Obituary

ERNEST JOHN MOERAN, O.U.

(1894-1950)

It is not too much to say that any account of contemporary British music would be incomplete which did not make honourable mention of the work of E. J. Moeran. The sudden loss of this brilliant composer is deeply deplored both in this country and the musical world at large.

One writer has observed that as Moeran's life was wholly devoted to the writing of music, any biographical account of him should be based on a discussion of his works. That we cannot embark upon here, but I would refer the interested reader to a chapter on him in "British Music of Our Time" (Penguin); to the Musical Times of January, 1951, and to two pamphlets issued (gratis) by Messrs. Novello and Chester, respectively.

Moeran was always full of enthusiasm for his old school, and for what we were able to do by way of starting him on his musical career. I doubt if any boy has grasped with more discernment and avidity or made better use of the opportunity which school music has to offer. In his school days (Sept. '08 - July '12) that opportunity, though firmly based on a unique tradition, was more confined in scope than it is now. For example, it was not until two years after Moeran left that we had an organ in chapel worthy of the name; music lessons (until Jan. 1911) were given at all hours of the day in a dimly gas-lit cottage; gramophone and wireless were non-existent; music competitions and societies were yet to come.

But for all that we had some means of development which cannot (of necessity) maintain to-day - the chief being that, living at a slower tempo, our opportunities were less crowded and there was more time and freedom for musing over and assimilating those that did come our way.

Before Moeran came to Uppingham he had little or no opportunity of hearing what he called 'real' music; his practical experience being limited to Prep-school lessons on the violin and what he could pick up himself on the piano with the aid of hymns A & M. Before he left Uppingham he was at the top of the tree as a school pianist, had played in a dozen symphonies, eight overtures, and in the accompaniment of many large choral works (mostly as the leading boy second violin), he had quite a sound knowledge of theory and score reading, and he had listened to many chamber works on Thursday afternoons in the Schoolroom. In his last year he formed a school string quartet, and wrote a 'cello and piano sonata which took nearly an hour to perform. In an article in The Listener (July 1942) relating to Moeran's string writing the following sentence appears: "This management of stringed instruments dates from Moeran's schooldays at Uppingham."

In 1924 and article on school music appeared in The Morning Post. On finding no mention of Uppingham, Moeran sat down and wrote half-a-column which concluded: "It is thus seen that every boy who has ears to hear, when he leaves Uppingham does so with a very fair grounding in the great classics." Jack Moeran certainly had this, but at least as much through his own enterprise and enthusiasm as that of his teachers.

If I may say so, a place might well be found for him on the Honours Lists:

E J Moeran. The first Composer to be honoured by having a Symphony perpetuated on gramophone records under the auspices of the British Council.

R Sterndale Bennett
Uppingham School Magazine
March 1951

 

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...I doubt if any boy has grasped with more discernment and avidity or made better use of the opportunity which school music has to offer...