Published

Novello, 1953

Recordings

**Ulster Orch., Handley (1990, CD )

*Northern Sinfonia, Hickox
(1989, CD )

*Guildford Phil. Orch., Vernon Handley,
Concert Artist LPA 2002
(1966?, LP )

**LSO, Basil Cameron
(1948 broadcast, CD )

*Six movement version (as published)

**Eight movement version (as written)

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Serenade in G (1948)
R95

  1. Prologue
  2. Intermezzo*
  3. Air
  4. Galop
  5. Minuet
  6. Forlana*
  7. Rigadoon
  8. Epilogue

(*Withdrawn from published version)

Completed in 1948, the Serenade in G was the last piece of orchestral music Moeran was to complete, and some cite it as evidence of his gradual decline. Certainly the piece shows little apparent effort to follow the innovations explored in preceding works like the Cello Concerto and the Sinfonietta - indeed four of the eight movements were plundered from an earlier piece, Farrago, written in 1932 and later withdrawn.

It is important to point out here that the published version of the Serenade was in six movements, rather than Moeran's original eight - though not at the composer's instigation.

Piano Arrangement

The composer and Oxford music academic Francis Pott has transcribed and arranged the Air from the Serenade for solo piano, and has kindly offered it to the site for download as an Adobe Acrobat (pdf) file. If you don't have acrobat reader, it's free download from www.adobe.com.

Here's the piano score:

Air (118 kb)

After two initial performances of the full eight work (one of which was recorded by Lionel Hill and now appears on the Symposium CD alongside the Sammons Violin Concerto and the Goossens Fantasy Quartet), Moeran's publishers insisted he removed two movements prior to their accepting the work. Their feeling was that in its original form the work was simply too long (to quote from another era - too many notes!).

In my view this culling of the second and sixth movements, Air and Forlana, was detrimental to the work as a whole, and we can be grateful for the efforts of Vernon Handley and Chandos Records for restoring the Serenade to its full glory for their 1990 CD release. Lewis Foreman mentions in the sleevenotes: "Unfortunately the deleted movements underline the work's personality, and without them it is a much less characteristic score" - sentiments I'd wholeheartedly endorse.


Moeran in November 1947

With four movements, the Intermezzo, Minuet, Forlana and Rigadoon (II, V, VI and VII), salvaged from the 1932 work and the other four written around them it's too easy to look for stylistic inconsistencies and argue the work's relative inconsequence. But perhaps in doing so one misses the beauty of the piece, especially in its full version. As much as one might like, for historical reasons, for Moeran to go out on a stylistic high, the truth is that the Serenade is not full of innovations. With a backward glance to the Tudor composers Moeran and Warlock had been fascinated by twenty years earlier, it is a work of lyrical beauty which instead clearly demonstrates that, even at this late stage in his life, and with the relative difficulties of the two major Cello works behind him, Moeran had not lost his ear for a good tune. One might even speculate that he wrote the Serenade as a respite from the mental struggles of the previous works.

Perhaps in the age of the CD, rather than the 78 rpm disc, we are more forgiving of length. If we take Handley's Chandos interpretation as a guide, the full eight movements last a little under 24 minutes, yet Moeran's publisher's cuts remove seven and a quarter of this, almost a third of the whole. No wonder it has been so regularly written off since publication!

The eight movements run through some quite different styles, sometimes clearly evoking Elizabethan dances, sometimes pure Moeranite lyricism. Perhaps this is therefore the greatest charge one can lay against the Serenade maybe it fails it is in the bringing together as a whole such disparate styles. Yet in experimenting with bringing together in one piece the Tudor-esque and the late Romantic, Moeran may have been trying to say something quite different. Whether anyone was listening is another matter.

The full piece pans out as follows:

I Prologue Allegro (Tudor, stately style)
II Intermezzo Allegretto (total Moeran - bright, lyrical, into bittersweet, then jolly)
III Air Lento (contemplative, pastoral, nostalgic)
IV Galop Presto (galloping!, lively, vibrant)
V Minuet Tempo di Minuetto (Tudor-esque lyrical theme worked into romantic hue)
VI Forlana Andante con moto (gentle, pastoral, quite Moeranite)
VII Rigadoon Con brio, ma tempo moderato (almost military/nautical)
VIII Epilogue Allegro un poco maestoso (reprise of prologue)

Listening to this piece over and over again the thought that strikes me is that, with its stylistic leaps and jumps, the Serenade reminds me of a set of variations but with the theme omitted. Confused? Well if you imagine the wild changes that run through Elgar's Enigma Variations, held together by that common melodical theme, you'll get a feeling for the changes than run through this work. Now take away the melodic theme, replace it with a themed opening and finish and 6 central movements that take a much more loose stylistic influence rather than any specific melody or harmony, and there's your Serenade. Each movement is short and sharp, each one fits within the boundaries of the piece, yet each is quite different to the others.

I call it a kind of Theme and Variations, only one where the theme is merely the notion of a style base, rather than a full musical idea in the traditional sense. It is written in a popular idiom designed to go down well in the concert hall (as it initially did) - perhaps in this way it was even a pitch for his own Enigma Variations, a work to finally launch him into the mainstream as enigma had done 50 years earlier for Elgar, and surely coming close to delivering.

So Moeran is perhaps playing with us with this piece to a degree. Certainly he has not been served well by the loss of two of his 'variations' for over forty years. As a final orchestral work to bow out with (unexpectedly, don't forget) the Serenade in G leaves us with its own enigmas about Moeran's true intentions for the piece. and what might have become of the major work he was working on concurrently, the elusive Second Symphony...

How the Serenade and Farrago match up:

Farrago Suite

Serenade in G

1 - Prologue
1 - Prelude
2 - Intermezzo
3 - Air
4 - Galop
2 - Minuet
5 - Minuet
3 - Rondino
6 - Forlana
4 - Rigadoon
7 - Rigadoon
8 - Epilogue

 

 

 

"...the Serenade reminds me of a set of variations but with the theme omitted..."

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database