Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spare us this feel-good social media nonsense


Regular readers will know I am a passionate advocate of Malcolm Arnold's music, and I was part of his circle in the last few years of his life in the role of web master for his personal website. Sir Malcolm was an inspirational example of how a genius can swim against the tide of fashion without drowning. But portraying him as a feel-good role model does him a grave disservice. In his masterful music darkness too often blocks out the light. He suffered from alcoholism, self-harm, broken marriages, and an acrimonious dispute with his children that lingered after his death. That quote, which is bandied around all over the internet and is, horror of horrors, perpetuated on a fridge magnet, comes from a 1991 BBC Omnibus interview. During it Sir Malcolm also explains "all of my music is biographical". Then in a 1995 interview with Andrew Penny for Naxos's recording of his Ninth Symphony this exchange took place:
Andrew Penny: "Did you think as you began to write the Ninth Symphony that it would be the last thing you wrote?"

Sir Malcolm Arnold: "I was rather hoping it would be....(pause)...the piece is an amalgam of all my knowledge of humanity."

AP: "It is a huge, bleak, finale isn't it?"

SMA: (long pause) "....Yes...I wanted it to die away into infinity....."
Presumably this quote is not the stuff of which fridge magnets and feel-good tweets are made.

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2 comments:

music613 said...

Arnold is an interesting case not because his eclecticism covered a very wide range of "components" - but also because of the direction his music took as his life progressed. Early on, the pieces are ebullient and full of energy. Later on, things become darker. By the 9th Symphony, Arnold's world became altogether bleak - something akin to the legend of Ilya Mouremetz who, after a lifetime of adventure, was turned to stone. While wholly understandable, it has always struck me with great sadness to watch such a lively person dissolve into block unisons for 25 minutes at a time - or little more than two voice writing throughout the entire symphony.

Pliable said...

Yes indeed. Your accurate observation the the Ninth Symphony is a journey into block unisons should be read in conjunction with the quote from Sir Malcolm in the post that "All of my music is biographical".