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