Sir Malcolm Arnold (b. 1921)
Three Shanties, opus 4

I - Allegro con brio; II - Allegretto semplice; III - Allegro vivace

The Three Shanties are the earliest of Arnold's many chamber works (mainly trios, quartets and quintets). They were composed in 1943 and first performed by the Wind Quintet of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, at Filton Aerodrome, Bristol, in an aircraft hangar during a lunchtime shift in August that year. In common with most of Arnold's smaller-scale works, the Shanties are characterized by catchy tunes, sensitive (though often unexpected) use of instruments, and the light-hearted humour which permeates the outer movements of the piece especially.

Each movement quotes a different sea shanty as its basis: 'What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?', 'Boney was a Warrior', and 'Yo Ho, Blow the Man Down'. The outer movements depart from the shanty at several points, notably to include a tango in the first movement and several dances (including a fast waltz and a bossa nova) in the last. The energy instilled into much of the material is especially apparent in the Presto coda of the first, in which the shanty is heard at breakneck speed. The second movement, by contrast, follows the format of the shanty (the original of which has many strophic verses) more faithfully, and is more lyrical and soloistic, with the melody initially presented on muted horn, passed around the various instruments of the ensemble in turn, and returned to horn to finish. CMW

© 1999 The Arethusa Ensemble