Richard Arnell (1917 - 2009) is one of my favorite "unsung" British composers. Dutton has at this time recorded the complete symphonies (and also a disc of his "unnumbered" symphonies-there are three) as well as a few concertos, ballet music, some orchestral works, and chamber music, including his string quartets and a great disc with his string quintet, a trio for violin, cello and piano, a trio for flute, cello and piano, music for harp, and a suite for solo cello. Once again it's Dutton to the rescue, making the music of a great composer available to all (all who manage to discover these releases anyhow). This disc was my first experience with Arnell's music. I was excited and extremely impressed, especially with his Piano Concerto, Op. 44 which has become one of my favorites, it's a truly great listen time and again. This really is deserving of concert performances. Symphony No. 2 is very fine, it's style reflects the turbulence of the times (and of an America just entering the war after Pearl Harbor). Indeed the Second Symphony is music in emotional turmoil with strong rhythmic impetus and brass emphasis. There's a determined Allegro quasi presto in a thorny lyrical style close to late 1940s Alwyn, and in some sections, Alan Rawsthorne's concert music might come to mind.
Richard Arnell was born in London during the 1st World War. He attended the the Royal College of Music from 1935 to 1938 where he studied composition with John Ireland, and won the the Farrer composition prize. Going to New York for the New York World Fair in the summer of 1939, he found himself trapped there when war was declared. The British consul in New York advised not trying to get back unless there was an overriding reason to do so, and so Arnell found himself living in New York. As an unknown composer, making a living was difficult, but Arnell quickly found himself part of the Greenwich Village scene and, soon with a wife and child, he remained in New York throughout the war. He also worked for the BBC North American service for the last two years of the war, becoming its music director. His first wife was a fashion artist, and he was a personal friend of the composer Virgil Thomson and of Greenwich Village figures such as Mark Rothko. Perhaps his most significant American friend was the conductor and composer Bernard Herrmann, who encouraged him and played his music with the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra. Hermann with the CBC conducted the First Symphony, the cantata "The War God" and later the Piano Concerto. Herrmann advised Arnell to "go to Hollywood and grab yourself a movie", but Arnell found that this was easier said than done because of the union agreement that prohibited new names working before they had been resident for a year.
Soon the celebrated Galimir Quartet gave the first performance of his First String Quartet at the New York Public Library. Arnell composed many works while in New York and enjoyed a succession of performances at Carnegie Hall and elsewhere. He gave the designation "Opus 1" to a set of classical variations in C for strings, which was broadcast from the station WQXR (the first classical radio station that I listened to while at the end of my teenage years, and that I continue to enjoy to this day), New York in December 1941. Before that his overture "The New Age" had been heard at Carnegie Hall, in a performance given by the 123-strong National Orchestral Association, a youth orchestra conducted by Leon Barzin, which later played Arnell's "Violin Concerto in One Movement" Op. 9. Arnell later acknowledged Barzin's support, with the dedication of his Fourth Symphony.
After Pearl Harbor, Arnell found himself drafted into the American army, but was rejected when he failed the medical. He soon encountered Sir Thomas Beecham, then resident in the States, who conducted his "Sinfonia quasi Variazione", Op. 13 with the New York City Symphony Orchestra. Arnell responded by dedicating his First Symphony to Beecham, who gave the first public performance in May 1944. It would only be after Arnell returned to London in 1947 that Beecham took him up in a whole-hearted way, with many performances of his works. When Sir Winston Churchill visited Columbia University in 1946, it was Arnell who wrote the "Ceremonial and Flourish" for brass that marked the occasion (it was later conducted by Stokowski at Houston). There were also chamber and instrumental works including the aforementioned string quartets (Arnell wrote three). All this was crowned by the ballet "Punch and the Child", commissioned by the Ballet Society of New York for the American impresario Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan. It was first produced at Hunter College Auditorium in February 1948, and later by the New York City Ballet. This was given added cachet when the suite from the ballet was taken up and recorded by Beecham.
|A very young Richard Anthony Sayer Arnell|
This was a remarkably successful launching of a composer in his twenties, and in 1947 Arnell decided to return to England. From 1948 he taught composition at Trinity College of Music, and was associated with many musicians and composers organizations, including the Composers Guild. Once he was living in London, Arnell became known as as one of the most active younger British composers. In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s a constant succession of new works appeared, and he was a regular name at the Cheltenham and other festivals. With these kinds of credentials he was soon commissioned by Sadler's Wells, writing a series of ballets for them including "Harlequin in April" in 1951, "The Great Detective"(with a Sherlock Holmes story) in 1953, and "The Angels" in 1956 which was seen at Covent Garden in December 1957 with the composer conducting. His output continued unabated but later his name began to to fade, and with the rise of the Darmstadt avant-garde, he received along with many others a decreasing number of performances.
Arnell was also active as a film composer, his first two film scores being for the celebrated American director Robert J. Flaherty, to whom he was introduced by Virgil Thomson. His second film score was for the US Department of Agriculture's film "The Land", a 1940 documentary about the Tennessee Valley, from which in the late 1940s Arnell extracted a suite that was played by the NBC Symphony conducted by Dean Dixon. Arnell later celebrated his association with Flaherty in the orchestral "Impressions - Robert Flaherty" written in 1958. Because of his interest in film he was a notable influence on the teaching of film scoring as an art, first at the London School of Film Technique-later the London Film School-where he started the music dept. as music consultant, and maintained a pioneering link to teaching at Trinity College of Music.
Early on Arnell enjoyed the championship of celebrated conductors, the most notable being (the already mentioned) Sir Thomas Beecham, who having conducted Arnell in New York, subsequently gave five Arnell premieres in London between 1951 and 1956. After Beecham's death in 1961, however, Arnell never found another champion in that class-even though he went on to write six symphonies, concertos, orchestral works, chamber music and two television operas. Much later he produced a second piano concerto, with the title "Sections", for the 21st anniversary of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and first performed by them in September 1967 with the late John Ogdon as soloist.
The Piano Concerto Op. 44, of 1946, was commissioned by the Columbia Broadcasting System, doubtless at the instigation of their music director and Arnell's friend, Bernard Herrmann. It was written between November 1945 and June 1946, and first performed on the Wednesday evening program "Invitation to Music" by the CBC house pianist, Vera Brodsky in a 1947 broadcast. Herrmann conducted the CBSSO. The following year Moura Lympany played it at Carnegie Hall, making a splash in her New York debut. It was then taken up by the Canadian pianist Ross Pratt, who gave its UK premiere in a May 1950 broadcast with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He played it again at the Royal Festival Hall in March 1954, and at the Proms on September 2nd 1957. It was published in 1951, but failed to find another champion until taken up by David Owen Norris almost half a century later. Immediately striking for its clean outlines, its strongly tonal feeling is underlined by the tendency for the piano writing, often in two parts, to be in octaves. Arnell's practice of alternating passages of full orchestra and solo piano underlines its neoclassical clarity.
The concerto opens with a dramatic orchestral call to attention in stark octaves, immediately underlined by the soloist's headlong double octaves chromatically surging up and down. What we might call the first subject group is very rich, for in an extended orchestra tutti we now hear the first subject proper, expanded from the opening fanfare and with a lyrical 'tail' on the strings, all set in a surging orchestral texture including various motifs to which the composer later returns. The fanfare is now expanded as a charming melody high on the keyboard. There later comes the lyrical second subject, which is first heard high on the keyboard, and is eventually given the big romantic treatment.
The slow movement opens with the solo piano playing a repeated chord in the left hand, while the right hand plays alternating notes very low and very high, linked by melodic phrases. Soon the orchestra takes over, the chords now in the strings, while the winds sing the melodic fragments. The piano announces a dolce patetico melody, and the music builds from it with increasing emotion-at one point the piano gives a literal reprise of the opening statement. Eventually we reach the cadenza and the movement ends with the piano's opening statement. The rondo finale opens with three ideas in quick succession: an opening fanfare, the first theme proper in the orchestra, and then, in contrast, the second theme as a piano solo. Eventually, a barnstorming passage of double octaves leads to a piano solo that the composer marks as a second cadenza (but in fact it is more of a reflective interlude) and after long-held trills in the right hand, includes an expressive andante interlude of serene calm. This is before the dash for the close, which comes with the soloist's triumphant double octaves rising through three and a half octaves. -You are all in for a beautiful 32+ minutes :)
I shall write of the Symphony No. 2 tomorrow, it's getting too late here..
Piano Concerto Op. 44 (1946)
1)Allegro - Molto apassionato
2)Andante, con molto - Cadenza
Symphony No. 2 Op. 33, "Rufus" (1942 rev. 1944)
4)Allegro quasi Presto
Enjoy (what I hope is) a grand discovery!