Arnold - The Buccaneer (from 8 Children's Pieces)
Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) was an ebullient character. He led an exciting if at times eccentric existence, smattered with episodes of excessive drinking and psychiatric problems during his lifetime.
He was a fine musician, known principally as a trumpet player of great distinction in the 1940s when he became principal trumpet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He soon also gained a reputation as a conductor, and in his own works was a popular and inspiring musician in that role.
His music is remembered for its colour and sometimes for its bombastic effects. One particularl diversion into comic eccentricity gave rise to the composition of a piece, dedicated to President Hoover (Grand, Grand Overture), involving vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher along with rifle fire ! Partly the consequence of a friendship struck with the cartoonist, Gerard Hoffnung, this madcap piece thrilled the audience at the Hoffnung Festival of 1956.
At the other extreme, his serious writing led to nine symphonies and the winning of an oscar in 1958 for the best film score to the film 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.'
As you can see from this extract from the London Proms he was a man of great humour and a skilled orchestrator:
Pupil Match & Suitability
"Needs a sense of humour !"
The word buccaneer referred originally to the band of late 17th Century pirates who attacked the Spanish and French fleets in the Caribbean.
The term today, especially in the context of children's stories, has taken an a rather likeable roguish character - that of the swashbuckling pirate who fears nothing.
The 1950s cartoon show 'Captain Pugwash' took the parody even further, as seen in this brief episode. Roaming the high seas on his pirate ship, named 'Black Pig', Captain Horatio Pugwash is far from the brave buccaneer imagined, and rather more pompous and somewhat stupid !
Style & Tempo
The style is a modern up-tempo piece.
Whilst it is tonal the mood relies upon quasi-jazz style harmonies for its colouring and menacing effect.
It is tautly rhythmic and requires a strong sense of control and neat finger work to convey the sturdiness of its mood.
It should not be ugly, but rather threatening and somewhat pompous!
Phrasing & Articulation
The right tempo will help to set the ground for good phrasing.
Above all the mood should not sag or sit back comfortably. It needs to give the impression of always being on guard, always moving forwards.
The piece is one of effect, there being no real melodies in sight.
Tone & Texture
Much of this is loud. However, if the sound is overbearing and hard throughout something is wrong.
Tone must always have quality, even in fortissimo.
The one important aspect of technique needed here is the ability to have some looseness in the wrists.
Without this the repeated notes will become awkward to negotiate.
The choice of fingering here is fairly obvious.
The most contentious part is likely to be the question of whether to play with the same fingers or to swap on repeated notes, such as the Bs in bar 1 and the A sharps in bar 2.
The idea of changing fingers on fast repeated notes does work when single repeated notes are really fast, but in the context here it is likely to cause more confusion than it is worth and also likely to cause stumbling.
Arriving on the top note (RH) with a 5th finger and (LH) with a thumb: this needs to change somewhere in order to accommodate the following C natural of beat 3. The obvious choice is to swap to a 4th (RH) and 2nd (LH) on the second B of beat 2. This preferable to swapping on the B of the 3rd beat.
See the technique point on repeated notes and chords.
There is not a lot of call for use of pedal here.
However, dabs of pedal to colour the slurs (e.g. beat 1 in bars 1 & 2 etc) are effective.
Rhythmic tautness and consistency is the main challenge.
Two reasons why the student may not find this entirely easy comes down to:
(i) repeated notes which may falter if the wrong technique is used
(ii) keyboard leaps
The first can be rectified with slow work and the second needs careful contextual memorization of positions, such as really knowing where the LH octaves are (just how far away from the RH notes in bar 3).
Practising effectively takes time to achieve.
Repetition can cause boredom - and boredom, in turn, leads to lack of concentration and diminished listening.
It is always good to have a specific goal in mind for each practice session. Get your students into the habit of writing down something simple before and after they practise. This can help to get them used to focusing better in a practice session.
Concerns about keyboard geography will contribute to problems in the pulse.
Inhibition may be at the root of insipid performances, since there needs to be a very strong sense drive and bravura here.
However, too strident a performance, where the tone becomes very hard and unrelenting should also be cause for concern.
An excellent performance will always be confident and colourful, conveying a wide range of tone and dynamics. It will have rhythmic precision and demonstrate keen attention to detail and accentuation in the score. It will not be too fast and there will be a swashbuckling sense of bravura.
A good performance will have shape and colour with a usually good rhythmic command and plenty of light and shade in the tone and phrasing. It might be a little careless, due to perhaps a slightly too quick tempo. This performance may be less poised and persuasive than an excellent one.
A sound performance will demonstrate an awareness and grasp of the mood if not yet the consistency of rhythmic precision and articulation detail to be compelling. It may even be a bit under tempo.