ARNOLD Three Shanties

Sea Boat


Malcolm Arnold (Oct 1921 – Sep 2006)

Composed In



7 minutes


Wind Quintet (Flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn)


Sir Malcolm Arnold has long been recognised as a composer who combines fun and bubbly tunes along with vivacious skills, and these qualities are demonstrated in his Three Shanties for wind quintet composed in 1943. The piece was first performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra Wind Quintet in an aircraft hangar at Bristol’s Filton Aerodrome in August 1943.


About the Composition

Allegro Con Brio

This movement employs one of the best-known shanties, What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?, and is brilliantly portrayed in various stages of intoxication. It begins with a polyphonic development of the tune, turns dark for a moment, and regains its high spirits with a fun tango-like interlude. Arnold uses different techniques in the horn, such as the “stopped” horn where the hornist plays with his right hand slightly in the bell, and when he “stops” the horn, his hand moves further into the instrument, which changes the tone quality.

Allegretto Semplice

The second movement which uses the tune, Boney Was a Warrior, is sweet and flowing, and is the most straightforward movement of the piece. In this movement, each instrument gets to play the melody in solo. The rest of the accompaniment follows in mostly long notes, with some descending movement now and then.

Allegro Vivace

The rhythmic and lively third movement, based on Johnny Come Down to Hilo, is filled with humour and quick tempo changes. Arnold plays around with the tune, interrupting it frequently by having few instruments to start the line, with another jumping in to finish. The movement ends with a “horn call”-esque type of line with the oboe and the clarinet, settling down into a descending line with a hold, a fun ending which is very characteristic of Arnold.

Malcom Arnold

Fun Facts about the Composer

  • His famous music composed for the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, was completed in 10 days.
  • Was appointed as the 3rd trumpet in the London Philharmonic Orchestra soon after and rose quickly to principal trumpet.
  • Joined the army but after taking as much as he could stand (2 years), in desperation, he shot himself in the foot and was discharged.
  • He was in poor health, suffering from alcoholism and depression.
  • His poor health did not stop him from completing various works and pieces, including the Peterloo Overture and the set of four Cornish Dances.

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