29 May 2022

Two Great 20th Century English Composers:
Malcolm Arnold & George Lloyd

George Lloyd Symphony No. 6

George Lloyd

George Lloyd (1913 – 1998)

Lloyd completed his Sixth Symphony in 1956. His Fourth and Fifth symphonies (1946 and 1948) had been completed in Switzerland whilst his wife nursed him back to health from the shellshock he suffered in the Second World War.

By 1956, Lloyd had established a market garden in Dorset growing carnations which he sent off to Covent Garden market every day. His diary notes that it was hard physical work and that the only way he had the time and energy to compose was to rise at 5.30am and put in a couple of hours at his scores before starting work on the business.

In 1981, Loyd poignently reminisced,

“It is 25 years since I wrote this symphony, and this is the first performance. I tried once or twice to have No 6 played in the late 1950s, but I was told it was a worthless work because it had no contemporary significance. At that time ‘significance‘ meant swimming along with the tide, and no one seemed to understand that it was just as legitimate for a composer to react against the current trends as to go with them, or even that a composer can write what they like, which is what I did with this symphony. Perhaps I was naïve to think that I could try and forget the horrors of this world by escaping into the simplicity and happiness of a private fairyland.”

Here we are face-to-face with two contrasting, but complementary, sides to Lloyd’s composition. In the 4th symphony he was very much confronting the ‘horrors of this world’ but a decade later in the 6th symphony he takes delight in writing happy and carefree music.

Despite the lightness of the piece (in contrast with the preceding two symphonies) it is still scored for an orchestra with triple winds. The use of the various sections of the orchestra is, however, quite different – Lloyd employs considerable restraint and circumspection in an Ravel-like manner.

The symphony begins with bright and upbeat unison staccato chords. They are slightly syncopated, giving a jauntiness that generally permeates the work. The violins then launch into a laid back and slight cheeky tune. The general mood is of elfin lightness; of scampering through the woods playing games, and this is aided by the fact that there are over 3 minutes of music at the one fast tempo. The sun is out and hardly a cloud crosses the sky. In a model moment of restraint the movement ends softly, perfectly foreshadowing the following movement.

You may feel you have already heard the haunting F minor melody that opens the second movement. It is one of those inevitable and satisfying tunes which the listener feels they must have heard before. It is beautifully proportioned, like a simple English folk song, combining nostalgia and nobility. The Cor Anglais plaintively sings a second melody and, then, plunges into the only truly dark moments of the symphony over painful low-lying wind chords with stopped horns. Continuous upward triplets in the woodwinds propel the movement towards its conclusion, where the Cor Anglais resolves its earlier angst, yet ends on a yearning upwards appoggiatura which the harp is left to resolve. A marvellous achievement at just 65 bars in length.

In the final movement we return to another version of the games played out in the first movement. There is a sense of the ‘fun of the fair’ and, although there are moments when you wonder if more ominous clouds approaching, the music never strays too far from its original intent. Notable are the swirling and lightning fast demands on the flute section. The piece accelerates to a joyful and powerful close.

Malcolm Arnold Symphony No. 8

Malcolm Arnold

Sir Malcolm Arnold CBE (1921 – 2006)

Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No. 8, Op. 124 was given its first performance in Albany, New York, on 5 May 1979 by the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It was partly conceived as an envoi to the composer’s formerly prolific career as a writer of film scores. In this symphony Arnold partly reused the main theme from his 1969 film score to The Reckoning based on a story set in Ireland. The work was written after Arnold had lived in Ireland for a few years, and prominently features an Irish march. Arnold felt the work, as a whole, was imbued with a distinctively Irish flavour and his personal musical tribute to his adoptive homeland.

Movement I – Allegro

The opening dissonance is striking with the bold Brass leading the way. The Lower Brass create a sense of impending dread as the upper strings push their upper registers to create a shrill response. Borne from this is a march-like tune is a simple melodic conception which is cleverly, and deceptively, developed over the rest of the movement. Arnold’s adroit handling of both dissonant and consonant textures in cascading combination throughout this movement is a testament to his prodigious skill as one of Britain’s finest 20th-Century composers.

Movement II – Andantino

The solemn second movement is elegiac in mood. The slow moving lines paired with rich and sonorous textures create intriguing effects. A solo oboe, accompanied by strings, plays the main melody of this movement. Dark in character and laden with undertones of heaviness and despair, this movement is often (without any proof) thought to be indicative of Arnold’s state of mind at the time of composition. Short orchestral outbursts outweigh the quieter section towards the end of the movement. The ethereal tone at the end becomes more and more hushed until all music has faded away.

Movement III – Vivace Led by the Woodwind, the finale opens with a sequence of what appears to sound like organised chaos. Unlike the other two movements the finale is upbeat in character. A string fugato section ensues reminiscent of Arnold’s lighter style. As the quiet central section comes to a close the return of the opening theme begins. The percussion plays a large part in the end as the driving snare drum propels the music toward the huge dissonant chords as the symphony ends triumphantly.