Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) was born Northampton, England to a family of prominent shoemakers. Early interest in jazz led him to take up the trumpet, which eventually led him to the position of Principal Trumpet with the London Symphony Orchestra. By the end of the 1940s his career had become almost entirely focused on composition. He went on to write 132 film scores, including the 1958 Oscar recipient Bridge on the River Kwai, nine symphonies, seven ballets, twenty concertos, a handful of theatre music, and wealth of brass band and wind band music. He was knighted in 1993 for his service to music, having been hailed as one of the major composers of the twentieth century. He offers his own program note to Four Scottish Dances (courtesy of the Oklahoma City University program note resource for band directors):
These dances were composed early in 1957, and are dedicated to the BBC Light Music Festival. They are all based on original melodies but one, the melody of which was composed by Robert Burns.
The first dance is in the style of a slow strathspey– a slow Scottish dance in 4/4 meter — with many dotted notes, frequently in the inverted arrangement of the ‘Scotch snap’. The name was derived from the strath valley of Spey.
The second, a lively reel, begins in the key of E-flat and rises a semi-tone each time it is played until the bassoon plays it, at a greatly-reduced speed, in the key of G. The final statement of the dance is at the original speed in the home key of E-flat.
The third dance is in the style of a Hebridean Song, and attempts to give an impression of the sea and mountain scenery on a calm summer’s day in the Hebrides.
The last dance is a lively fling, which makes a great deal of use of the open-string pitches of the violin (saxophones in the band edition).
Here is a more extensive program note about Four Scottish Dances.
Each of the four movements as played by the Dallas Wind Symphony:
Next, 2 examples of real Scottish dancing. Be prepared for some bagpipes! First, a social dance, this one a reel like in the second movement of the Arnold:
Now a competitive Sword Dance from a competition in Saratoga, NY. Listen for the piper to play the “Scotch Snap” rhythm found so often in the Arnold: