The Radio Interview
In 1947, Moeran was interviewed for Irish radio by a young
man called Eamonn Andrews, just setting out on a career which
would later make him a household name in Britain and Ireland,
but here a rather nervous fellow, who later admitted to a
particular degree of anxiety about interviewing Moeran.
Eamonn Andrews: I
often wonder, Mr Moeran, how people how people decide to write
music at all. How did you begin to take an interest in its
when I was a small boy, I was about the age of nine, my parents
decided that my brother and myself should learn music. My
elder brother was taught the piano, and so it was decided
that I should learn the fiddle, the idea being that we two
boys should play together. But I found that scales and exercises,
only playing one note and not playing chords, was rather dull,
and I used to love to get to the piano and invent, as I thought,
great chords with three or four notes in both hands, and I
used to extemporise these things by the hour. I really thought
I was making great discoveries, which I was not of course.
But then of course I had the inkling that I wanted to put
these things down onto paper.
Yes, but how did you eventually acquire the
ability to write, say, complete works when you graduated from
these boyish chords?
Well, er, that's a difficult question to
answer, because it took time. After I left school I was sent
to the Royal College of Music, London, where I studied first
of all harmony and counterpoint, and then later composition,
under the late Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Well, what Stanford
taught me, over a period of several years, I'm afraid it would
be impossible to tell you in the limited time at my disposal.
Yes. Well tell me, I believe that most of your
compositions were written here in Ireland. Why Ireland?
Well, being the son of an Irishman - my
ancestors are from Cork City - although I was born in England,
I very naturally...I used to hear so much about Ireland from
my father, that from a very early age I longed to visit this
country, and when once I came over for the first time I was
fascinated, and I've been coming and going ever since. It's
impossible for me to live here altogether because, er, there's
a question of performances elsewhere and the publication of
my works. But whenever I get the chance to do so, I come over
here and go right into the heart of the country, where I think
out my works.
Excellent. Well we here have been honoured by
many of your first performances. Where else do you remember
that your works have been performed?
Well, I had a new work only last month performed
in Vienna, a Quartet
for oboe and strings, it was played by Mr Leon Goossens,
who I think was with you quite recently here...
...he was indeed...
...I think so far that this thing has not
been inflicted on you yet, my new quartet, but I suppose it's
a doubtful pleasure to come!
Well I don't believe that, but here's a difficult
question I think or perhaps a delicate question: Lots of people
condemn what they term 'modern music' - now of course that's
a wide term - wouldn't you call your music 'modern music'?
Well my music is not considered modern music
by modern standards. There is a school of very modern music
- some people call it 'wrong note music' - but it centres
around the school of Arnold Schoenberg and the central European
school of music, some poeple call it the school of the Atonalists,
and I suppose that is the last word in modern music. It remains
to be seen whether it is leading the leading path to the future.
I don't know, I wouldn't like to say. Frankly I don't understand
it very well myself, but by what really is known as modern
standards, I'm afraid that my music is considered rather old
fashioned, partly maybe because I've always been interested
in traditional music. From a boy onwards, I've always been
fascinated by the old songs or old fiddling and that kind
Well Mr Moeran those who know very little about
music feel that there's a great what I'd call 'musical snobbery'
- you have modern dance tunes and crooning songs that give
us quite an amount of pleasure, and we're told by expert musicians
that they are of no value. Would you like to comment on that?
I can only give you my own personal reaction.
I am very fond, I get a great kick, out of the music hall
songs. I'm going back a little way now, but I get a great
kick out of the music hall songs of the turn of the century,
in fact up to the pre-1914 War days, and they seem rather
to have fizzled out after that. Such things as, erm, A Bicycle
Made For Two, and there's one that I'm particularly fond of,
in fact I, sometimes in moments of exhilaration I come out
with it myself, Seargent Solomon Isaacstein, He's the ???......*
and those kind of things. But also, I think there's a great
deal to be said for Duke Ellington. Now I'm told by jazz experts
that this is not Hot Jazz. I'm not an expert myself and I'm
not quite sure of the difference between Hot Jazz, Jazz and
Swing, because as I say I don't pretend to be an expert. But
there is a lot of this jazz dance music, this very rhythmic
stuff, which always strikes me as having a great deal of merit
and a great deal of character. It may be negro influence,
I don't know what it is. But as for crooning, I think it's
flaccid, emasculate and almost positively indecent...
...in fact I can't bear it, it's...it makes
me feel physically sick and I...er...a crooner makes me...I
think I almost want to go to the lavatory and vomit.
All right we'll get off that subject now! Finally
I'll ask you, what are your plans, your musical plans, for
Well for the immediate future I'm planning
a new symphony. I've just been down in County Kerry, Kenmare,
and transport is difficult but I'm making plans to try and
get back there, and I'm planning a new symphony that I've
been commissioned to write by John Barbirolli and the Halle
Orchestra. I want to write this symphony about the mountains
of Kerry and I'm planning to get back there and walk the mountains
and think out the themes and try and get on with the work,
and get it done.
*This refers to a music hall song - although
the second line is hard to distinguish I am grateful to Anne
Pedley for the following research notes:
"Received MT's letter
about the music hall song EJM mentions in the EA interview.
He confirms that the title of the song is Sergeant Solomon
Isaacstein (sic). It is listed in Michael Kilgarriff's book
"Sing Us One of the Old Songs." It was written
by the famous partnership of Weston & Lee in 1916 - so
EJM may have heard it whilst in the army during WW1 - quite
a few musically-inclined volunteers/conscripts were amazed
to find an abundance of musical material they had not come
across before when they joined up. Ivor Gurney, in particular,
wrote down many folk tunes he had not heard whilst serving
with the Gloucesters in the trenches between actions, and,
music, in general, was something everyone enjoyed or indulged
in, either marching to it or listening/performing to it when
out of the line (the First World War is my particular area