MALCOLM ARNOLD VARIATIONS was commissioned by Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin for the 20th All England Masters International Brass Band Championship held in the Corn Exchange, Cambridge on 25 May 2008. The work is dedicated to Anthony Day, long time carer of Sir Malcolm Arnold in his final years. I first met Malcolm and Anthony in 1990 and remained in constant touch until Malcolm’s passing in 2006. Anthony, of course, remains a friend and plays his own role subliminally in this piece.
The work is not based on any of Malcolm Arnold’s own themes, rather it is a portrait of him (and by association Anthony Day) through my eyes and as a result of my friendship with both parties over some 18 years. If there is any theme as such it is the personalities of the players, the protagonist and his carer placed together by my own efforts coloured and influenced by aspects of Arnold’s style and technique without recourse to direct quotation but through allusion and parody.
It is of course designed as a brass band test piece but in my eyes is first and foremost a musical challenge. The pyrotechnical elements are there but always secondary to the musical thrust of the work’s structure. I have long beforehand submerged myself in Malcolm Arnold’s music and ultimately delivered this tribute. Music Directors will be advised to acquaint themselves with the composer’s personal music, particularly the film scores, symphonies, concertos and ballets: the solutions towards a successful interpretation of my piece are all in there – and YES, I want, and sanction, this piece to be interpreted, and therein lies the challenge for those of you ‘up front’! The challenge for players is that of virtuosity, ensemble and careful attention to where they are individually in relation to their colleagues – a question of balance, taste and insight. With regard to tempi, as is my usual custom, I have indicated all metronome marks with the prefix circa. I would suggest that the fast music is played at these tempos but that the more rubato moments can be allowed some freedom in expression and fluidity of line. With regard to the type of mutes to be employed – this decision I leave to the discretion of players and conductors.
Structurally the work is cast as an Introduction, 20 Variations and a Finale. Some variations are self contained, others run into each other as sequences in the same tempo. In other variations, segments are repeated and developed. I could describe the overall concept as a miniature ballet or a condensed film score – there is much drama and character and the repeated elements assist this in driving the action forward. I have deliberately avoided the more extremely dark qualities of Malcolm’s own music in this, my celebration of this master-composer, as I have always viewed (and evidenced by my previous Masters scores Tristan Encounters and Chivalry) that the Cambridge contest is a ‘sunshine- affair’ and firmly believe that Malcolm Arnold would have had it no other way too!