Wednesday, December 20, 2017

English suites no. 15

I have tremendous gratitude towards the English Dances by Malcolm Arnold. This was the work that first taught me, as an innocent teenage explorer in classical music, that there was such a thing as modern music that didn't sound like cars honking, bees buzzing, or people moving furniture around.

The books about modern music I was avidly devouring were full of crap from Vienna and Darmstadt. They were trying to convince me that tonal, enjoyable music was dead, dead, dead, nobody was writing it any more. But I began to realize there was a lot of stuff going on that these books weren't telling me about when I came across an old LP in my parents' collection with some Elgar that they liked. I found these on the other side of the record. They'd been written in 1950, and thus only twenty years old at the time I was listening: practically hot off the presses by classical standards. And they were delightful, in a distinctly modern orchestration full of strange brass whooping cries that I soon came to realize were Arnold's signature sound. He was an accomplished, colorful orchestrator, and had been an orchestral trumpeter himself, so he was particularly good with the brass.

What's more, these aren't arranged folk tunes. The melodies are entirely original, though in the spirit of Playford dance tunes. Arnold went on to write a long series of British national dance suites, most of them in the same format of four movements in a rough approximation of sonata form. We'll hear more of them later. Here's the English Dances, set 1, in the mono recording by Adrian Boult that I originally heard.

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