Anthology: E J Moeran
A documentary film by RTE
Transmitted 17th February 1971
An article published in RTE Guide on 12th February 1971
Skinner writes about his colour film on the life and work of Anglo-Irish
composer, E J Moeran, which Anthology presents on Wednesday.
I think the first time I ever saw the name E J Moeran
it was in the Radio Times in the 1940's. I assumed he was some class
of a Central European, with that 'e' in the middle of his name doing
duty for a German umlaut. Then I heard a BBC announcer call him
E J 'Moweran', which left me completely flummoxed about his nationality.
It was much later that I discovered he was one of those people,
like myself, who are Irish by descent and temperament but are born
and educated outside Ireland. His name is, of course, a variant
or Moran, but I had some difficulty deciding how it should be pronounced
in this film because many people who knew him put the accent on
the second syllable, as if it were spelt 'Murrann', but in two radio
interviews he was called Mr. 'Moran'. I decided to adopt this pronunciation,
on the grounds that, as he was there at the time, if he objected
to being so addressed he would have corrected the interviewers.
Usually, when one starts making a film about a composer
or writer, a certain amount of spade work can be got over by getting
the standard biographies from the library. In Moeran's case, however,
no such work has been written, so this film is really the first
biography of the composer ever undertaken. There's one big disadvantage
to this: a biography in book form can run from two or three hundred
pages upwards, while a television film about a man's life (I reject
the bastard term filmography which is creeping in these days) is
limited to about an hour in length, which is equivalent to fifty
or sixty pages of script. But when the subject is a composer, this
disadvantage is more than balanced by an advantage: the music can
be played instead of relying on snippets of written music, which
are meaningless to all but the most highly trained musicians.
And in Jack Moeran's life the most important thing
was music. Unlike many composers he taught no pupils and his appearances
as a performer were rare. But he spent much of his time collecting
and arranging folk-tunes; and he composed glorious original music
in a style which has its roots deep in the folk-music of these islands,
without actually quoting any of it (although I think I detected
an echo of An Cailin Deas Cruaite na mBo in the Sinfonietta).
Wednesday night's film is the result of research done
over a period of some fifteen months, in between other programme
commitments. I am grateful to those many people who gave freely
of their time to talk to me, or write to me, about Jack Moeran.
Those whose contributions form parts of the actual script are listed
on Wednesday's programme page, but there were others who gave me
much useful background information, like Sgt. and Mrs. McCabe, Mrs.
Murphy and Mrs. O'Shea, all of Kenmare, where Moeran lived for much
of the later part of his life, and where he was buried. Then there
were the people I should have seen, but didn't because of the time,
like Michael Bowles, who conducted the first performance of the
cello concerto, and
Sir John Barbirolli, who went to put some 'jizz' in the Celestial
Choral Society before we could find a mutually suitable date.
A film is the work of many hands. I hope all the other
people involved won't be offended if I mention but three outstanding
names: Godfrey Graham, who is responsible for the beautiful photography;
Eimear O Broin, who brought his enthusiasm and expertise to the
musical side and conducted one session in such agonies of rheumatism
that he should have been in his bed; and Pat Hughes, my incomparable
assistant, who took on much of the slow, trudging part of the research,
like going through 30 years of newspapers in search of odd paragraphs
about our subject, leaving me free for the more congenial job of
interviewing people who knew Jack Moeran, or knew something about
him. Apart from these three, I mustn't forget Nora Nowlan, whose
name doesn't appear elsewhere, but who did the early part of the
research before she went off on a production of her own - which
weighed about eight pounds at birth.
If, between us all, we've succeeded in painting a
picture of a very human man who wrote beautiful music, we'll think
it well worth while.