Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Malcolm Arnold: Scherzetto for clarinet and orchestra from ‘You know what sailors are.’

The Scherzetto began life as a part of the score to 'You Know What Sailors Are', which was a rather weak, but fun, comedy set in the days of the Cold War. The film starred Donald Sindon and Michael Horden. The plot of the film is contrived:- some British naval officers are on a bit of a wild night out. As part of the slightly drunken horseplay an old pram and pawn-broker’s sign are attached to the stern of a foreign vessel – the Agraria. The assembly is painted naval-grey. The following day, an officer sees the strange device and assumes that the pram and balls are actually part of the foreign power’s top-secret radar system. Immediately the British Admiralty demands that their ships receive a similar piece of equipment…the plot goes from bad to worse…

The Scherzetto is a very short piece, yet it has all the hallmarks of Malcolm Arnold’s art: engaging tunes, humour, a slightly reflective middle eight and superb scoring – all in the space of about two and half minutes.

Christopher Palmer states that this is 'Mickey Mouse' music in so far as the music “follows and duplicates every detail of the action.” This is a standard procedure in many comedy films and cartoons. Paul Harris writes in the Naxos programme notes that the composer “would always invite his friends to play for him in his film sections and …he wrote this bubbling showpiece for the great clarinettist Jack Thurston. Sadly Thurston was to die the same year as the film’s premiere so in many ways it was a fitting, if somewhat humorous tribute to his friend.

The stars of this somewhat tenuous plot, apart from the two mentioned above, are Akim Tamiroff and Dora Bryan. There are excellent character pieces played by Naunton Wayne, Bill Kerr, Shirley Eaton and Cyril Chamberlain.

Unfortunately the film does not appear to be available of DVD, yet listeners are lucky in having three versions of the derived work – on Chandos, Hyperion and on Naxos. The first two are arranged for clarinet and orchestra and the last for clarinet and piano. The true Arnold enthusiast will demand all three!

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