Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Arnold Bax on E.J. Moeran Part I

This is an excellent appreciation of E.J. Moeran written by fellow composer Arnold Bax. I present t in two parts. Moeran had died suddenly in Kenmare, Ireland on 1 December 1950, most likely from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was aged 55.  

It must have been in the summer of 1919 that I was invited to an evening party somewhere in Kensington or Chelsea: I forget which. These localities always seemed to me, a North Londoner at the time, so remote and foreign that whenever I emerged from the Underground at High Street or Sloane Square I half-expected to hear the aboriginals speaking an alien tongue.
Before starting out that evening, I had become involved in a futile and miserable quarrel with an old friend, and as I reached the doors of the house where the party was to be given my mind was not a little disintegrated and I felt in no mood to entertain or to be entertained. However, only a few minutes after my arrival I found myself conversing appreciatively with as charming and as good-looking a young officer as one could hope to meet. This was my first encounter with Jack Moeran [1] and the beginning of a close friendship which was to continue unbroken until the tragic day when his body was found in the Kenmare River. (It may be mentioned that this is not, strictly speaking, a river at all, but a long arm of the sea.)
At the time of our earliest acquaintance he was about to be demobilized after serving in the army all through the war and, in the course of it, suffering a head wound to the after-effects of which may perhaps be attributed a certain instability in his character later on.
He told me that he was a pupil of John Ireland, whom he always declared to be a most painstaking and conscientious teacher. Ireland himself reciprocated Moeran's respect and thought very highly of the latter's gifts as a composer. He had every right to be proud of his pupil. One of the first of Jack's works to be played and published was the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923) given at a recital by Désiré Defauw [2] and Harriet Cohen. It was rehearsed one evening before a small audience in Harriet's music-room in Wyndham Place, and amongst those present was Arnold Bennett [3], a true and sensitive music-lover, though he had, I think, no technical knowledge of the art. There came a moment in the rehearsal when Moeran rose and diffidently interrupted the players in order to suggest some slight alteration in the nuance of their interpretation. Hearing strange sounds beside me I turned to Bennett and found him in the throes of his curious stammer, his head thrown back, eyes closed, and one hand sawing the air gently to assist articulation. Then shrilly: ‘He-e-e-e's m-making " (pause-and with a rush) " a noise like a composer!’
Jack, in those earlier days, was a steady and prolific worker. Later his composition became intermittent, though when he did get down to it he filled the pages of his scores with astonishing rapidity and ease. He was one of the last of the true romantics. All his work from first to last is characterized by a deep love of nature. Certainly he was often derivative, and from time to time Delius, Vaughan Williams and Sibelius all held sway over his medium of expression. He wrote so fluently that he probably did not realize his occasional indebtedness to his predecessors. I well remember his perturbation when I pointed out to him that a passage in his symphony bore a remarkable resemblance to the famous whirlwind in Tapiola. [3] But he had his own distinctive musical personality as well, witness the unworldly Western-Irish lights that seemed to glimmer down upon the pages of that same symphony, the second movement of the violin concerto, the piano piece ‘The Lake Island'; and witness too the delicately distilled suggestions of native folk idiom heard in these works.
Music and Letters April 1952 with minor edits

[1] Ernest John Moeran (1894 -1950) was generally known to his friends as ‘Jack.’
[2] Désiré Defauw (1885-1960) Belgian conductor and violinist.
[3] Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) English novelist and journalist. Noted for his evocative novels set in The Potteries, Staffordshire.
[4] Tapiola, Op.112 is a tone poem by Jean Sibelius composed in 1926.  Tapio was the animating spirit of the forest. 

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