Chester, 1923


Maggini Quartet
(1997, CD )

Vanbrugh Quartet
(1998, CD )



Musical Times, Feb 1923


Further Writing




1 - from Amazon
2 - from Amazon





String Quartet No 1
in A Minor (1921)

Andante con moto


Moeran's first String Quartet in A minor, completed while he was still studying under John Ireland at the RCM, was an early indication that here was a composer of great promise. In fact, Moeran had already composed several string quartets whilst at Uppingham School - these were all destroyed by the composer - and had some experience of playing within a quartet, so it is not entirely surprising to see him making quite a success of this piece.

Geoffrey Self tells us that, in the RCM of the early twenties, the dominant traditionalist school of thought at the RCM held up the Brahmsian model of String Quartet writing, while only a minority explored more recent developments. Of these two positions, however, the young Moeran took the latter route and looked for his inspiration primarily to Ravel. In fact there are several moments within Moeran's quartet where one is quite strikingly reminded of Ravel's own Quartet in F, particularly in the corss-rhythms and pizzicato writing of the final movement, and it does seem brave, if not naive, for Moeran to have progammed the two works together in his Wigmore Hall concerts of 1923.

Much of Moeran's output of the 1920s shows the strong influence of Ireland and Delius, but these two are less obvious in the Quartet, with its pared-down textures and harmonies. A casual comparison of the underlying melodies used in this and the undated Second String Quartet do suggest quite a marked difference in origin, with the latter having a far more Irish feel. The First String Quartet does share a folk-like feeling, but this work seems far more rooted in the English folk music which Moeran was collecting at the time. The occasional drifting towards elements of dance-like rhythmic textures in the final movement seem to lack the characteristic lightness of his most 'Irish' writing. This fleetness of foot was to emerge later - indeed one recording of recent years apparently implied that the musicians had not even considered the possibility of dance rhythms in this work, so leaden was their interpretation. Perhaps they chose a (somewhat lumbering) steam train as their rhythmical inspiration - that is certainly a possible alternative image generated by this movement, and also crops up earlier in the work.

The First String Quartet is a delighful listen, its lyrical, modal folk-like melodies weaving effortlessly through the instrumental writing, and in the two available recent recordings, possesses a lightness of spirit in its rhythm. It is fun to pit the first against the second quartets and try to deduce which actually came first, but I would personally hesitate to suggest one work is intrinsically better than the other.




...lyrical, modal folk-like melodies weaving effortlessly through the instrumental writing...

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database