Sir Malcolm Arnold has long been recognised as a composer who, perhaps uniquely, combines effervescent skill with more than a little ebullience and nowhere could these qualities be more amply demonstrated than in his Three Shanties which, written in 1943, provide as much fun for the listener as for the player. The bubbling figuration and racy rhythms of the outer movements frame a charming and sensitively scored Allegretto semplice, ‘Boney was a warrior’.
The drunken sailor in the first movement is brilliantly portrayed in various stages of intoxication. He chases his pigtails in a canon at the minor third, develops hiccoughs, finds himself in a state of remorse, on the shores of South America, dancing the tango to a minor key; but eventually he pulls himself together and reports for duty, presto ben marcato.
‘Boney was a warrior’ heads the second movement and, by taking was as the operative word, the composer makes this the contrasting movement. The last shanty is based on ‘Johnny come down to Hilo’ and is bursting with humour and boisterousness. The writing for the instruments is brightly coloured throughout. In this type of work Arnold is at his best.