Composed by

Malcom Arnold (Oct 1921 – Sep 2006) in 1943

Duration

Approx. 7 mins

Instrumentation

Wind Quintet

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.

Three Shanties were composed to pay homage to different sea shanties, a type of work song that sailors used to sing to accompany their work. 

The first 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.

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.

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

  1. His famous music composed for the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, was completed in 10 days.
  2. Was appointed as the 3rd trumpet in the London Philharmonic Orchestra soon after and rose quickly to principal trumpet.
  3. 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.
  4. He was in poor health, suffering from alcoholism and depression.
  5. His poor health did not stop him from completing various works and pieces, including the Peterloo Overture and the set of four Cornish Dances.
Malcom Arnold
photo credit: Wikipedia

RECOMMENDED RECORDING

THE JAMES GALWAY WIND QUINTET
Flute: James Galway
Oboe: Gareth Hulse
Clarinet: Antony Pay
French Horn: Philip Eastop
Bassoon: Rachel Gough

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