Ulster Orch., Renaissance Singers, Vernon Handley
(1990, CD )
My Dear Moeran,
The poem is beautiful and
I am sure it must have inspired you to give the best and most intimate
and tender...you have in your heart. Please dedicate it to the memory
of Frederick, it is a tribute which I know would have given him
Nocturne stands at a crossroads in Moeran’s career as a composer.
Before Delius died in 1934 Moeran had
already accepted a commission from the Norwich Philharmonic Society,
but seems to have been stuck for an idea until the poet Robert Nichols
gave him some lines from an unfinished verse drama entitled ‘Don
Juan Tenorio, the Great’. Why this should have happened remains
unclear, unless it is reasonable to speculate that within the framework
of Don Juan’s ‘Address to the Sunset’ lies Nichols’s own eulogy
for Delius - he knew Delius well. It is essentially a poem of twilight,
evoking much of the atmosphere that is to be found in Delius’s own
settings of texts by Nietzche and Walt Whitman. But how did Nichols
want Moeran to respond? It is indeed rare that any composer should
so quickly put aside work on a symphony in order to satisfy the
plea of a poet to set his words to music; yet throughout the late
summer and autumn of 1934 Moeran took up residence in Nichols’s
own Sussex home so that he might complete the Nocturne. Once
finished, he sent the piece to Delius’s wife Jelka, receiving in
turn what seemed to be the ultimate approval.
There is evidence to support the fact that it was
much needed. From his student days at the Royal College of Music
Moeran had fallen in love with with the music of Delius and, in
the company of Philip Heseltine [AKA Peter Warlock], himself
a Delius ‘disciple’, he had the opportunity of visiting Grez on
at least two occasions. It is, perhaps, a telling reflection on
Heseltine’s relationship with his friend that Moeran, always the
less dominant of the two but probably the one with more humility,
was left to be ‘mislaid’ (Heseltine’s own word) in a taxi and so
never got to meet his idol. Fate was to deal a crueller blow in
1929, when, with the invitation to meet Delius at Beecham’s Delius
Festival in London accepted, Moeran suffered an injury which was
to confine him to bed for the next eighteen months. It became a
time of self-appraisal, of realising that the years spent with Heseltine,
although fun, had rendered him creatively sterile.
The sudden death of Heseltine in 1930 was a bitter
blow, but, in retrospect, the answer to Moeran’s dilemma - how to
go about re-establishing the reputation that he had made over six
years earlier on the British musical scene.
"Delius would have loved to set Robert Nichols’s poem.
Moeran does not, however, try to tell us how Delius would have done
it", wrote the critic Basil Maine after the first performance of
the Nocturne in 1935. In the 1933 Songs
of Springtime Moeran had already written a kind of ‘choral
chamber music’ but here the treatment is broader, the canvas a larger
one. Although the work is short, it encapsulates much of what was
to come - the Symphony,
the two concertos and the
1939 choral suite Phyllida and Corydon.
In Moeran’s words, "The Nocturne should
be regarded as a kind of tone poem evolved around Nichols’s lines,
from which both its form and inspiration have been derived. As a
preliminary to hearing this music, the listener is advised to read
the poem carefully through, allowing its mood and meaning to sink
in, rather than to attempt to follow it in performance as a literal
line by line "setting" of the words."
Of earth and air! How bright atop the wall
The stonecrop’s fire and beyond the precipice
How huge, how hushed the primrose evenfall!
How softly, too, the white crane voyages
Yon honeyed height of warmth and silence,
He can look down on islet, lake and shore
And crowding woods and voiceless promontories
Or, further gazing, view the magnificence
Of cloud- like mountains and of mountainous cloud
Or ghostly wrack below the horizon rim
Not even his eye has vantage to explore.
Now, spirit, find out wings and mount to him,
Wheel where he wheels, where he is soaring soar.
Hang where now he hangs in the planisphere -
Evening’s first star and golden as a bee
In the sun’s hair - for happiness is here!
(Address to the Sunset,
from ‘Don Juan Tenorio, the Great’)
by Barry Marsh
"It is essentially a poem of twilight,
evoking much of the atmosphere that is to be found in Delius’s
own settings of texts by Nietzche and Walt Whitman"