Malcolm Arnold ‘Fantasy for Trumpet’: A Virtuosic Opening!

Dearest readers, the time has come to begin the annual Classicalexburns ‘Alphabet Challenge’, which is usually in August, however, due to my previous MA responsibilities it has been moved to October. If you’re new to my blog, here is some information on the Alphabet Challenge – over the next month I will be writing a blog daily (hopefully!) about a composer whose name starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Therefore, we end up with 26 new blogs, on 26 composers that I haven’t previously covered. After starting last years challenge with Alexander Arutunian’s ‘Trumpet Concerto’, I have decided to start in the same vein, and begin the 2017 alphabet challenge with Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Trumpet. I do hope you will join me on this new challenge!

Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton, UK on 21st October 1921. He took up playing the trumpet (great choice) at age 12, and after studying and practising intensely for five years, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. Whilst at RCM, Arnold studied both composition (with Gordon Jacob), and trumpet studies (with Ernest Hall). Although primarily remembered as a composer, for the first part of his musical career, Arnold focused on being a trumpeter. He was principal trumpet for the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), as well as other London-based ensembles.

By age 30, Arnold devoted most of his time to composition. Known for his ‘light British music’, Arnold’s composition style is heavily influenced by folk melodies, which resonate in his English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish dance suites. As well as concert overtures and dances, Arnold is also remembered for his film music and more “serious” symphonic works. He has penned over one hundred film scores including: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Hobson’s Choice (1954), The Key (1958), Africa Texas Style (1967) and David Copperfield (1969). Arnold also won an Ivor Novello Award for his score for the 1958 film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. 

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the twentieth century, Arnold’s music was usually tonal, however he was still incredibly popular, and still is today. He often took influence from jazz, folk and composers such as Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler (another great choice). Throughout his musical career, Arnold worked with a variety of well-renowned musicians such as Benny Goodman, Julian Lloyd Webber and Larry Adler. As well as this, he also won a plethora of honours and awards for his services to music, including a CBE in 1993. In October of each year (what a coincidence!) there is an annual Malcolm Arnold festival held in Northampton, which celebrates Arnold’s life and music.

All was not always well throughout his life, however. Around the middle of his life, Arnold had built a negative reputation of himself due to his general unpleasantness. He was often drunk and “highly promiscuous” and in 1961 he divorced his first wife, with his second also taking a court order out against him after their divorce. After the second divorce, Arnold became depressive and attempted suicide twice. In 1978, he was an in-patient in the psychiatric ward at the Royal Free Hospital, London. After being treated on and off for alcoholism and depression, Arnold overcame them and lived until  2006, with Anthony Day being his carer from the 1980s. Arnold died in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on 23rd September 2006, after a fatal chest infection, that same day his final work, The Three Musketeers, was premiered in Bradford by the Northern Ballet.

Although it is generally agreed that Arnold’s symphonies are the most famous of his musical legacy, this particular blog is looking at something a bit different. A few years back I learnt Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Trumpet, and it has stuck with me as it is a really exciting work, which is obviously written by a trumpet player. Arnold composed twelve different fantasies for twelve different instruments between 1966-1987, and the one for trumpet (op. 100) was composed in 1969. Due to it being a fantasy, it, by definition, is not held back by structures and forms as its roots go back to improvisation. This particular fantasy can be discussed in four different parts, with three faster sections encompassing a slower section. All of Arnold’s fantasies are virtuosic and show off the ranges, timbres and versatility of a range of wind, brass and string instruments, with this one being no exception.

Beginning with a fanfare-like motif, the fantasy begins with a seven-bar ‘introduction’ before starting a more conventional fanfare melodic line. The trumpet’s range, tone and colour is exhibited wonderfully in this opening section, with there being definition between the staccato, more march-like phrases, and the slurred and more lyrical bars. The lyrical section builds until a semiquaver descent that emphasises chromaticism brings the trumpet down to a low G, the second lowest note in its register. This is quickly followed by two one octave leaps, from G-G-G, which requires much strength and power from the player. Then, Arnold writes a triplet descent, which again hints at chromatic movement at the end of phrases. His use of dynamics are also pertinent, with there being phrases that start at ff, and one bar later has been reduced to a quaint dynamic. Changing dynamics so often, and in difficult registers (very low and very high) requires the player to not only think ahead, but also change their breathing pattern, so that the diminuendo and crescendos are neat and not so intrusive on the melodic material. One last fanfare call leads into a sustained low E note, which leads us into the next, much faster, section.

Marked ‘Vivace’ and with a sudden time change to a peppy 6/8, this section is incredibly vivacious, fast and charismatic (and I totally cannot play it as fast as the recording below!). A developed fanfare motif encompasses bars of slurred semiquaver patterns that resemble various scales. The dexterity and strength needed here is demanding, with the patterns jumping between registers. A longer run of scalic patterns occur, which again utilise chromatic movement, as well as highlighting the highest note in the fantasy so far, a top C. As aforementioned, Arnold often took inspiration from dances, and this can be seen in bars that have less notes in them, i.e the ones that feel a little more ‘bouncy.’ Arnold goes between regimented march-like motifs and these dance-like interludes, making each phrase new and exciting. Some keen tongue work is required for a set of repeated notes (first on Bb, secondly on Ab), and again, this highlights the virtuosity of the performer. Again, highlighting dynamics, we get to the point where the fanfare bars are marked a quiet pp, which in itself is unusual, and then the scalic patterns are marked a fiery ff in contrast. A set of more repeated notes lead us into a climax on a top B, which then drops down to octaves to work back into the initial fanfare theme. This section ends with a call back to the bouncy dance bars, but this time in the upper register, landing on an E, which is sustained until the next, much more calm, section.

Shifting into a 3/4 time signature, this middle section is the slowest of the four. The emphasis here is on the intervals between the notes, and how these resonate various scalic patterns (like before, but in a much simpler form!). Control is everything here, and many of the intervals are difficult on the trumpet to make them completely in tune, due to tricky fingerings and extensive use of the third valve (which can easily fall out of tune). Chromatic movement again is highlighted (I feel this is a recurring theme now!). A much simpler fanfare motif is played on a Bb, which shows the development of this particular motif. This slower section is perhaps the shortest of the four, and it leads into the steady fourth section.

Beginning very similarly to the introduction, this developed fanfare has been shifted harmonically, and now reaches an even higher part of the trumpet’s register. As this section goes on you may be able to hear past motifs, with this last part basically being an amalgamation of the past three sections. There are fanfare snippets from the first, fast sextuplets resembling the second, and a bouncy motif resembling the second and third. After a flurry of sextuplets, the piece reaches its climax on a B that is trilled and then thrust up to a top C, which then comes down an octave to play a simple march motif, before then ending on a middle C semibreve.

Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Trumpet is an exhilarating 3 minutes. There are many nuances throughout, including chromatic movements, shifts in time signatures and sudden dynamic changes. The difficulties faced by the player include the inconvenient valve combinations, the jumping intervals and the dynamic contrasts written by Arnold. However, once overcome, this work is a fantastic show piece that many find impressive and exciting to hear – a perfect start to my October Alphabet Challenge!

I wonder who will be the basis of Day B in the challenge, make sure you check everyday for the latest instalment in the challenge! To keep to date with my posts, follow my social media:


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Until tomorrow, readers.

Happy reading!

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