I was tidying up a pile of choral sheet music the other day. Amongst many little gems I found a copy of E.J. Moeran’s Te Deum and Jubilate in E flat (1931). It was originally price 1s.9d, which, in new money is just under 9p. I paid the grand sum of 5p in a second-hand bookshop. Two things can be said. Firstly, despite being a great enthusiast of Moeran, I had ‘forgotten’ that he had written any ‘liturgical’ music. And secondly, what a splendid number it turned out to be. I played the piece through on the piano best I could and then was lucky to find a YouTube recording sung by the Choir of Norwich Cathedral. (See below for details).
In fact, there is precious little church music in Moeran’s catalogue. All were composed in 1930. The earliest piece would appear to be ‘Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem’ for SATB chorus and organ. The next work is a setting of the Evening Canticles (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) now known (where known at all) as Moeran in D. The third was the Te Deum and Jubilate in E flat provides for the Book of Common Prayer Matins service.
These three pieces were published by Oxford University Press in 1931. The final ‘church’ piece is ‘Blessed are those servants’ which sets a text from St Luke’s Gospel for unaccompanied SATB chorus. This appeared in 1939.
In a letter to Peter Warlock, Moeran writes:
‘I have a fairly easy Te Deum all ready & copied out & am well on with an evening service into which I cannot resist inserting some luscious Stainerisms. I spend a good deal of time writing music, but lack of privacy prevents me from doing anything on a larger scale, as I am still too helpless to be free of constant attendance…’
Moeran was in hospital following a ship-board accident. ‘Stainerisms’ refers to musical devices penned by the Victorian composer and organist Sir John Stainer. In 1930 they would have been regarded as ‘quaint.’
E.J. Moeran’s Te Deum and Jubilate in E flat is set in context in a short note in the Moeran Database. I cannot confirm, but I guess that this is an extract from the Priory CD liner notes written by Michael Nicholas in 1993:
‘[The setting displays] ...strongly diatonic unison writing [which] contrasts with the modal flavour of the harmonised passages. The choral writing, often heard over marching bass lines in the organ accompaniment, suggests Vaughan Williams and Holst... However, these movements have characteristics of their own, fitting well into the regular round of Anglican worship.’
I was impressed by the Te Deum and Jubilate. It shows considerable invention, great sympathy for the text and a generally imaginative flair. The contrasts in the alteration between the ‘big’ diatonic unison tune with which the Te Deum opens and the four-part writing are excellent. There are few contrapuntal passages in either section of the canticle, although there are some canonic exchanges between the organ and unison voices (Thou art the King of Glory). Harmonically, the setting is largely diatonic, though Moeran does sometimes modulate to chords well-removed from the prevailing key centre. The organ part features several added note chords as well as the pronounced walking bass.
Although it is not certain that Moeran retained any religious opinions or beliefs, he is known to have enjoyed hearing his canticles and would attend Hereford Cathedral when they were slated for performance.
E.J. Moeran Te Deum and Jubilate in E flat (1930) was released on Priory PRCD 470 (1993). The choir of Norwich Cathedral was conducted by Michael Nicholas and the organ played by Neil Taylor. The Te Deum and the Jubilate can be heard on YouTube. The score can be found online at IMSLP.