s Eighth Symphony dates from 1978 when it was written to a commission from an American Foundation, and was given its first performance in the States by the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The critic John Amis described the symphony as the composer’s masterpiece. The three movements are pure Arnold with an Irish marching tune in the first, an elegiac slow movement, and an ambiguous finale.

The neglect of Arnold's symphonies is underlined by the fact that the 1991 world premiere recording of Malcolm Arnold’s Eighth Symphony is no longer available. But I will be playing it on Sunday, with that great champion of British music Vernon Handley conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

After Britain’s Malcolm Arnold I am presenting music by America’s Paul Creston (above). Born in New York City in 1906, Creston was the son of a Sicilian house-painter. His musical abilities emerged at a young age, and he studied with the composer Henry Cowell, and received two Guggenheim Scholarships.

In the 1950s and early 1960s Paul Creston’s music was widely performed in America, and he achieved considerable success composing for television. But in the late 60s both the style of Creston’s music, and his right-wing political beliefs fell out of favour, and his compositions are rarely heard today.

I am trying to rectify that by webcasting his Second Symphony which dates from 1944. This is a work of considerable merit. In fact Grammy winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams has gone on record as describing this as the greatest ever American symphony.

That is considerable praise, and you can judge for yourself when I play a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Theodor Kuchar. Paul Creston’s Second Symphony has two movements, the first is titled Introduction and Song, the second Interlude and Dance.

Click on the image below to listen to the secret symphonies in real time at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday Oct 14.

Listen to the Future Radio audio stream here. Convert Overgrown Path radio on-air times to your local time zone using this link. Windows Media Player doesn't like the audio stream very much and takes ages to buffer. WinAmp or iTunes handle it best. Unfortunately the royalty license doesn't permit on-demand replay, so you have to listen in real time. If you are in the Norwich, UK area tune to 96.9FM. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
The American Founation that commissioned the Arnold symphony was the Rustam K. Kermani Foundation who commissioned it in memory of Rustam K.Kermani.

I can't add anything more as I can find nothing about the Rustam K. Kermani Foundation.

Any information very welcome.
Pliable said…
Let's complete the story.

Here are performance details for Malcolm Arnold's 8th Symphony.

First performance: Albany Symphony Orchestra/Julius Hegyi, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Albany, New York, USA, 5 May 1979

First British performance: BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 2 October 1981

First London performance: Young Musicians' Symphony Orchestra/James Blair, St John's, Smith Square, 26 November 1982

I am afraid I can offer no information on the first performance of Paul Creston's 2nd Symphony. Can any readers help?
Mell said…

I consider Creston's "Concertino for Marimba" (the first written) to be one of the best works in the genre (which garners me some derision from other percussionists.) It's a fabulous work that musically holds it's own against concerti for any other instrument. I would be proud to play it on a program with a violinist playing Tchaikovsky or Brahms. I can't say that with many other mallet works. (Although the Kurka Concerto is also very nice. Hey, there's another sadly neglected American composer who was lost too soon- Robert Kurka.)
Pliable said…
Email received:


The premiere recording of Arnold's eighth was reissued by Decca a little while after the composer's passing: Too little too late, but at least it is back in circulation.

Best wishes


Thanks Tim, and quite correct.

But that recording of the Arnold symphony is only available as a 11 CD box.
Walter Simmons said…
A colleague brought to my attention your enthusiasm for Paul Creston's Second Symphony. I share that enthusiasm, and would go so far as to cite it as the greatest American symphony of the 1940s. I thought that you and your readers might be surprised to learn (given the work's current state of relative unfamiliarity) that its premiere was given by the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Artur Rodzinski, in February, 1945. (This tidbit, along with much other information concerning this sorely neglected area of American music, can be found in my book, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Scarecrow Press, 2004).
Walter said…
Walter Simmons adds ...
I must add that Creston did not study with Henry Cowell. Creston was quite adamant that he never studied theory or composition with anyone, but was self-taught (or "self-learned," as he put it).
However, Henry Cowell did write an important article on Creston for the October 1948 issue of Musical Quarterly. This seminal article essentially introduced Creston to the academic music world.
Also, I would like to add that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra recording, conducted by Neeme Jarvi on Chandos is far superior to the Naxos recording.

Recent popular posts

A street cat named Aleppo

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

A scam by a venal London merchant

Storm clouds gather over Aldeburgh

In the shadow of Chopin

The act of killing from 20,000 feet

The art of the animateur

Benjamin Brittten's relationship with children