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  Richard Anthony Sayer Arnell (1917–2009), by Charlotte ‘Arlie’ Arnell, c.1938 Richard Anthony Sayer Arnell (1917–2009), by Charlotte ‘Arlie’ Arnell, c.1938
Arnell, Richard Anthony Sayer [Tony] (1917–2009), composer, was born on 15 September 1917 at 537a Finchley Road, Hampstead, London, the only child of Richard Sayer Arnell (1879–1952), builder and property developer, later aeroplane manufacturer, and his wife, Helene Maggie, otherwise Hélène Marie, née Scherf (d. 1942). His parents subsequently divorced, and in 1929 his mother married Dudley E. E. Richardson. Arnell attended The Hall preparatory school, University College School, London, and the Royal College of Music (1935–9). There his first study was composition with John Ireland, and piano with John St Oswald Dykes. He received the director's prize (in 1935) and the Ernest Farrar prize for composition (in 1938). He sailed to New York for the World's Fair of 1939, arriving on 1 June, but the outbreak of the Second World War in September prevented his return. Thus in the early 1940s his career as a composer unexpectedly developed in the USA.

Making a living from music in New York was at first difficult, but Arnell found a variety of casual jobs, and was later employed by the BBC North American service. He eventually became part of the Greenwich Village scene; his acquaintances included Virgil Thomson and Mark Rothko. After Pearl Harbor he was briefly drafted, but failed a medical. His first orchestral performance was on 21 November 1940 when Victor Bay conducted the divertimento no. 2 in a Columbia broadcast concert. The Galimir String Quartet performed his first string quartet at the New York Public Library later in 1940; his overture The New Age was conducted by Leon Barzin at Carnegie Hall in January 1941. A set of Classical Variations in C for strings was broadcast by the station WQXR, New York, in December 1941. The Columbia Broadcasting Corporation's musical director, Bernard Herrmann, encouraged him and played his music with the CBC Orchestra. Sir Thomas Beecham, then touring in the USA, programmed three of Arnell's wartime works. First came the Sinfonia quasi variazioni, premièred in March 1942 by the New York City Symphony Orchestra. Arnell responded by dedicating his first symphony to Beecham, who gave the first public performance at Town Hall, New York, in May 1944. Before that Beecham had conducted Arnell's divertimento no. 2 at the Museum of Modern Art. Meanwhile Herrmann advised Arnell to go to Hollywood, but a union agreement prohibited immigrants working before a year's residence. Nevertheless Arnell wrote music for two documentaries for the US Department of Agriculture. One of these, The Land (directed by Robert Flaherty), became known when it was broadcast by the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Arnell wrote his second and third symphonies while still in New York—the former ostensibly for Beecham, who never played it. (It remained unheard until broadcast in 1988.) The third symphony was written in the closing years of the war (dated August 1945), and was dedicated ‘to the political courage of the British people’. After Arnell's return to the UK in 1947 he submitted it to the BBC where a panel approved it and it was broadcast in 1952, but its stature was not apparent until Martin Yates's 2005 recording. Meanwhile his cantata The War God, setting a text by Stephen Spender, was conducted by Bernard Herrmann to mark the opening of the San Francisco United Nations Conference on 25 April 1945. In 1946, for Churchill's visit to Columbia University, Arnell wrote a Ceremonial and Flourish for Brass. There were also chamber and instrumental works including three string quartets. All this was crowned by the ballet Punch and the Child, commissioned for the New York City Ballet in 1947.

Although at first subscribing to the general attitude of young composers in the late 1930s, which rejected the concept of the symphony, from the beginning Arnell was constantly preoccupied by the symphony as a form. He had taken with him to the USA a sinfonia written at the Royal College of Music in 1938. Some half an hour long, this was a significant early work, with a gorgeous slow movement scored for oboe and strings. Arnell confessed:
I enjoy thinking architecturally. Musicians all do although they might not understand if you put it to them just like that. Music is a sound within a space, so the space and its shape and texture is an intimate part of the sound. (unpublished autobiographical notes)
He thus wrote, besides the Sinfonia quasi variazione, a fantasia for orchestra (1941), the sonata for chamber orchestra (1941), and the symphonic suite, finally completed in 1943. However, none of these found a champion and only the Sinfonia quasi variazione achieved a performance.

After returning to England in 1947 Arnell taught composition at Trinity College of Music (1948–87; he was principal lecturer from 1981 to 1987) and also briefly lectured at the Royal Ballet School (1958–9). He was a notable influence on the teaching of film-scoring, first at the London School of Film Technique, later the London Film School, where he started the music department and was music director from 1975 to 1988, while pioneering the teaching of film-scoring at Trinity. He also played a considerable part in professional life, notably with the Composers Guild of Great Britain, as editor of its journal Composer (1961–4) and as chairman (1964 and 1974–5) and vice-president (1992).

Following his return Arnell quickly established himself as one of the leading younger British composers of the day with a flood of performances, including many of the works written in the USA, notably the fourth symphony, Punch and the Child, and the piano concerto, but also a succession of new ones including the second violin sonata (1948), Ode to the West Wind (1950), a string quintet, a fourth string quartet, and notably the ballets Harlequin in April (1951), The Great Detective (1953), and The Angels (1956). Sadler's Wells Ballet widely toured Harlequin in April and included it on a US tour. Arnell's work was also regularly performed at the Cheltenham and other festivals. Beecham continued to take an interest in Arnell and gave five Arnell premières in London between 1951 and 1956, including two performances of the ‘symphonic portrait’ Lord Byron, the fourth symphony at the Swansea Festival in 1953, Ode to the West Wind at the Festival Hall in February 1955, and the eight-movement suite Landscape and Figures at both the Edinburgh Festival and the Festival Hall.

In 1952 Arnell composed music for the documentary Opus 65 (also known as The Dagenham Story), a film shot to his pre-existing score. There were many subsequent documentaries, followed by feature films including The Visit and The Third Secret (both 1964), The Man Outside (1967), and The Black Panther (1977). Arnell was also briefly in demand in the late 1950s for television soundtracks after the success of his BBC television opera Love in Transit (1955). This resulted in commissions for several television scores including Shadow of a Pale Horse (1959), The Magic Tree (1960), Midsummer Sun (1961), and The General Strike (1961). The fifth symphony, completed in 1957, was revised and corrected after a performance in Frankfurt in 1964. The formal première was conducted by the composer at the Odeon Cinema, Swiss Cottage, in March 1966. Dedicating this to his father, in tribute Arnell quoted elements of the music hall tune ‘Dear Old Pals, Jolly Old Pals’.

Arnell returned to the USA between 1967 and 1970, as visiting Fulbright professor at Bowdoin College, Maine (1967–8), and subsequently at Hofstra University, New York (1968–70). This triggered an enthusiasm for the synthesizer (Herbert Deutsch in his music department had worked with Moog on a prototype). Mixed media pieces followed, many of them written in collaboration with his former student David Hewson, and he wrote in 1984: ‘The machine has changed my life. In these years from 1968, I have only written two concert works’ (Composer, 83, Winter 1984, 9). There followed a time during which Arnell produced no further numbered symphonies. However, he still toyed with the form, producing a wind symphony (1968) and the jokey ‘Shortest Symphony’ (1988), which consists of just one page. An enthusiasm for electronics also saw him produce the ‘Symphony X’ for orchestra, tape, and keyboard (1990). But in 1990 he returned to the symphony, completing the sixth in 1994. At the end of his life he was sketching a seventh symphony to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, but with failing eyesight was unable to complete it. He took Martin Yates into his confidence, giving detailed instructions on how to realize these fragments in a performing edition which Yates completed and recorded in June 2010.

Arnell was married eight times. His first marriage took place in England on 5 December 1938, to Charlotte Augusta Cronin Lowe (1911–2008), daughter of the homeopathic surgeon Edward Cronin Lowe. She travelled with him to the United States and they had one daughter, but the marriage was dissolved in 1946. (She remained in the United States, marrying an American and carving out a career as a fashion illustrator.) At CBS he met his second wife, Lois Ross, who was studying drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse and dance with Martha Graham. They were married in 1947 and had one daughter. Following their divorce he married, third, on 4 July 1953, Colette Bradley, formerly Freund, née Du Plessis (b. 1925), a travel agency executive and daughter of Enslin Du Plessis, the South African-born journalist and artist. He became stepfather to her daughter. Following their divorce, on 23 February 1960 he married Ann Georgina Tillotson (b. 1939), painter, and daughter of William Peele Tillotson, hotel proprietor; they had one son. Divorced again, he married Maxine Leah de Sellice (1925–1973). Following her death he married, sixth, on 19 January 1974, Charlotte Jennings (b. 1935), artist, and daughter of (Frank) Humphrey Sinkler Jennings, film director; then, following their divorce, Audrey Millar Paul, née Brock (b. 1927), a home warden, daughter of Frederick Millar Brock, shipping company director, and former wife of Rupert D. Paul, the marriage taking place on 19 October 1981. This marriage, too, ended in divorce, and Arnell's last wife was Joan Cynthia Nita Heycock, formerly Hoare, née Gale (1917–2004), daughter of Leslie Ronald Gale, glass manufacturer, and former wife of Cecil R. Heycock and before that of Michael D. R. G. Hoare. They married on 19 February 1992. After her death Arnell lived at the Musicians Benevolent Fund Home in Bromley until its closure in 2008, when he moved to Elmstead Care Home in Chislehurst. He died there of a coronary artery thrombosis on 10 April 2009. He was survived by his four children.

Lewis Foreman


R. Arnell, unpublished autobiographical notes, priv. coll. · Composer (1962); (1967); (1981); (1984), passim · M. Dawney, ‘Richard Arnell at 75’, Journal of the British Music Society, 14 (1992), 3–6 · ‘Richard Arnell’, A. Poulton, A dictionary-catalog of modern British composers, 1 (2000), 83–104 · The Guardian (24 April 2009) · Daily Telegraph (1 May 2009) · The Independent (9 May 2009) · The Times (16 June 2009) · Arnell files, BBC WAC · Royal College of Music, London, archives · Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, archives · original music scores, Fleisher Library, Philadelphia · printed programmes, Central Music Library · printed programmes, priv. coll. · WW (2009) · New Grove · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) [Jessie M. Page, daughter; Jennifer Johnson, daughter; M. Yates; R. Newton] · b. cert. · m. certs. [1938, 1953, 1960, 1974, 1981, 1992] · d. cert.


BL, music collections, music MSS  



BFI NFTVA, ‘Richard (Tony) Arnell interview’, 1988 · BFI NFTVA, performance footage




BL NSA, performance recordings


C. Arnell, oils, c.1938, priv. coll. [see illus.] · H. Coster, vintage cream-toned prints, 1954, NPG, London · J. Bratby, oils, 1980–89, priv. coll. · obituary photographs