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MS 921

Reference code

MS 921


Malcolm Arnold archive



Administrative / Biographical history


Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold (1921-2006) was a trumpeter and one of Britain’s foremost composers of the twentieth century, known for his genius, versatility, brilliant orchestration and for a distinctive and unorthodox approach to composing music. Arnold was the classic non-conforming outsider, and the establishment of his day struggled to appreciate him as a successor to Vaughan Williams and the European symphonic tradition.

Born in Northampton, where both his father and grandfather ran prosperous shoe factories, Arnold was educated locally. With his musical parents and aunts to the fore, he was taught the piano, violin and organ, but it was the trumpet that from the early age of nine captured his imagination, a passion consolidated when in 1934 he not only heard but met Louis Armstrong. Jazz was an important life-long influence. In 1938, at rising seventeen, he began as a scholar at the Royal College of Music, where he studied trumpet with Ernest Hall and composition with Gordon Jacob. In 1941, already a brilliant instrumentalist, he abandoned further studies to join the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Playing the classical repertoire on relentless tours around Britain for several years was gruelling, but the perfect preparation for the realisation of his ambitions and promise as a composer.

Married and London-based by the age of 21, at 26 he became a full-time composer in 1948, supported by his flair for film scores. In the 1950s he settled down in Richmond, Surrey, with his wife and two children, producing music in prodigious quantities with cheerful facility. This was his golden decade during which he composed a succession of diverse and beautifully crafted works. However, his creativity and industriousness were increasingly impeded by debilitating bipolar disorder, and by the late 1950s/early 1960s, illness and overwork led to disruption and divorce.

By 1964, a second marriage brought a third child, renewed stability and an eventual move to St Merryn, north Cornwall in 1965. Arnold identified readily with local causes and history, gaining inspiration from them. He seemed idyllically happy until, once more, he began losing his way. Another move, this time to Dublin (1972-78), began with similar promise and inspiration, though he had given up his film work, and composition had become much harder. The creative process, however, remained a necessity and several great works resulted. A final breakdown just after the completion of his Eighth Symphony (1978) was to prove so severe it effectively ended his career.

During these years of ill health, Arnold first returned to his native Northampton (1979-84). The final twenty-two years of his life were largely spent in Norfolk (1984-2006), supported by a long-term carer. Some last works were written and published during this latter period (1986-90), including his Ninth Symphony (1986). A number of works from his student days were also published at this time.

Arnold’s extensive output includes nine symphonies, around twenty concertos, numerous other orchestral concert works, some delightful chamber pieces, five ballets (all performed at Covent Garden) and music for around seventy feature films. He won an Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1958 and an Ivor Novello Award for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness in 1959. He also held an Ivor Novello Award (1985) for Outstanding Services to British Music. In 1969 Arnold was created a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth. In 1970 he was appointed a CBE, and knighted in 1993. He died of complications following a chest infection in 2006.

Reference works:

Alan Poulton, The Music of Malcolm Arnold - A Catalogue, Faber Music,

Hugo Cole, Malcolm Arnold: An Introduction to his music, Faber (1989)

Piers Burton Page, Philharmonic Concerto: The Life and Music of Sir
Malcolm Arnold,
Methuen (1994)

Stewart Craggs - Malcolm Arnold: A Bio-Bibliography - Greenwood Press
(Bio-Bibliographies in Music , Number 69), 1998

Paul Jackson, The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Brilliant
and the Dark ,
Ashgate (2003)

Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris, Malcolm Arnold: Rogue Genius, Thames/Elkin (2004)

Raphael D.Thöne, Malcolm Arnold: A Composer of Real Music, Edition
Wissenschaft (2007)

Piers Burton-Page, ‘Arnold, Sir Malcolm Henry (1921–2006)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2010; online edn, Jan 2011 [https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/97392 [accessed 10 Feb 2023]

Timothy Bowers et al., Composers on the 9, Queen’s Temple Publishing (2011)

Timothy Bowers, Strings, Winds, Pipes, Piano & Food, Queen’s Temple Publishing (2013)

Alan Poulton, Malcolm Arnold: Catalogue of Works, Malcolm Arnold Society (2021)

Alan Poulton, The Film Music of Malcolm Arnold, Malcolm Arnold Society (2021)

Alan Poulton, Rooted in Northampton- The Arnolds and the Haweses: Malcolm Arnold's family tree, Malcolm Arnold Society (2021)

Anthony Meredith, Malcolm Arnold: The Inside Story, The Book Guild (2022)

The Sir Malcolm Arnold Society website: https://www.malcolmarnoldsociety.co.uk



Extent & medium

53 volumes and 42 boxes

Content description

The Malcolm Arnold archive consists predominantly of Arnold's autograph music scores, spanning the length of his lifetime and the breadth of his musical abilities. The manuscripts include scores written for orchestra, chamber, solo piano and film to name but a few. The majority of these are autograph manuscripts. Some are performance copies and/or have manuscript markings and annotations on them. There is also a large collection of printed and facsimile copies of Arnold's own music, arrangements of his works by other composers and a wide range of music scores of other composers acquired by Arnold. Accompanying the music scores are autograph letters to Malcolm Arnold from a number of his contemporaries, several scrapbooks, photograph albums and music publications owned by the composer.


The bulk of the material was created or owned by Malcolm Arnold and some by members of his family. Parts of it were scattered during his lifetime but since his death the core of his archive (the autograph scores) has been re-assembled and augmented by acquisitions from a number of donors.

The collection was arranged and partially catalogued in 2017 into series: autograph scores, autograph letters, scrapbooks, photographs and printed music. The autograph scores were arranged according to the divisions in Alan Poulton: The Music of Malcolm Arnold: a Catalogue, Faber (1986), but numbered in no particular order within the categories. In the final phase of cataloguing in 2022-23, the decision was taken to re-arrange the scores within the music categories chronologically and by Opus number. Some errors were discovered in the original placement of scores within the categories. These were corrected and the scores re-numbered. Some categories were not included in the original arrangement but have been incorporated where necessary. A substantial number of printed and facsimile scores acquired were arranged and catalogued in 2022. A series for publications owned by Arnold was added to the arrangement in 2023.

Associated material

Case files of the Office of the Public Guardian relating to Malcolm Arnold are held at The National Archives [under the ref: OPG 3/1-37].

Significant complementary research material on Malcolm Arnold and his music is in the Alan Poulton Arnold Archive at Eton College Library MS 933.

Publication note

Malcolm Arnold - catalogue of works, compiled by Alan Poulton, Malcolm Arnold Society (2021)
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