Further Writing






Symphony No 2 in E Flat (unfinished)


"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

Moeran 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 here.

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 form..."

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 else."

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 ago.





"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"

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database