Friday, 20 April 2012

Arnold Bax on E.J. Moeran Part II

Moeran's life may be said to have been divided into two clearly cut parts. During his first thirty or so years, he was an Englishman and a diligent collector of East Anglian folk-tunes, [1] whilst for the remainder of his days he was almost exclusively Irish. It was, I would say, about twenty years ago that his consciousness of his Celtic heredity was suddenly aroused. His father (‘a very nice old man’, according to his son) originally came from Cork. (By the way, the Irish nearly always pronounce the name Moeran as Morawn, with the accent on the second syllable. This is probably correct, for in Munster Gaelic the stress usually falls on the end of a word and "a" is heard as ‘aw’. But the composer, and his family, called themselves Moran, as does Lord Moran, I believe.)
Kenmare, where Jack made his Kerry home, is in reality little more than a village picturesquely grouped about the shores of the so-called river, (the name Kenmare means Head of the Sea), with the mountains rearing their austere peaks at the back of the main street. (An English visitor once fantastically confided to us that it reminded him of Innsbruck.) Moeran took an almost proprietary interest in the effect the Kerry scenery made upon the stranger. It was amusing to watch the eagerness of his face as we motored a newcomer up the Kenmare-Killarney road to Windy Gap, where the three lakes and the McGillycuddy Reeks burst into astounding view in a single breathless instant. Jack's predilection for the Irish (or rather Kerry) scene must have been wholly instinctive and emotional. He knew nothing of Irish history, nothing of the heroic legends, nothing of the Celtic literary renaissance. He took no interest in the language revival. Very wisely he refused to take part in any discussion of Irish politics, even if he was ever more than dimly aware that such matters for violent debate existed.
He was not in any sense well read and was, in fact, like Mozart, an almost perfect example of the pure musician. Like Mozart too, he was greatly addicted to billiards. But he knew and loved the Kerry people and understood unerringly how to get on with them. His friendly and unpretentiously   straightforward manner was precisely the same whether he was in the company of a brewery peer, a hotel boots, a priest, an out-at-elbows tramp, or even a drink-sodden and bellicose tinker at Puck Fair in Killorglin [2]. The people of Kenmare adored him. One of them remarked to me: ‘If there was ever a move to elect a mayor of this town Jack Moeran would be everyone's-first choice’. His popularity was immense, even; it must be admitted, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.
I recall an occasion when he and I were in the billiards-room of the Lansdowne Arms [3] and just about to start a game. Into the bar, which was next door and the only passage known to us to the main part of the hotel, there was a sudden irruption of some dozen of Moeran's town friends, all of them in a state of artificial exuberance and all of them anxious, I knew, to force liquid hospitality upon my companion if he could be found. It was only II in the morning and neither he nor I was in convivial mood.
We heard a voice cry, ‘Where is Jack Moeran?’ and glanced apprehensively at one another before searching desperately for a means of escape. By great good fortune we discovered behind a screen a narrow staircase that we had never before noticed. Silently we put away our cues, darted up the stairs and, after much furtive scuffling through box-rooms and attics, found our way to the front door of the hotel and comparative security. Everyone who knew Jack liked him, for he could have had no enemy. Kenmare must have been mourning him, and if the ancient keen were still to be heard in Kerry, as it was when I was young, it would surely have been wailed over the dead body of the village's old friend. His was a simple soul, and a lovable one. Ave atque vale! [4]

[1] For example his Six Folksongs from Norfolk (1923) and his Six Suffolk Folksongs (1931)
[2] Puck Fair, Killorglin. It is thought that the fair started in pre-Christian times as a celebration for a good harvest. The goat may also represent the pagan god, Pan. It is also likely that it is a representation of the Celtic god Lugh and a celebration of Lugnasa (Wikipedia accessed 10/03/12)
[3] Lansdowne Arms, Kenmare. The 3 star Lansdowne Arms Hotel is a beautiful Victorian style Kenmare hotel built 1790. It is an oasis of tranquillity and elegance, situated in the heart of the picturesque town of Kenmare Co Kerry in Kenmare Bay on the famous Ring of Kerry, and the rugged Ring of Beara, just about a 30 minute drive south of Killarney town on the N71 in Co Kerry. (Webpage for Lansdowne Hotel – accessed 10/4/12)
[4] Ave atque vale! Hail and Farewell

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