Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Second Symphony was commissioned by the Winter Garden’s Society, Bournemouth, and is dedicated to Charles Groves and the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, “in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the orchestra”; they gave the first performance on 25th May 1953. The composer himself says of this symphony:
“The work is in E flat, the movement rising successively by a major third in tonality, so that the final movement is back in the home key again (i.e. 1. E flat, 2. G minor, 3. B minor, 4. E flat).
The first movement is in sonata form – first subject on the solo clarinet, second subject on the flute and oboe in A major. In the recapitulation, the first subject is played by the wind only and the strings join in with the second subject in the tonic key of E flat. The three chords which open the movement play an important part in the general scheme, from accompanying the first subject to making up a melodic passage on their own. If this movement expresses the quiet joy of being alive on a fine summer’s day, then it is successful.
The Second movement, a scherzo, could be called a variation on two chords (B flat – G – F sharp – D: C – A – E – C sharp) which are stated by the four horns in the first few bars.
The third movement is elegiac in character and builds up to a slow march played by the wind only. The quiet but insistent tolling of a bell is of importance throughout the movement.
4. Allegro con brio
The last movement is based on two themes and is very light-hearted. The first is a gay dance introduced by the woodwind; the second is played by the brass in three-part counterpoint.