Composer of the Week: Moeran

by Leslie Pratt, programme producer

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 Whythorne’s Shadow 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.

©2011 The Worldwide Moeran Database



Composer of the Week takes the form of a chronological survey of Moeran’s life and compositions...