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Novello, 1956


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Vanbrugh Quartet
(1998, CD )

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String Quartet No. 2 in E Flat
(date?)
R98

Allegro moderato
Lento

There is considerable dispute about whether or not this delightful piece is Moeran's 2nd String Quartet, or actually predates the first. Geoffrey Self devotes an appendix in his book to arguing the later date, while Barry Marsh here offers a similar conclusion.

However, Rhoderick McNeill (below) offers a powerful argument for the original conclusion, that it is in fact an early work. Of the two recordings, Naxos avoid the numbering issue, while ASV call it number 2, while their sleevenotes plump for the 'early date' theory.

With this in mind I intend to stick with calling this the Second String Quartet, even though it may predate the First.

 

Notes by Barry Marsh

The manuscript of this quartet was found among Moeran's papers in 1950. It is undated, but by the nature of its style, in Geoffrey Self's observation, "simple, innocent and childlike", dismissed by some commentators as an early work. Yet the two movements share similarity of form with the 1946 Fantasy Quartet.

It is now thought that this work came to be written in order to offset certain tensions that were beginning to arise in the composer's life from 1947 onwards. The desire to make great music together with his wife Peers Coetmore had produced the stark individuality of the Cello Sonata, but it had also turned composing into an obligation. The Second Quartet is, by contrast, Moeran in relaxed mood and telling us how to enjoy ourselves - inconsistently at times, perhaps, but never worth our neglect. here is accessible music, honest, direct, and written by a man who, as a sting player himself, was often happiest in this medium, and at peace in his beloved Ireland.

A Celtic atmosphere pervades the second movement in particular, where echoes of Kerry songs, both serene and lively, call to mind similar passages from the Second Symphony - also in E flat - on which Moeran was working at the time of his death.

 

Dating The Work - An Alternative View
By Rhoderick McNeill,
University of Southern Queensland, Australia

In my thesis entitled "A Critical Study of the Life and Works of E.J.Moeran" (University of Melbourne 1982), I argued for an early date for this quartet - in fact I placed it roughly in the period 1918-20. As I was living and working in Indonesia for 10 years between 1985-95 I did not get hold of Geoffrey Self's book until the early 90s. Personally, I cannot agree with Self's conclusion about the date of the E flat quartet.

Here are some reasons:

1. An early article introducing Moeran's music ('Newcomers - E.J. Moeran', The Chesterian, No.36, 1923, p.124) mentions three string quartets predating the published String Quartet in A Minor, and two Violin Sonatas predating the Sonata of 1922, as well as hinting at other chamber works. In the same article Moeran is said to consider them worthless and to have withheld them from public performance. Another reference to these chamber works was made in the program notes for the 1924 Norwich Triennial Festival, at which the premiere of Moeran's Rhapsody No.2 was given. This is a clear indication that Moeran had given significant time to the medium. It makes sense that, as a young composer, Moeran would publish the one he considered the strongest, namely the A minor. As a composer whose style was rapidly developing between 1920-24, it is not surprising that he would hold back a work in a simpler style, given the limited chances one has as an emerging composer for publication.

2. The harmonic idiom of the work is essentially triadic - the use of ninths, elevenths and thirteenths which one finds in Moeran's work from the First Rhapsody and Violin Sonata onwards is largely absent. However, it is also not as complex harmonically as either In the Mountain Country (which bears an Irish sub-title on the MS score in the Victorian College of the Arts collection, incidentally cf. Point 4 below) or the A minor quartet of 1921, which are not as dissonant, in turn as the works of 1922 and 23. Generally, I see a link harmonically with the idiom of the three early piano pieces (ie. At a Horse Fair). Although Moeran often included diatonic sections in his later works (ie second subject group of the G minor symphony first movement, first episode
in the Rondo of Violin Concerto and slow movement of the Cello Concerto), these were almost never sustained for long periods, let alone a whole work. The E flat quartet shows little of Moeran's tendency towards more linear counterpoint which we find post 1929 (Sonata for Two Violins, String Trio) or the bitonal episodes which occur in his later works. Nor yet do we hear strong echoes of Delius. Rather, I hear connections with Vaughan Williams's pre-1914 style. Take for instance the opening three part writing of 'Is my team ploughing' from On Wenlock Edge and compare with that ghostly Andante section (figure 29) in the E flat quartet, second movement.

3. The Fantasy form of the second movement, incorporating elements of slow movement, scherzo and coda, was especially popular during the second decade of the 20th century - ie works of Bridge, Ireland, Vaughan Williams and Howells. Sure, there are later works using this form - by Britten, and, of course, Moeran. However, in the Moeran case, the 1946 style seems quite different to the E flat quartet.

4. Moeran had already spent time in Ireland towards the end of his military service. One of his sketch books in the Victorian College of the Arts collection includes a folk tune collected in Western Ireland in 1919, replete with the repeated three note figure which ends the beautiful main melody of the slow section in the E flat quartet, 2nd movement. As well, Moeran found a number of variants of Irish tunes in Norfolk (E.J. Moeran: 'Some Folksinging of Today', English Folk Dance and Song Society Journal, Vol.5, No.3, 1948. This could explain the Irish feel to the second movement.

 

 

 

 

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