Published

Joseph Williams, 1949

Recordings

Ulster Orch., Handley (1987, CD )

London Philharmonic,
Sir Adiran Boult
Lyrita SRCS 43
(1970, LP )

 

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Overture For A Masque (1944)
R82

Blast Legge, his overture must wait... ...honestly, I wish the overture were finished with, and I were onto something else... ...it is not my top notch... ...now that it's getting into full score, it is turning out really well... ...I think it turns out to be a good little work - what you might call athletic in style...

from Moeran's letters to Peers Coetmore, Nov. 1943 - Feb. 1944

Overture for a Masque was commissioned by Walter Legge in 1943 for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), Moeran being one of several composers asked to write music for performance at concerts for troops during the Second World War. It comes at a time when Moeran was at a musical peak, was falling in love with Peers Coetmore (and consequently would rather have been writing cello pieces for her), and was approaching a level of output not seen since his earliest work some twenty years earlier. It would be a mistake to suggest that he was churning work out, but certainly this was a fertile and productive time for him, coming hot on the heels of the Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra and immediately before the Sinfonietta and Cello Concerto.

Andrew Burn, in his sleevenotes for the Chandos release, suggests "It is first and foremost a work designed to entertain...and with its exuberant syncopated rhythms and sparkling orchestral textures it does just that", a sentiment Geoffrey Self appears to agree with - it is, he says, "perfectly tailored to its function...[and] demonstrates...his thorough professionalism." Self goes on to suggest the orchestration as a response to the Russian school, particularly Tchaikovsky, and perhaps some Stravinskian rhythmic syncopation, to which I might add the occasional fleeting shadow of Prokofiev.

The Overture is assembled as a Rondo, one of Moeran's favourite musical structures, and this allows for a wide range of different musical emotions and textures to be explored in its compact ten minute duration, from the majestic opening fanfare through the inspirationally dramatic, hints of far away lands (my Prokofiev moment is followed by an oboe which perhaps suggests the Orient), some defiantly pastoral English lyricism, a vigorous march, and that's only the first three minutes!

Whether or not Moeran deliberately set out to invoke specifics images memories or thoughts in the minds of his audience, most of whom would be fighting far away with little chance of seeing home and their loved ones in the foreseeable future it's difficult when listening to the Overture not to associate almost all of the music with a mental progression of images. There's even a menacing central section which would perfectly fit a reel of Hitler at his most menacing before the British boats, planes and troops march in to sort him out...

Unlike contemporaries like William Walton, who became heavily involved in writing music for propaganda films during the war, this was something Moeran never attempted. Listening to the Overture for a Masque, one can only believe that film music would have suited Moeran's style down to the ground, if not his temperament!

 

 

 

"It is first and foremost a work designed to entertain...and with its exuberant syncopated rhythms and sparkling orchestral textures it does just that"

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database