Padstow plays host to an unveiling as composer Malcolm Arnold is remembered
Around 3.30 p.m. on Spring Bank Holiday Monday, 26 May 2014, members of The Malcolm Arnold Society will descend on the Cornish fishing village of Padstow for the unveiling of a special memorial plaque donated by one of its longest serving members, Frank Brand. Between 1966 and 1971 the eminent British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold CBE lived at Primrose Cottage in St Merryn just a few miles from the harbour at Padstow. There he wrote some of his most memorable music including the Four Cornish Dances, his Sixth Symphony, the ‘Peterloo’ Overture and the Viola Concerto, as well as the score to the feature film ‘David Copperfield’ (this proved to be the last of his cinematic scores, though he had written over 120 by then!)
To celebrate the occasion it is therefore appropriate that the unveiling ceremony, undertaken by the composer’s daughter, Katherine Arnold, together with Frank Brand, should be preceded by a brass band concert, played by the St Austell Brass Band under the direction of Aaron Harvey, which will feature many of Sir Malcolm’s works for brass band, including an arrangement he made of the Coronation March by Thomas Merritt*, a Cornish composer whom Arnold much admired and for whom he wrote a famous Salute for massed bands premiered in Truro Cathedral on 16 March 1968. This enterprising concert was recorded by the BBC and transmitted, in an edited version, on 17 April 1968 marking the 60th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merritt (and immortalised on a rare John Hassell 10” LP well worth searching for in second-hand shops).
BBC Television cameras were also to be seen in the streets and bars of Padstow later that year when the composer was featured in a ‘A Portrait of Malcolm Arnold’, produced by Herbert Chappell for the Omnibus series, with John Amis conducting a series of probing interviews interspersed with Arnold conducting various orchestral excerpts; this television programme, transmitted on 2 March 1969, did much to raise Arnold’s profile at that time.
Our 2014 Bank Holiday Concert (which is free and open to the general public) will conclude with Arnold’s iconic March for brass band ‘The Padstow Lifeboat’, written in 1967 for the naming of the new lifeboat, an event attended by the Duke of Kent on 19 July 1968, with the composer conducting the St Dennis Silver Band. The published score carries the following note: “The Padstow Lifeboat has a long and distinguished record. The new lifeboat station is near Trevose lighthouse whose fog horn varies in pitch between middle C and D. For the sake of musical unity it remains in D throughout this march.”
The composer once remarked that the time he spent in Cornwall were some of the happiest days of his life and he was particularly proud of the day when he was initiated as a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd at Liskeard in October 1969 and given the Cornish Bardic name of Trompour (in English, “trumpeter”). Quite an achievement for a Northampton-born music student who, in the summer of 1939, had run away to Plymouth with a redhead from the Royal College of Art, only to find himself appointed as principal trumpet of the London Philharmonic Orchestra less than four years later at the age of 21.
Fate intervened in 1947 with the première and subsequent recording of his comedy overture ‘Beckus the Dandipratt’ and a new life devoted to full-time composition, a move which he once described as a “life sentence”. This change of direction may have deprived the LPO of a virtuoso instrumentalist, but it provided us with six decades of wonderful music, varied in style and intellect, brimming with melody and joie de vivre (or, as he once described his ethos, Viva Abundans, the subtitle of his early Phantasy for string quartet).
It is therefore in celebration of Malcolm Arnold’s considerable musical legacy that this magnificent marble plaque will now be standing proud, overlooking Padstow Harbour for all to see and to recall his unique place in twentieth century British culture.
Chairman: The Malcolm Arnold Society
15 April 2014
* Merritt’s march was composed in 1901 to celebrate the Coronation of Edward VII. Arnold’s score bears the preface: “Thomas Merritt, the son of a copper miner was born in Illogan, Cornwall, on 26 October 1863. He left school at the age of eleven to work in the mines. By natural talent and immense work he eventually became a music teacher and organist. He composed a great deal of music and his carols are sung all over Cornwall and in all countries where Cornish people have emigrated. He died at the age of 46 on 17 April 17 1908 and is buried at Illogan parish churchyard, Cornwall.”
The plaque to be unveiled at Padstow Harbour
St Austell Brass Band
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