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Malcolm Arnold

Publisher: Novello & Co

The Sound Barrier Rhapsody (1952)
Work Notes
Grade 5 standard
Paterson Publications
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
8 Minutes
Alternate Orchestration
Wind Band
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Programme Note
Malcolm Arnold The Sound Barrier Rhapsody (1952)

The Sound Barrier Rhapsody is a short, dynamic orchestral tour de force in five discernible sections. It can be fully appreciated as pure music, but it is interesting to note the source of the original material. A resounding opening statement identifies the Sound Barrier motif - strong and unyielding - before the entry of delightfully skittish waltz, a playful accompaniment for some carefree aerial acrobatics as a Spitfire pilot momentarily enjoys the freedom of the skies and puts his aircraft through it's paces. There is a moment of drama, well pointed by brass and percussion, as the aeroplane is edged over skyward, reaching for the stars, before the emergence of a sudden calm, like the eye of the storm, a delicate dreamscape patterned by piccolo, flute and celesta adorned by shimmering strings. This tranquil mysterioso passage conjures the vision that is at the very heart of the film - mankind's quest to conquer time and space, to reach out into the universe - but it is a pursuit of trial and error, of success and failure - a grim ostinato introduces some plaintive variations on the main motif, a requiem for a young pilot sacrificed to the quest. The waltz theme reappears as 'The Prometheus', a prototype jet destined to surpass the speed of sound, skirts the clouds prior to zooming upward - peaking to the glorious sound of three piccolos rising above the ensemble - before beginning the rapid descent which will finally smash through the sound barrier. Cries of victory from horns and trumpets herald in a magnificent maestoso passage, a celebratory march comprising a substantial reworking of the film's prelude music and leading to a final but now subdued statement of the Sound Barrier motif, firmly checked by a dominant and decisive coda.

  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Kenneth Alwyn
  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Richard Hickox
  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Philharmonia Orchestra
    Malcolm Arnold / Robert Irving
  • Ensemble
    London Symphony Orchestra
    Richard Hickox
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