E J Moeran - A Short
is a potted guide to the life of E J Moeran. Though condensing
a man's life onto one page can be unsatisfactory, as yet there
is no full biography in print, though one is currently being
written. Use the articles on the right to supplement this
biography, and check also the Chronology, currently the best
idea we have of the day-to-day activities of this sometimes
John Moeran, or
Jack to his friends, was born in Heston on 31st December 1894,
the second son of the Rev J W W and Esther Moeran. Shortly
after his birth the family moved to Bacton, in the remote
Norfolk Fen Country. As a child he learned to play the violin
and piano, and made some early compositional efforts while
at Uppingham School (works he later destroyed).
his early childhood
In 1913 he enrolled at the Royal College of
Music to study piano and composition under Sir Charles Stanford.
His studies were cut short by the outbreak of war, and in
1914 he enlisted as a motorcycle despatch rider in the 6th
(cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.
joining the Royal College of Music
On 3rd May 1917, at Bullecourt
in France, Moeran received a severe head injury, with shrapnel
embedded too close to the brain for removal, and underwent
what would now be considered primitive head surgery which
involved the fitting of a metal plate into the skull. Unsurprisingly
this was to affect him for the rest of his life.
Moeran House in Bacton, Norfolk, c.1920
After discharge from the services on a disability
pension he returned briefly to teach at Uppingham before returning
in 1920 to the music course at the Royal College, staying
there under John Ireland. This period, the most active in
his creative output, saw a number of important early works,
including the String Quartet in A Minor, the First
Rhapsody for orchestra, the Piano Trio, the Violin
Sonata and a number of works for solo piano. Moeran had
also by this time begun collecting folk songs, visiting pubs,
especially in his native Norfolk, and noting down the old
songs that were still to be heard at the time, something he
was to partake in for the rest of his life.
Some of these folksongs Moeran set to his own
arrangements, and collections for a variety of solo and assemble
vocal settings were to follow for the rest of his life. Of
particular interest are the setting for voice and piano of
Six Folksongs from Norfolk, Six Suffolk Folksongs
and Songs from County Kerry.
By the middle of the 20's Moeran had struck
up a close friendship with Philip Heseltine, better known
under his pen-name as the composer Peter Warlock. In 1925,
together with the artist Hal Collins, they rented a house
in Eynsford, Kent where they were to live together for three
years of allegedly wild, drunken anarchy which brought them
an assortment of musical and artistic visitors and the occasional
attention of the local police. This period also saw an understandable
decline in the regularity of Moeran's musical output. It is
also thought that at Eynsford Moeran developed the alcoholism
which so often overshadowed his for the rest of his life.
On leaving the house as funds ran dry Moeran
began to move towards a stylistic reappraisal which was to
see him moving away from the earlier influence of composers
such as Delius and Ireland, especially on his use of harmony.
The first instrumental works to show signs of this were the
Sonata for Two Violins and the String Trio,
written during a period of ongoing illness and for the first
time created straight onto the page rather than through experimentation
at the keyboard, as was the choral cycle Songs of Springtime.
Hill" - in Kington, Herefordshire, where Moeran
lived on and off later in his life, c.1940
It was also at this time that Moeran began to
show a much greater interest in his Irish roots - his father
was Dublin-born though raised in England, and Moeran had spent
some time in Ireland while serving in the army, but it was
not until the 1930's that Moeran began to relate his compositions
away from the Norfolk countryside and towards Ireland, particularly
County Kerry in the far south west of the country. He became
particularly fond of the small town of Kenmare, and for most
of the rest of his life it was to here that here would return
for musical inspiration.
The work which was to occupy much of the 1930s
had in fact been commissioned and started in 1924 - his Symphony
in G Minor. Almost finished in the 20's, Moeran abandoned
work on it, not to resume until 1934, and finally finish on
January 24th 1937 in Kerry. The success of this major work
seemed to boost Moeran's confidence, and almost immediately
he began work on what has been seen by some as the Symphony's
natural companion, the Violin Concerto. This piece,
completed in 1942 after five years, is imbued with Irish spirit
and lyricism, and whereas the Symphony is often wracked with
gloom and despair, the Violin Concerto seems to offer hope
and enlightenment in response.
Once again, however, the country was at war,
and one can only assume that the overshadowing of what was
Moeran's finest compositional period has had a lot to do with
his later obscurity. As the forties wore on he married the
cellist Peers Coetmore and wrote for her a Cello Concerto
and Cello Sonata. Other major works of the period
include the Sinfonietta, the third Rhapsody for
Piano and Orchestra (the nearest he came to writing a
full Piano Concerto), the Fantasy Quartet for Oboes and
Strings and the Serenade in G.
view from Moeran's study in Gravel Hill, 2000
But as the decade wore on his health declined.
Moeran was wrestling with a second symphony which seemed imminent
at several points in time, yet was never completed and later
disappeared. The marriage to Peers, never destined to be one
of the great romances, was faltering, and his drinking continued.
By 1950 he was living in increasingly poor health in Kenmare,
worried that his instability would result in being certified
insane, unable to concentrate for more than a short time.
on plans for his second symphony.
On 1st December 1950, during a heavy storm,
he was seen to fall from the pier at Kenmare, and was dead
on his recovery from the sea. The cause of death would appear
to have been a cerebral haemorrhage following a heart attack.
He was buried shortly after in Kenmare.