Novello, 1939



The Finzi Singers
(1993, CD )




Musical Times, 1939

Other reviews,


Further Writing

Musical Times, 1939
(analytical descriptive article, June 1939)






Phyllida and Corydon (1939)

  1. Madrigal - Phyllida and Corydon (Nicholas Breton, 1545-1626)
  2. Madrigal - Beauty sat bathing by a stream (Anthony Munday, 1553-1633)
  3. Pastoral - On a hill there grows a flower (Nicholas Breton, 1545-1626)
  4. Air - Phyllis inamorata (Lancelot Andrews, 1555-1626)
  5. Ballet - Said I that Amaryllis (Anon., C16)
  6. Canzonet - The treasure of my heart (Sir Philip Sidney, 1554-1586)
  7. Air - While she lies sleeping (Anon., C16)
  8. Pastoral - Corydon, arise (Anon., C16)
  9. Madrigal - To meadows (Robert Herrick, 1591-1674)

Moeran was busy on his Violin Concerto, begun in 1937, and not completed until 1941, when he interrupted his work to write the madrigal suite for unaccompanied SATB chorus, Phyllida and Corydon. Unlike the Concerto, which seems to follow logically and musically on from the Symphony in G minor, there is little to relate either work to this one.

Moeran set exclusively Elizabethan period pastoral poetry, much of it only loosely connected, in a particularly well honed madrigal style. Unlike earlier, Victorian pastiche efforts, Moeran has fully understood and implemented the intricacies of rhythms, accents and melodic shapes of the original English madrigalists, in particular Morley, but also Wilbye and Benet.

But Moeran is not writing straight imitations, and within the established patterns he is able to add his own chromaticisms and modulations from a harmony many centuries forward. Some commentators have found this cross-pollination to be something of a problem, and have expressed unease with chromaticism sitting upon such strict sixteenth century structures.

Geoffrey Self, however, finds value in this: "The work is highly characteristic of its composer, and valuable therefore precisely because of the stylistic inconsistency. For we are continually made aware, throughout his music, of a kind of divide/dichotomy. Within it lyricism has two faces - major/minor tonality is split in false relation, passages of pastoral diatonicism are dispersed in polytonality: and here, in Phyllida and Corydon strict Tudor polyphony is set against extreme chromaticism."

He goes on to suggest that some of the most "worrying" examples of this are also the sections of most overwhelming intensity. To my own ears I must admit I find no great problem with this aspect of the work. I do admit it is not a piece I have studied extensively, but to one who has grown up with far more 'difficult' harmony to contend with, Phyllida and Corydon works very well indeed.

Self also picks up on some interested and perhaps unexpected musical relations with other works of the time. Despite my assertion that Phyllida and Corydon bears little relation to contemporaneous works, plucking out the line "so vain desire was hidden" from Beauty sat bathing by a stream and finding almost direct parallel melodic use in both the Symphony and Violin Concerto. From this he speculates on a hidden meaning now illustrated: "If its use is deliberate, what 'vain desire' is enshrined in the two major works - a desire, a yearning even, for ultimate peace?"

Yet the conclusion of Phyllida and Corydon fails to find this 'ultimate peace' - Self describes the final madrigal To meadows as an image "of utter loneliness, bereft of consolation. I know of only one work, Delius' Sea compare with its emotional desolation." Perhaps 1939 was not an ideal year for an injured First World War veteran to be writing particularly optimistic music.





"strict Tudor polyphony is set against extreme chromaticism"

©2001 The Worldwide Moeran Database