Published

Hawkes, 1925


Recordings

Ulster Orch., Handley
(1989, CD )

 

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Rhapsody No. 1 (1922)
R16

 

After the brilliantly-orchestrated but somewhat tunefully lacklustre first orchestral work, In The Mountain Country (a piece, incidentally, which Lewis Foreman described as "effectively Rhapsody No. 0") of 1921, Moeran really found his stride the following year with his First Rhapsody. Not only does this build on the technique of the earlier work, but melodically it is streets ahead, and writers such as Geoffrey Self feel it to be a superior work to the Second Rhapsody which followed it. This implies that here we have Moeran's finest orchestral writing prior to the Symphony of 1937.

Moeran was still studying under John Ireland when he wrote the First Rhapsody, and it is to Ireland that the work is dedicated. Despite this, Self finds more of the influence of Delius, in particular the First Dance Rhapsody and Brigg Fair, and also that of Butterworth's Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. Meanwhile, mining other influences, Foreman adds suggestions of Ravel, Bax and Frank Bridge.


Ireland and Moeran, 1922

While it can be both fun and instructive to pick over the possible influences on an early work of a young student composer, it is important not to let this overshadow the fact that the First Rhapsody is very much a successful piece in its own right. Beginning somewhat mysteriously with a short introduction throwing snippets of melody around the wind instruments, a sharp suddent chord interrupts and a gentle rhythm starts underpin what is still clearly an opening preamble. Moeran seems to be warming us up for the main body of music which doesn't really get going until almost two minutes in.

From here on we are into a set of variations around a lyrical modal melody clearly evocative of English folk music, which are the basis on which we are taken foward for a further ten minutes. That most diligent of music detectives Geoffrey Self can find no identifiable folk tunes that have been used in the piece - though the melodies Moeran creates were realistic enough to fool a Musical Times reviewer in 1925.

Moeran was to become a master of exploring a lot in a relatively short time, as later orchestral works like the Sinfonietta and its near-contemporary, Overture to a Masque were to prove. Here he is quite successful in holding his ideas together, possibly more so than in the Second Rhapsody, and though his build-ups and climaxes have great power they can sometimes come more out of nowhere rather than out of a logical progression of the preceding music.

Moeran is also keen to explore some of the more unusual time signatures, at one point simultaneously pitting a 5/8 bass against a 3/4 orchestra in a way which, remarkably, works quite brilliantly. As a showpiece for a young composer the First Rhapsody is a triumph - engaging melodies, warm pasoral lyricism, thrilling climaxes, and mysterious interludes. I leave it though to Peter Warlock, writing in 1924, to provide a final alternative interpretation: "...the principal theme of his first orchestral 'Rhapsody' which - presented by the bassoon in its upper octave - will always appeal to the ribald as the ideal tune for all Limericks"

 

 

 

Beginning somewhat mysteriously with a short introduction throwing snippets of melody around the wind instruments...

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database