Composer of the Week: Moeran
BBC Radio 3’s Composer of
the Week is one of the longest running and most popular strands
to be heard on the network. For the past fourteen months, the sole
presenter of the programme has been Donald Macleod, who interweaves
the music with a narrative about the featured composer. Given that
2000 is the 50th anniversary of his death, I felt that it would
be the ideal opportunity to give some air-time to the music of E.J.
Moeran (who has been featured only twice before, as joint Composer
of the Week with Peter Warlock, and similarly
with Edmund Rubbra). Fortunately, the
idea was taken on board, and the Moeran wheels were set in motion.
This was a task which I relished greatly, as it gave me the chance
to delve wholeheartedly into Moeran’s life and music for the first
time, and to uncover a handful of works which are rarely heard,
and some which had never been recorded.
Donald Macleod and the production team spent a very
enjoyable and productive day on the Norfolk coast, where we recorded
some of the programmes in situ. As you will know, Moeran grew up
in this area, predominantly in the village of Bacton-on-Sea, where
his grandfather was vicar of the imposing 13th Century parish church
for over fifteen years, and now lies buried in the churchyard.
The BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week: Moeran series
takes the form of a chronological survey of Moeran’s life and compositions,
and will be broadcast from Monday December 11th to Friday December
15th at 9 o’clock every morning.
Monday 11th December: This first programme concentrates
on Moeran’s childhood and upbringing, his studies under John
Ireland at the Royal College of Music
and the treatment he received for the head wound sustained on the
western front during the Great War. The music includes some of his
earliest compositions: The Lake
Island as performed by pianist Eric Parkin, the Piano
Trio, the A.E. Housman song-cycle Ludlow
Town and his first orchestral work In
the Mountain Country.
Tuesday 12th December: Tuesday’s programme centres
on Moeran’s love of the countryside, its inhabitants and its music.
Moeran and his friend Philip Heseltine (Peter
Warlock) made a number of folksong-collecting
expeditions together, travelling around East Anglia, encouraging
the locals to perform for them and noting down tunes, many of which
eventually found their way into the works of both composers. Our
journey around the north Norfolk coast provided the perfect location
for this programme, which we recorded amongst the sussurating reed
beds of the Broads, complete with booming bitterns and chirping
moorhens in the distance! For this edition the BBC Singers, conducted
by Stephen Cleobury have provided us with two previously unrecorded
partsongs: The Sailor & Young Nancy
and The Jolly Carter, and the BBC
Philharmonic, conducted by Rumon Gamba have made a brand new recording
of the Sinfonietta. There’s
also a chance to hear Vernon Handley’s recordings of the Rhapsody
No.2 and Lonely Waters.
Whilst compiling this programme, I began to wonder whether those
double bass pizzicati and the end of Lonely Waters are meant to
represent the rather vociferous bitterns I mentioned earlier; personally,
I find a striking resemblance. Answers on a postcard, please…
Wednesday 13th December: The third programme focuses
on the friendship between Moeran and Warlock, and their three-year
sojourn in Eynsford, Kent.
They both shared an interest in the music of Delius,
but it was Warlock who first introduced Moeran to the Elizabethan
composers, of which he was especially fond. We had fully intended
to record this programme in the garden of the Five Bells in Eynsford,
but our ambitious journey round Norfolk took rather longer than
we had bargained for, so we had to curtail our plans somewhat. However,
as a tribute to the aforementioned establishment, we begin with
Neil Mackey’s rumbustuous recording with Jennifer Partiridge and
male chorus of the Warlock/Moeran collaboration Maltworms.
The programme also includes the Ulster Orchestra’s recording of
and the Delius homage, Nocturne.
We conclude with another new recording from the BBC Singers of the
Elizabethan-inspired Phyllida & Corydon.
On Thursday December 14th, the programme concentrates
on Moeran’s relationship with the cellist Peers Coetmore, who was
the inspiration for much of his later output, and indeed his wife
from July 1945. Coetmore herself begins the programme by playing
the Prelude for cello and piano
with Eric Parkin, but the second work is another specially recorded
performance by the BBC Philharmonic, this time of the Concerto
for cello and orchestra; the soloist is Paul Watkins. After
their marriage began to falter and Moeran began to spend more time
in County Kerry, he began work on a piece for oboist Eugene Goossens.
It is this work, the Fantasy
Quartet with which we end this programme.
Friday 15th December: The final programme, which we
recorded on the beach at Bacton-on-Sea, is a study of Moeran’s final
years, which he spent in Kenmare on the west coast of Ireland. Moeran’s
alcoholism, which had become progressively worse over the last ten
years of his life, was eventually to end his marriage to Peers Coetmore.
He composed virtually nothing after this period, and died, presumably
of a brain haemorrhage in December 1950. This programme includes
another brand new recording from Stephen Cleobury and the BBC Singers
of the seasonal partsong Ivy & Holly,
and one of the 7 Songs from County Kerry,
as performed by Ann Murray and Graham Johnson. The whole series
concludes with Moeran’s magnum opus, the Symphony
in G minor, which has been recorded for us once again by the
Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Vernon Handley.