Sir Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton on 21st October 1921. His early musical influences came from his mother, a fine amateur pianist and, later, from writing and improvising jazz with his brother and friends.
A lover of the music of trumpeter Louis Armstrong, after meeting him on a family holiday at the Royal Bath Hotel at Bournemouth where he played at a tea dance, Arnold took up the trumpet at the age of twelve and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music at sixteen, studying trumpet with Ernest Hall and composition with Gordon Jacob. It was during his second year of study, having already won second prize in the Cobbett Prize for composition, that he left the Royal College of Music on an invitation to join the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet. Promotion to principal soon followed and Arnold swiftly became acknowledged as one of the great trumpeters of the age.
During his time with the LPO he composed prolifically, all the while honing his skills as an orchestrator, learning the symphonic repertoire from the inside. Apart from two years military service during the war, he remained with the LPO until 1948, apart from a brief spell with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra when he first left the army. In that year he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and abandoned professional playing for good in favour of composition.
From 1948 until the early sixties, Arnold composed at a tremendous rate. Commissions flooded in and he became known as one of the most sought-after composers of the time, alongside Benjamin Britten and William Walton. The Third, Fourth and Fifth Symphonies were commissioned and composed during this time, and Arnold wrote concertos and sonatas for players he particularly admired, including the Guitar Concerto for Julian Bream.
Arnold's role as a conductor of his works, both in the concert hall and in the studio for films and recordings, increased at this time and he was composing film scores at the rate of six per year. This hectic pace of life, however, could not be sustained for long and the early sixties saw a period of depression for Arnold and the breakdown of his marriage. In the mid-sixties, he moved to Cornwall where he settled until 1972 with his second wife, becoming closely involved in Cornish musical life.
He was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1968 and was awarded the CBE two years later. Some fine works, including the Cornish Dances (1966), Sixth Symphony (1967), The Padstow Lifeboat, Viola Concerto (1971) and the Concerto for Two Pianos (Three Hands) (1969), were composed in Cornwall, and during this time he composed in response to commissions from some of the leading performers in the country.
In 1972 Arnold moved with his family to Dublin, where he remained until 1977. The Seventh Symphony (1973), Clarinet Concerto No 2 (1974) and the Fantasy on a Theme of John Field (1975) all belong to the Irish years. String Quartet No 2 (1975), composed for the Allegri Quartet, contains an Irish jig, and music with an Irish flavour can be heard in the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. In 1977 Arnold returned to England after the break-up of his second marriage. During the next seven years he spent two short periods in hospital and only completed three works: the Symphony for Brass (1978), the Trumpet Concerto (1982) and the Eighth Symphony (1978).
A return to health marked his move to Norfolk in 1984. Once more, in a settled and secure environment, he returned to writing, producing a Recorder Concerto (1988) for Michaela Petri, the Irish Dances (1986) and the Ninth Symphony, as well as a Fantasy for Cello (1987) and Cello Concerto for Julian Lloyd-Webber
Recognition and awards followed: in 1986 the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Services to British Music, in 1989 a Doctorate of Music from Miami University, Oxford Ohio, and a Knighthood in 1993. In October 2001 Sir Malcolm was awarded a Fellowship of the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers on the occasion of a special 80th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall. In 2004 he was also honoured with the Incorporated Society of Musician’s Distinguished Musician Award “for his lifetime’s achievements as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.” In 1989 he received the Freedom of Northampton.
Following a brief illness, Sir Malcolm died in Norwich on 23 September 2006, on the evening that a ballet production by the Northern Ballet Theatre, The Three Musketeers, premiered in Bradford. Several events had already been planned to celebrate his 85th birthday, including the inaugural Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton.