It's not often that an important clarinet manuscript comes up for sale - but one did a couple of weeks ago at Bonham's, the famous auction house situated on London's Bond Street. The manuscript in question was Malcolm Arnold's Second Clarinet Concerto - a work that has very special resonances with me. I've played and taught it many times, perhaps most memorably, working on it with the eight year old Julian Bliss for a performance in Huddersfield to which Sir Malcolm himself came along in 1997.
Malcolm wrote the concerto (in 1974) whilst living in Ireland - it was a turbulent time in his life. His second wife had left him and he was suffering from acute mental health problems which ultimately culminated in a serious suicide attempt. During this extremely difficult period he was lucky enough to have a very dedicated doctor, Robin Benson, who looked after him with great devotion, often well beyond the call of duty. When Malcolm finally left Monkstown to return to England and spend, on and off, virtually the next three years in hospitals of one sort or another he decided to give Dr Benson a rather special gift. "Dear Robin, your kindness is so much appreciated. This is the original manuscript of a piece which has been so beautifully bound in Dublin. Please thank you for yourself and accept this useless present." The useless present was of course Malcolm's handwritten score of the Second Clarinet Concerto.
37 years later the family obviously decided to sell the manuscript and is appeared as Lot 93 at a sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs on March 22nd. I wasn't able to go to the sale myself but there were clearly some very interested parties. In the event, and to my great delight, it was bought by Sir Malcolm's daughter, Katherine. The manuscript had come home again.
I was very excited when Katherine invited me round to have a look at it. I was keen to know if there were any of those famous penknife scratchings occasionally found in Malcolm's manuscripts. Was there to be any evidence of changes of mind? Were any notes in the Pre-Goodman Rag the result of second thoughts? Malcolm virtually always wrote straight into full score and in ink. He composed inside his head, he neither used the piano (or any other instrument) and rarely made sketches. If any changes were to be made (and there were very few throughout his entire life's work) he would use a penknife to scratch out the wrong note and re-ink in the right one.
I arrived at Katherine's house in north London and was very quickly ushered into her study where on the desk sat the score. Malcolm's allusion to it having been beautifully bound was quite accurate. The binding is in a lovely and luxurious reddy-brown leather with gold lettering on the front. I opened the pages with great anticipation and a real thrill. The writing was, as ever, neat and very clear. I turned the pages one by one, hearing the music come alive in my mind - sometimes it was the Benny Goodman performance (which I know well through a recording of his premiere at St John's Smith Square) and sometimes it was Julian's who has often played it with great enthusiasm.
I was not too surprised to find very little in terms of alterations. I searched through the score three or four times looking very carefully for those tell-tale markings. There were one or two but nothing to give the impression that Malcolm had had any serious changes of mind. I found just two instances of penknife activity. In the first movement, fifteen bars after letter F, a crescendo mark, followed in the next bar by a diminuendo had been disposed of and in the third movement, from three bars after J the slur was originally extended until the end of the phrase. Otherwise the work is entirely as we know and love it.
What of the other manuscripts of Malcolm's clarinet works? The Clarinet Sonatina is held by the Royal College of Music in London and they occasionally have it out on display. But both the manuscript of the Fantasy and of the First Clarinet Concerto are presently lost. We can only hope that one day they will re-emerge.