Sir Malcolm Arnold: Beckus the Dandipratt, Overture
Beckus the Dandipratt is an Arnold first, and was a profoundly important piece in establishing him as a composer. This splendid Concert Overture, stunningly assured in tunefulness and technique, and with many fingerprints of the later composer - bouncing rhythms, string glissandos, jolting changes of key, a love of the piccolo - was not a commission: it was written on spec. in 1943 when he was 21 and still in the LPO. Beckus was just an invented name, and a dandipratt means something like an urchin. Arnold got the idea while on holiday in Cornwall when a mischievous small boy made friends with him on the beach. (Sir Malcolm adored Cornwall and thought of himself as an honorary Celt). In the same breath he also pointed out that the Overture is a regular sonata form movement in E flat! Unlike Peterloo, Beckus is not programmatic, except that there is a prominent part for solo cornet, who is Beckus himself. The cornet wanders in and out of the texture - "coarse" says the score at one point - but there are also moments of quiet, with wonderfully transparent scoring, and the ending is surprisingly subdued. Arnold owes Beckus a great deal; once it was written, he nervously showed it to the Dutch conductor Eduard van Beinum, who was then the nearest thing the LPO had to a Musical Director. Van Beinum was not only encouraging, but said he would conduct it - and did so, for Decca 78, at the end of a recording session when there was time to spare. So Beckus the Dandipratt, the grubby little urchin from Padstow, can claim the credit for putting Arnold firmly on the musical map.
© 1998 Piers Burton-Page