Instead of posting Richard Arnell's other (numbered) symphonies, I thought it would be interesting to post these even lesser-known so-called "unnumbered" symphonies first. This recording also includes and starts off with the Overture "1940", a very nice and exciting work bristling with energy and a strong Hindemithian feel to boot. It's my favorite work here and sets the mood swimmingly indeed!
Richard Arnell came from a well-off background; his father was a builder (property developer these days) but Arnell encountered considerable family opposition before he was allowed to study at at the Royal College of Music. At the Royal Academy, his composition teacher was John Ireland (to whom he dedicated his early Violin Concerto, posted prior to this disc). It is a curious paradox that while the attitude of many young composers in the late 1930s was to reject the concept of symphony, most of that generation went on to write them. Arnell himself remembered his "very strongly held musical beliefs in 1939... that symphonies were archaic. Orchestral works should be short, preferably in one movement. They should not contain untuned percussion". The reality was different. From the beginning, Arnell was constantly preoccupied with the symphony as a form. He completed his "Sinfonia" at the Royal College of Music in 1938, his most significant student work. Arnell confessed: "I enjoy thinking architecturally. Musicians all do although they might not understand if you put it to them just like that. Music is sound within a space, so the space and its shape and texture is an intimate part of the sound".
The Sinfonia was long thought lost, but in 2009 when Jessie Page, Arnell's first daughter, arrived in from the United States to attend his funeral she announced that she had the score, which had come to light on the death of her mother in Lincoln City, Nebraska, the previous year. She soon passed it to Martin Yates, seeking a performance, which, edited by Martin, is here achieved. Martin points out: "The date of the work would have made Arnell 21 years old at the time of writing it. It was almost definitely one of the handful of works he took with him to New York in 1939. There are no conductor's markings on the score and there is no record of it ever having been played". The original ink-written full score is dedicated to "A.A.", Arnell's first wife, Charlotte Augusta Cronin-Lowe. The first movement is followed by two deeply felt meditations, returning to the big canvas sound in the shadowed but ultimately striving finale. The Sinfonia is prefaced by a slow intro (lento) in which we immediately find that the student Arnell primarily in thrall to the music and orchestral textures of Sibelius, although Hindemith soon indeed became his stylistic starting-point. The orchestra is used in blocks of color-strings, brass, woodwind-the color emphasized by soft timpani rolls, often sustained through crescendo and decrescendo and with the build-up of slowly evolving motifs and patterns into wide-spanning themes. In the 1930s, it was impossible to ignore the influence of Walton's then new "Symphony in B-flat minor" on his contemporaries, and Arnell occasionally succumbed, most notably at the climax of his first movement. In the finale, allegro vivace, the full orchestra is heard and Arnell sets in motion repeated notes (A) in the strings and leaves us with a brief coda of restless incident and punchy, climactic fortissimo chords.
The "Dagenham Symphony" is a work from 1952, actually the pre-composed soundtrack for a film.
The film is Op. 65, a documentary commissioned by the Ford Motor company celebrating their Dagenham works, and variously referred to as a "Symphonic Study", and, on the score, a "Suite". Similarly to Beecham's then recent recording of Brian Easdale's ballet music "The Red Shoes", the music was and recorded first and the film shot to it. The resulting "Symphonic Study" was announced as being in three movements. The surviving score is in six movements, often celebratory not unlike Arthur Bliss in "Things to Come". There are two march tunes, which can be heard as more reminiscent of Malcolm Arnold than that the composer himself actually. Arnell uses short piano solos, played on screen by himself to introduce the sequences.
Arnell's first four numbered symphonies were written in the space of five years between 1943 and 1948. The Fourth was very well received by contemporary audiences in the late 1940s, though it did not reach London until 1953. It was in this climate that he produced both the Dagenham Symphony and "Landscapes and Figures" Op. 78. The latter was commissioned by Beecham and the Edinburg Festival. The score is actually headed "To Sir Thomas Beecham" and was first performed by Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Edinburg Festival in 1956. It had few subsequent performances despite a quite favorable reception. "Landscapes.." consists of eight short movements with enigmatic titles, each a short piano intro. Arnell said: "The piano plays an important role. It is the commentator separating one variation from the next". In his own program notes, Arnell pointed out that the music had its origins in visual imagery. Arnell kept regular notebooks about his works in progress and in one he jots down: "Landscapes with Figures... a symphonic poem... several imagined and unpainted pictures in contemporary but not abstract style". At one stage he envisaged commissioning actual pictures (quickly rejected) and persuaded Stephen Spender to write a linking text, presumably never completed. Reviewing the first two performances the critics equated it with Mussorgsky's ubiquitous "Pictures at an Exhibition". This makes much more sense to me after reading Arnell's notes in entirety about the work-Arnell's goal of visual inspiration and depiction succeeds I think (for example the first movement "The City", initially conceived as "Escape from the City", Arnell noted Francis Bacon as a possible artist to illustrate it; I for one can imagine that).
In the program notes for the Festival Hall in 1956 (the second performance) Arnell wrote: "The poet, obsessed by images, figures, colors-tries to dispel them. He can catch them briefly, but they constantly vanish and re-assemble further away, still brighter and harsher. Only his genius could save him from madness, but his mind is frustrated and emptied by the flickering visions. A sudden cluster of notes, unexpectedly placed, shatters all the images. He is freed to return to his dream, elated but uneasy". I quite like that. One critic wrote that "Landscapes.. should soon find a home in the ballet theater". This colorful, lyrical, and immediately communicative music would be effective in the context of ballet and although unlikely perhaps someday someone will attempt it.
Just like the "Dagenham Symphony", "Landscapes and Figures" was regarded by Arnell as being a symphony. I regard this music, all of it, as a find.