Re: Sir Malcolm Arnold's Symphony No.7
Posted by Paul Serotsky on March 13, 2015, 11:07 am, in reply to "Sir Malcolm Arnold's Symphony No.7"
If I may stick in my four penn'orth, I think I can help dispel some of the perplexity and paradox expressed in this thread. There are two simple facts that underlie and explain much about Arnold. Firstly, he is on record as having said, "All my music is autobiographical". Maybe the "all" is a slight overstatement because, as a professional composer, he wasn't always at liberty to indulge in self-expression. Secondly, according to Harris and Meredith's intensively-researched biography of the composer, Arnold was a congenital manic-depressive. |
Being congenital, this disease blighted, not just his later years (as Nick and Colin suggested), but every single year of his entire life, which explains why Colin can detect a "touch of angst" in even his earlier works - although "a touch" seems something of an understatement, when you think of the middle of Beckus the Dandipratt, where the music all but "crumbles to dust", or more particularly of the First Symphony, which starts in a determined mood of Nielsen-like indomitability, runs the entire gamut of mania and depression, and ends in a "triumphant" blaze of wailing uncertainty (it's an astonishing first foray,isn't it?).
Then again, the impact of this terrible disease on the sufferer's mind and body is cumulative, so it isn't at all surprising that his musical "diary entries" become increasingly horrific (as intimated by William), a trend that was exacerbated by the downturn in Arnold's worldly fortunes from the 60s onwards. Thus, Arnold's output was bound to be "unbalanced", as John points out. And, really, if you view Arnold's symphonies not as a "cycle", but as the episodes of a serialised tragic drama, they do gel into a satisfying whole.
Finally, there's the question of the Seventh Symphony. Without meaning any disrespect to Nick, the music is not "meant to be portraits of his children". Piers Burton-Page said that "Each movement contains a loose portrayal of one of Arnold's three children." That "loose" is the key word. In the light of the foregoing, we must conclude that Arnold's experiences, which were by no means entirely happy, of his children had certain dramatic effects on his mind - and THAT's what he put into the symphony.