Court Rules on Destination of Oscar-Winning Composer’s Manuscripts

The resolution of a long-running dispute between the children and carer of Oscar-winning composer, Sir Malcolm Arnold, largely hinged on the interpretation of a brief postcard he wrote to his son. The Court of Appeal ruled that 82 potentially highly valuable manuscripts of his work had been gifted by Sir Malcolm to his children prior to his death and therefore did not form part of his estate.

Sir Malcolm, who was most famous for his score to classic film, the Bridge on the River Kwai, was going through a chaotic period in his life in 1976 when he sent several boxes of his possessions to his daughter, Katherine, including books, works of art, his Oscar statuette and a large number of manuscripts. He wrote a card to his son bearing the words: “All the books, pictures, sculptures etc. are for you and Katherine to share and keep, or sell it if you like! Dad”

In upholding an appeal by Robert and Katherine, the court ruled that the word ‘etc.’ used by Sir Malcolm in the card embraced the manuscripts and that he had intended to give them to his children. The ruling means that, of 103 manuscripts held by the Royal College of Music pending the outcome of the litigation, Robert and Katherine are entitled to 82 that were contained in the boxes. The remainder will pass to Anthony Day, who devotedly cared for the composer in his final years, under the terms of the composer’s will of which he was the principal beneficiary.

Shaun Underhill, a Partner at Winchester firm Shentons Solicitors, comments “Sadly, disputes over the contents of an estate or will are common. If you find yourself in the position of wanting to challenge the provisions of a will, we have expertise in this area and can assist”.