• Malcolm Arnold
  • Trio for Flute, Viola & Bassoon (1943)

  • Paterson Publications (World)
  • fl.va.bn
  • 13 min

Programme Note

1. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro commodo – Andante – Tempo Primo

The Trio Op. 6 was written at exactly the same time as Jolivet’s ‘Pastorales’, late 1943. Arnold was then 22 years old, had graduated from the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Gordon Jacob, was already principal trumpet of the London Symphony Orchestra and determined to establish himself as a composer. Hugely gifted, he was also practical. Emerging composers must be visible. The impact of operas and symphonies is great, but such commissions do not come every day, and when they do they take you out of circulation for extended periods. Performances and premieres are what you need, plenty of them, which means small pieces, a balance he understood perfectly. The Op. 6 Trio, following within weeks of his ‘Three Shanties for Wind Quintet’ (a masterpiece still delighting audiences and players after 60 years), was written in response to one of the very first ‘Calls for Scores’ by the fledgling Committee (later Society) for the Promotion of New Music, established by the composer Francis Chagrin with the guidance of Vaughan Williams and Arthur Bliss, to provide a platform for neglected and especially young talent; it was at one of their earliest concerts, in January 1944, that the Trio first saw the light of day. Whether the instrumentation was his own idea or, more likely, prescribed by what musicians were available in wartime London, we don’t know and anyway it would hardly have mattered to Arnold. Throughout his life he took delight in unusual sound combinations and like many of his chamber pieces it takes them as its starting point. Ideas spring from the sound and, in the outer movements specially, are treated in a kind of madrigal style, tossed from voice to voice, linking with other ideas with a logic and spontaneity that makes it hard to say where statement ends and development begins. There is an unstoppable forward thrust and buoyancy of spirit, but there is also a sureness of pacing and architecture, if that isn’t too grand a word for a piece of modest structural ambitions. Like the ‘Shanties’ it is in three movements, fast - slow and wistful - fast. They’re from the same bright-eyed, basically diatonic stable, but they’re horses of a slightly different colour. In the wind quintet, wrong-note harmonies and rhythmic eccentricity are there for burlesque effect; here the astringency of the andante especially, has a not entirely humorous agenda. Too much shouldn’t be made of this though: in the end it is a work that enjoys life, and when intuitive thematic working comes up against structural impediments, melody wins every time.

© 2003 Giles Easterbrook