Sir Malcolm Arnold was born in Northampton on 21 October 1921. At the age of sixteen he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, London, studying the trumpet with Ernest Hall and composition with Gordon Jacob. From 1941 to 1948 he held the post of principal trumpet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with the interruption of two years military service during the war. Although acknowledged as one of the great trumpeters of the age, the need to express himself through composition finally demanded 100% of his time and from 1948 until the early 1960s Arnold's productivity was at its peak. With commissions pouring in at an ever-increasing rate; in the mid-fifties, Arnold was often bracketed with Benjamin Britten and William Walton as one of the most sought-after of the 'serious' composers in the country. His role as a conductor of his work, in the concert hall and in film and recording studios, also increased at this time.
One of the towering musical figures of the 20th century, Sir Malcolm Arnold has a remarkable catalogue of major concert works to his credit, including nine symphonies, seven ballets, two operas, one musical, over twenty concertos and two string quartets, as well as music for brass band and wind band. He has also written 132 film scores and among these are some of the finest works ever composed for the medium: 'Bridge on the River Kwai', 'Inn of the Sixth Happiness', 'Hobson's Choice'; 'Whistle down the Wind' and 'David Copperfield'.
In 1969 he was made a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth, and was awarded the CBE in 1970. He holds Honorary Doctorates of Music from Exeter University (1969), Durham University (1982), Leicester University (1984) and Northampton University (2006); he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1983 and is an Honorary R.A.M. In 1986 (his 65th year) Malcolm Arnold received the Ivor Novello Award for 'Outstanding Services to British Music' and a knighthood in the 1993 New Year Honours List for his services to music. In 2005 he was awarded the Distinguished Musician Award for 2004 by the Incorporated Society of Musicians in recognition of his outstanding contribution to musical life.
In 1984 Arnold moved to Norfolk, where a return to composition saw the creation of Symphony No 9, undoubtedly the most significant of his late works. He remained in the county until his death in 2006. Arnold's music springs directly from roots in dance and song. Typically, it is lucid in texture and clear in draughtsmanship. His lighter entertainment pieces, easy to listen to and rewarding to perform, are among the rare latter-day equivalents of eighteenth-century serenades and divertimenti. As an inventor of tunes, his power seems to be inexhaustible, and he is prodigal with his gifts; the 'big' tune in the modest little Toy Symphony, for example, is just as much a winner as the many memorable themes in the major concert works.
Many of these are now firmly established in the concert repertory. Yet for those who have ears to hear, his works frequently give more than a hint of a complex musical personality and of dramatic tensions not far below the music's seductive surface. There is a scope in Arnold's music which reflects his profound concern with the human predicament and also his belief that music is "a social act of communication among people, a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is". Arnold’s music has been widely recorded, including many recordings by the composer himself.
Complete surveys of the nine symphonies are available on the NAXOS, Chandos and DECCA labels. Interest has continued in recent years with Tony Palmer’s film, Toward the Unknown Region, which was broadcast on ITV’s South Bank Show, two biographies (The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Brilliant and the Dark by Paul RW Jackson in 2003 and Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris in 2004) and Raphael D Thöne's scholarly study Malcolm Arnold - A Composer of Real Music: Symphonic Writing, Style and Aesthetics. In 2006 an annual Arnold Festival was established in the composer’s birthplace of Northampton. In May 2014, a memorial plaque was unveiled in Padstow Harbour in honour of Arnold, who lived in St Merryn near Padstow between 1966 and 1971.