Almost 20 years after it was composed, Arnold's Clarinet Concerto No. 1 was finally given its first American performance in October 1967. The soloist was Benny Goodman, who along with his acclaimed career in jazz performed extensively in the classical field and commissioned several new works for his instrument. Arnold had the chance to meet Goodman, and the latter suggested that Arnold compose a second clarinet concerto. Completed in Dublin in April 1974 and dedicated to Goodman "with admiration and affection," the Clarinet Concerto No. 2 was first performed at the Red Rocks Music Festival in Denver, CO, with Goodman as soloist and the Denver Symphony conducted by Brian Priestman.
To the string orchestra of the Concerto No. 1 Arnold adds a handful of woodwinds, two French horns, and some percussion for the orchestra of the Concerto No. 2. The brief opening Allegro vivace opens with a sprightly, playful idea. After some energetic jumping about, a second, more melancholy theme is introduced. At this point, Arnold directs the soloist to improvise a cadenza "as jazzy and way-out as you please." A brief return of the opening music and a raucous coda close the movement. The nostalgic main theme of the more relaxed second movement, a Lento, gives way to more agitated music and a wandering passage in which a crescendo leads the music from the minor mode to the major. By way of contrast, the final movement, titled "The Pre-Goodman Rag," is a good-natured, jocular ragtime takeoff that closes the work in exciting fashion.