Thursday, 25 August 2016

Introductions XVIII: E.J. Moeran by Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock): Part I

E.J. Moeran
I have collated the original text with that published on the Moeran Database. A few minor edits have been made. I have provided a few glosses and comments on the text.

Jack Wilkes, [1] the famous member for Middlesex, once remarked to Dr Johnson that ‘there is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now, Elkanah Settle [2] sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits.’ It does very often happen that one reads a man's name repeatedly in the newspapers before one has any knowledge of his work or his personality, and from the name itself an impression of its owner is made on the mind which in some cases is apt to colour, all unconsciously, our subsequent opinion of him. Now it is the aim of every ambitious young author or composer to keep his name before the public, and he is a fortunate man if that name is one that is easy to pronounce and to remember and, moreover, a name that arouses pleasurable anticipations when it is heard and read. I must confess that when I first encountered the name of E. J. Moeran in the Daily Telegraph [3] some years ago, no clear impression was made upon my mind. In the first place there is something cold and inhuman in the indication of the Christian name by a mere initial. A good tradition has ordained that composers shall be more to us than N. or M. until such time as fame bestows on them the dignity of a surname tout court. J S Bach is admissible - though the sonorous Johann Sebastian is vastly preferable; but R. V. Williams gives but a distorted image of a personality singularly clear in its full denomination; and the monstrosity of F. A. T. Delius [4] has never even been perpetrated by those who are pedantic enough to announce a work by W. A. Mozart. In the case of Moeran, the nationality of the name is dubious at first sight; it is actually Irish (though not in accordance with Gaelic orthography); but the oe suggests the Teutonic modified o as in Koeln - or again, might be pronounced as in oesophagus. Whereas when we hear of Jack Moran [5] (with the accent on the Mor) all is clear at once and a personality is apparent. It sounds so delightfully unlike a professional musician - and one might spend many pleasant hours in Moeran's company without discovering that, officially at any rate, he was accounted one.

His strength as a composer lies in the fact that he is a human being first and a musician afterwards. A man of many interests, he does not - for example - compete in an arduous motor-cycling reliability trial in the vague hope that this exercise may somehow improve his music; nor did he begin his career as a musician in the spirit of the small boy who, when asked by his schoolmaster what he was going to be when he grew up, replied: ‘An author, sir!’ and was met with the facer: ‘But supposing you can't auth?’ - a contingency the young mind had not envisaged.

Moeran began writing music when a boy at Uppingham. He had heard a good deal at school concerts and elsewhere, and thought it would be fun to try and produce some out of his own head. In fact, one may say that he learned composition simply by practising it. Of all the English public schools, Uppingham seems to provide the most favourable conditions for the development of musical talent. The music master occupies a position second only to that of the head master in importance, and the boys are encouraged to develop a living interest in music, quite apart from any lessons in instrumental playing to which they may be committed. During the four years spent at Uppingham (1908-12) Moeran achieved considerable proficiency as a pianist; he also mastered the technique of the violin sufficiently well to be able to take part in performances of chamber music, and, under the sympathetic guidance of Robert (grandson of Sir William) Sterndale Bennett, he learned also how to listen intelligently, how to read and absorb music - far more important accomplishments than the mere ability to perform it - so that by the time he left the school he had gained a very fair knowledge of what are called the classics, from Bach to Brahms.

Beyond Brahms he had not pursued his investigations. He felt no curiosity about the music of his contemporaries; even Wagner was unknown to him. But chance came to his assistance one night in the spring of 1913 when, finding himself crowded out of St. Paul’s Cathedral where Brahms’ ‘Requiem’ [6] was to be given, he went to Queen’s Hall to hear a concert of modern British music rather than hear no music at all. This was one of the admirable series [7] given by Balfour Gardiner - concerts that will long be remembered in the annals of British music, though they were insufficiently appreciated at the time they were given - and the programme contained the Delius Piano Concerto, which accomplished for Moeran the same sort of miracle that ‘Tristan’ and certain works of Grieg had effected for Delius in the eighties, and revealed a new world of sound to his imagination.

[1] Warlock refers to John (Jack) Wilkes (1725-1797) who was an English radical, journalist, and politician.   
[2] Elkanah Settle (1648-1724) was an English poet and playwright.  He was the author of ‘a series of bombastic oriental melodramas which threatened Dryden's popularity and aroused his hostility.’ It explains to some extent, Warlock’s convoluted metaphor.
[3] I have searched the files of the Daily Telegraph and have been unable to come up with any references to Moeran before 3 March 1924 where the Sonata for violin and piano is briefly reviewed.
[4] Frederick Theodore Albert Delius (1862-1934) is more often than not referred to a Frederick, or sometimes simply Fred.
[5] The composer’s full name was Ernest John Smeed Moeran (1894-1950). His surname was probably pronounced as ‘Moor-an’ but the composer doubtless heard many variations on this. He was known to his friends as ‘Jack.’
[6] I was unable to find details of this performance of Brahms’ ‘German Requiem.’
[7] The concert that Moeran attended was the Balfour Gardiner’s Eighth Concert at the Queen’s Hall on 18 March 1913. The programme included, as noted in the text: Fred. Delius’ Piano Concerto (with the soloist Evelyn Suart), Arnold Bax’s In the Faery Hill, Granville Bantock’s tone poem Fifine at the Fair and Gardiner’s ‘Shepherd Fennel’s Dance.’ The New Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Balfour Gardiner. 
To be continued...

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