Symphony No 2 in E
"The Symphony is the
devil of a job: I shall get it done it time, but the question of
form and construction is causing me some trouble, as I am arriving
at a single-movement work, or rather a continuous piece having all
the ingredients of the usual movements..."
Letter to Lionel Hill
18th March 1948
went to his grave without completing the symphony he'd been
working on intermittently from 1945. After his death there is come
confusion as to quite what happened to his remaining manuscripts,
and it is quite possible that many were lost or mislaid; there was
certainly a period of time where very little care seemed to have
been taken over preserving Moeran's work.
What does remain is largely held in an archive at
the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia, including
some sketches for the Second Symphony. Trying to piece together
information about the work is difficult, and what I write here is
largely assembled from the two currently available books on Moeran
rather than from any 'inside' information.
It seems the work started as a three movement piece
- Moeran wrote to Peers Coetmore on 7th January 1946: "The
E flat Symphony progresses, but I am a bit stuck over the slow movement
also about the finish of the first. However, I have all the material
for it and it will only be a matter of time working it out."
By mid-1947, he was still stuck, as L:ionel Hill recounted: "Jack
and I were out for a walk...when he said 'I'd like your advice.
I'm having a lot of trouble with my new Symphony, and its nearly
driving me bats... It's the form of the work that worries me; the
three movements don't cohere, so to speak - there's a lack of unity
between them which is, to miy mind, artistically unsatisfying.'
I thought for a minute and then said, 'Couldn't you make a one-movement
work of it, Jack, like the Sibelius 7th?' We walked on in silence.
I gave him a sidelong glance and saw he was deep in thought."
At around this time Moeran commented briefly
on his new symphony in a radio interview - listen
By September 4th, 1947, Moeran had a short score sufficiently
advanced that he played the opening to Lionel Hill on the piano.
Hill noted that it was in E flat, "'As in Elgar's Second,'
said Jack, quietly. It began vigorously with high-flying trumpets,
followed by a syncopated strings divisi - the instrumentation was
visible on the score. Even on the piano it was breath-taking in
its sweep, and I thought 'This will out-do the First Symphony if
it continues like this.' I cannot recall how much of the work had
been written, but I do remember what fine music it was."
Jack and Peers Coetmore
A letter quoted by Geoffrey Self sent from Moeran
(working in Kenmare) to Peers on 8th March 1948 suggests that good
progress was being made:
"I can't write much because I am at the moment
in a state amounting to stupour [sic] at the point I have reached
in the symphony. It may be imperfect in its present form but I think
that in the last pages which complete the first section, I have
reached my high water mark. It is rather luscious and spring-like
- or so I hope it will sound on the orchestra. And, incidentally,
apart from the lovely Southern spring here, your gorgeous cello
playing, on the instrument you are now using which I listened in
to last week put me into such extasy [sic] that the next morning
I really got going with a tune for cellos mostly in thirds and sixths.
I've tried it out on one or two locals...they say it reminds them
of all the Kerry tunes put together. The symphony is taking a peculiar
A few days later he was noting to Lionel Hill "P.S.
New E Flat Symphony going strong", but this appears to
have been the last Hill heard from Moeran about it. Hill recalled
that by 1950 "I was now becoming more worried about his
memory. He seemed to forget quite recent event." In fact
Moeran's physical and mental health appears to have been in decline
for quite some time, probably exacerbated by his drinking. A "state
of total breakdown" (Self) had been reached by October 1948,
and Peers persuaded him to place himself under the care of a Dr
Hazlett in Cheltenham. A proposed premiere of the Symphony by the
Hallé Orchestra in the spring of 1949 was postponed. A letter
to Peers from Cheltenham on 14th June 1949 suggests not only great
compositional difficulties, but also some sort of commitment to
continue medical care until he was 'cured' of his alcoholism:
"...This symphony which I started perpetrating
in Eire, and which I have been working on here, simply will not
stand...I am not inclined to let go what I believe to be second
rate. I shall have to scrap this symphony as it is now, nearly finished,
and start again on something different... the 'venue' is wrong.
If I were in Southern Ireland, I could work it out and finish is,
but it is absolutely and irreconcilably impossible to do it here.
It started by being Irish, and if I try and put it right here, it
only ends up being pastiche Irish... There are only three alternatives,
one is to tear it up and abandon the E flat symphony and the other
is to go to Ireland and complete it, and the third is to write something
By late 1949 Moeran seemed to be suffering from another
breakdown and by December was receiving treatment from a Dr Groves.
Work did continue fitfully on the symphony, and in 1950 he did finally
make it to Ireland. But by now, as Moeran's health continued to
deteriorate, it was too late, as Geoffrey Self sadly concludes:
"He had achieved the conditions he thought necessary for
the work needed to complete the Symphony - but it was too late,
for he was now incapable of the sustained effort needed."
It is interesting that Moeran had considered the work
very close to completion, something confirmed by his close friend
Pat Ryan, who discussed it with him at great length in the last
few months of his life, as searches for it after his death have
found little. John Ireland, examining the remaining sketches after
Moeran's death, considered there to be too little material to attempt
any kind of a completetion, an opinion reached by others since.
It therefore seems that either a large amount has been lost, or
that Moeran decided to destroy it himself to make sure it never
resurfaced, something he had done throughout his life.
Writing in the Forum here at The Worldwide Moeran
Database, Barry Marsh noted "Sadly there can be no 'realisation'
or 'completion', whatever the word for it these days. 550 bars of
music exists in short score, but after only 9 pages the sketches
become disjointed with little or no fragments to point a further
way. The MSS that is now in the Victorian College of Arts, Melbourne
arrived there after a series of blunders and misfortunes...".
And so it seems we will never hear the music which, for a while
at least, so enthused and fired Jack and Lionel up all those years
"It began vigorously with high-flying
trumpets, followed by a syncopated strings divisi - the instrumentation
was visible on the score. Even on the piano it was breath-taking
in its sweep"