Sir Malcolm Arnold Archive

Item author: Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) and family
Item date acquired: 2020
Item institution: Eton College Library
Town/City: Eton
County: Berkshire

The major British composer Malcolm Arnold was a compositional master craftsman, notable both for the engaging accessibility of his work and its astonishing range, The creator of one of the finest symphonic cycles in the 20th century, he was also a prolific Oscar-winning film  composer, responsible for the scores of films as varied as Bridge on the River Kwai, The Belles of St. Trinians and David Copperfield. He moved from brass bands to ballet; from opera to television; from music specially written for young performers to deeply serious works; from concertos for soloists as diverse as Leon Goossens, Larry Adler, Dennis Brain, Yehudi Menuhin, Benny Goodman and Michala Petri to comic creations for Gerard Hoffnung with performers on vacuum-cleaners. His idiosyncratic use of form and structure in all the various genres, his unerring deftness in orchestration (owing much to his early years as a trumpet-player with leading orchestras like The London Philharmonic) and his readiness to embrace and to adapt to his own use the new ideas of his day ensure that the study of his work is a stimulating and rewarding experience. Today his work is played regularly on Radio 3 and at the Proms.  

The family archive of the composer Sir Malcolm Arnold had been on loan to the library for the past ten years. It consists of autograph scores of 55 major orchestral and chamber works by Arnold, including two symphonies and 13 concertos. There are manuscripts of six choral works and music for 25 films and TV programmes, as well as much music for solo instrument and for voice.  Also included in the archive are fifty autograph letters to Arnold from luminaries of music and the arts (including important letters from Benny Goodman and David Lean), six scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings and concert programmes, as well as a collection of photographs of Arnold throughout his life.

The library has just completed a four-year Arnold Project with the Eton College Music Department, during which the manuscripts have been studied, not only by visiting musicologists, but by students from a range of schools and universities. A number of performances of Malcolm Arnold’s work have been given by the school orchestra, including the 2nd Flute Concerto, the Scottish Dances and the Peterloo Overture, as well as a series of Arnold chamber concerts. We have, with the Malcolm Arnold Trust, hosted a successful yearly competition of performances of his work, which has attracted entrants from outside the school, and also established an Arnold Essay Prize. In 2017 College Library mounted a major exhibition of Arnold’s manuscripts, which encompassed the complete range of his writing for the concert hall, cinema, opera and ballet.

Malcolm Arnold’s music appeals to the young as well as to the academic community and Eton College Library will continue to promote Arnold’s music and the archive in similar ways in the future. This extensive archive is most exciting, useful and rich. There is much in it as yet unknown to the musical world that the College Library, as a dedicated rare book and manuscript library, has the facilities and the staff to share and make widely accessible.