Wilfred Mellers - not a fan...

W H Mellers

I am grateful to Pete Lopeman for not only digging out and typing up these two articles, but also providing linking commentary. W H Mellers was not a great lover of Moeran, and these are certainly the most hostile criticisms I've seen yet. Yet with almost sixty years gone since the later article was written, are his arguments still relevant? You decide.

Pete Lopeman comments: They are both written by W. H. Mellers, a music critic for Scrutiny. It is worth noting that Scrutiny was founded and edited by the great English literary critic and Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge University, F.R.Leavis - one of the great supporters of traditional culture and high art and fervent opponent of popular ephemeral arts. Scrutiny ran from 1932 until 1953, and was very much in the editorial grip of Leavis (a right-of-centre Liberal) who was following in the cultural tradition of Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold, and T.S.Eliot who all opposed the erosion of fine culture by mass culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There are two articles by Mellers whose extracts are below; the first is a general criticism of the Moeran/Warlock/Delius influences.

'Delius and Peter Warlock' Scrutiny, Vol V, No 4, Cambridge, March 1937.

'Delius has nothing whatever to offer to the composer of the future those composers who, like E.J. Moeran, try to follow him succeed only in writing pretty pretty pastiche - and the last thing one would say about Delius's best and most typical music would be that it was pretty pretty. The only composer who is supposed to have derived from Delius and who has composed music of any lasting significance is Peter Warlock.' (p.390)

On Mellers now

Pete Lopeman: " I think in hindsight, as it were, that maybe Mellers was swept along by the tide of Modernism and expected Moeran's music to either take up the blatantly Modernist cause or keep itself firmly in the Finzi/
Rubbra/RVW camp, which obviously it did neither, much to Mellers' annoyance."

Dr Bruce Polay: "Mellers' writings ARE dated and certainly not amongst the most authoritative -- at least that was my view from the historical research I did in prep for my analytical research."

So now we know what Mellers thinks about Moeran's general abilities as a serious composer; what is his opinion of the then newly-released Halle/Leslie Hewerd/HMV recording of the G minor Symphony? This extract comes from:

`New English Music' Scrutiny Vol. XI, No 3, Cambridge, Spring 1943. p. 174.

`How impossible it is to merge so restricted a dialect [Mellers' dialect refers to Finzi's use of folk-song which he acclaims] either into a vitally contemporary speech or into the main European traditions is revealed clearly in the chaos of E. J.Moeran's Symphony - the lack of adequate formalization and the intermittency of its textural interest - for while this work no doubt contains material for three or four rural elegies of about four minutes each it is as a "modern" symphony an anachronism. The kind of success that is possible for a contemporary composer in this vein is indicated by the yearning anguish which is given to the first movement's modal, folksong first subject by a sinuous twist of rhythm and tonal centre at the end of the phrase; but it is not the kind of virtue that can be developed to symphonic proportions. This first movement has climaxes in plenty, it stops and starts with no doubt all kinds of thematic inter-relations, but it has no emotional growth because there is a fundamental cleavage between the folksong and Delian elements and the attempt at modernity - a cleavage still more patent in the ostensibly "tragic" finale with its melodramatic metrical ferocities out of Walton's Symphony, its canon on the brass from Vaughan Williams's Fourth. Potentially the most interesting movement is the lento, which begins well in the Baxian manner, a wild "celtic" lament with surging strings and chromatically gurgling woodwind; but here again it lacks direction, and it takes Delius at his best to doodle around and get away with it. Nothing could be further from either the concentrated evolution of a lyrical idea in Rubbra's symphonies, or the sharp lucidity of the articulation of the sound pattern in Copland's sonata, than this verbose, opulent, wailing, provincial music.'

One wonders what Peter Warlock would have made of his friend's music being described as `opulent, wailing, provincial music'!


Who was Wilfred H Mellers? Find out more here.
(Sample quote: "Rarely has such erudition been joined with such a degree wisdom and insight." Hmmm...)



©2011 The Worldwide Moeran Database



"...the chaos of
E. J. Moeran's Symphony..."


"... composers like Moeran
succeed only in writing pretty pretty pastiche..."