Saturday, 3 January 2009

Malcolm Arnold: Blue Tune – a study in rhythms and colour

A few weeks ago, I was searching in the Oxfam Shop in Chester. Now over the last few years I have found a fair few gems of sheet music in this shop. However, that day I only managed to find one thing that interested me – a copy of the Grade 4 Guildhall School Pianoforte Examination Syllabus for a year unknown and un-stated on the publication. Amongst the pieces by Handel, Hook, Mozart and Walter Carroll was one called Blue Tune by a certain M. Arnold? Now even travelling home on the train and perusing the score I was able to divine that this small 16 bar ‘study’ was by Sir Malcolm – although the syllabus did not give the composer’s dates, the date of composition or even the work’s source.

I must admit to forgetting about this piece until a couple of days ago when I was tidying up my piano and organ music. Now that is always a big problem – for I usually find that every piece of music I pick up and try to sort into some kind of order has to be ‘played through’ – so either I get very little done, or else I am tidying up for a very long time!

I came across the above mentioned Blue Tune-a study in rhythms and colour by Arnold. So it had to be played. Immediately, I was struck that this work, in spite of its small scale, had a number of Arnoldian fingerprints.
However, the first problem was to find out what it was. My reference books on Sir Malcolm did not mention a ‘Blue Tune’ in any of the indices. However, the Internet soon solved the problem. It is part of a little known work called a Children’s Suite. Now I had all the information I required. The Bio-bibliography by Stewart R. Craggs told me that this Suite was composed in 1947, and was Arnold’s Op. 16. There are some six ‘movements' to this work:-Prelude, Carol, Shepherd’s Lament, Trumpet Tune, my Blue Tune and lastly a Folk Song. Stewart Craggs pointed out that, at least in 1998, the work had not been published and that the first performance details were untraceable. However a search on COPAC reveals that the work was indeed published by Alfred Lengnick & Co. in 1948.

Further good-news was that the work had been recorded by Benjamin Frith on Koch International Classics and even better news was that I had this CD in my collection!
The excellent programme notes by Martyn Williams brought the piece into perspective. The Children’s Suite was conceived as a short set of teaching pieces that addressed “areas in an accessible manner.” For example the Prelude is a study in fourth and fifths over which a gentle melody is floated. Other musical techniques are explored including; legato thirds for the left hand, triplets, trills and phrasing. Maurice Hinson in his excellent guide to the Pianist's Repertoire believes that these six pieces are “short, attractive and clever.”

So my lessons for the New Year are three-fold. Firstly is to try to remember what I have in my CD collection! Secondly to try to find the sheet music for the Children’s Suite and lastly to listen to a bit more of Malcolm Arnold's music –especially his largely ignored piano works.


The Dotterel said...

He's a very underrated composer - and derserved far wider recognition! I'd love to find a copy of that music - my daughter's doing Grade 4 and I bet it's a darn site better than the stuff she's playing!

The Dotterel said...

Oh dear - of course, I meant 'deserved'!