Anthology: E J Moeran

A documentary film by RTE
Transmitted 17th February 1971
An article published in RTE Guide on 12th February 1971

Bill 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.


©2011 The Worldwide Moeran Database




Film pages:

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3


Clip 1
Kenmare Pier

Clip 2
At A Horse Fair