Symphony in G Minor - 1924-37
Moeran's only symphony was started in 1924, but abandoned and only taken up again ten years later, being finally completed in 1937. It contains some of Moeran's darkest and most brooding moments, and despite the levity of his brilliant (and it has been said, unique to British music) Scherzo, the final conclusion is one of bitterness.
A variety of interpretation have been put on the symphony, including many references to a perceived similarity to Sibelius, and yet further examination by Geoffrey Self suggests Moeran is also passing comment on works by composers as diverse as Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Ultimately, however, it is the firm fingerprint of Moeran himself which defines this longest piece of work.
Unlike the Violin Concerto which followed it, and perhaps offers answers to the questions posed in it, the evocations of landscape and mood are often so bleak as to suggest that in this work Moeran is for the first time confronting some of his own darkest ghosts, those he has apparently avoided comment on in his music up to this point: his experiences of the First World War. Without doubt Moeran had a particularly bad time during the war, and was left with a head injury which never allowed him to forget his trauma, and which probably contributed to his untimely death in 1950. However, during his time in military service he was also stationed in Ireland, and this gave him his first taste of the country he came to love so much.
Thus the third movement, which itself is a brief interlude at less than half the length of any of the other movements, may in some way be representative of Moeran's place of escape during the war. Other pointers to this hypothesis can be heard in the end of the first movement, where after a long, brooding section carried by the horns an almost mechanistic rhythm breaks out, and the movement ends on a series of percussive strikes which might surely be representative of gunfire.
During the second movement we hear an episode which, it has been suggested, is reminiscent of rippling water, seemingly offering a moment of calm in this dark and troubled music. Yet, if one is to push further the war idea, a re-examination of this section can also suggest the freedom of air flight: the twisting this beautiful and light section into something dark and sinister then becomes a commentary on humanity's ability to take a wonderful new invention and turn it to destructive use. Moeran had a love of all things mechanical, indeed, Lionel Hill described how Moeran could identify a steam locomotive by its sound alone, and one can only wonder at his feelings when such marvels of the age were put to wartime use.
This idea of flight returns in the final movement, where a bitter wind seems to blow through the flutes, one which serves to heighten the tension slowly mounting in the tympani before finally breaking into the six percussive cracks of the end of the work.
Geoffrey Self's analysis of the work in his book, The Music of E. J. Moeran comes to a similar conclusion, albeit through a different and more thorough musical analysis. He shows the use of a folksong, The Shooting of His Dear, to hold some of the melodic keys to the symphony, and in particular homes in on the line "for young Jimmy was a fowler". Self writes: "Could there not be a loose allegory here of a young soldier - Jack [Moeran} rather than Jim - called by duty to the war, his illusions of military chivalry and nobility to be shattered by the awesome reality of the sordid carnage and its bleak aftermath." In addition he believes the Symphony to be "some kind of Requiem or In Memoriam".In Summary
Certainly its bleak outlook remains unresolved in this work, and perhaps one does need to look to Moeran's next major work, his Violin Concerto, begun almost immediately after the completion of the Symphony, to find Moeran's personal answers to the problems raised here.