Ernest John Moeran


Born: December 31, 1894 Died: December 1, 1950
Country: Ireland Period: 20th Century
Ernest John Moeran's father was an Anglican clergyman born in Ireland and his mother was from the eastern part of England. When he was still a young boy, his father was transferred to Bacton, on the coast near Norfolk.

Ernest's early exposure to music was largely through hymn singing and folk songs, and he taught himself to read music from the hymnals. When he was enrolled in Uppingham School near Cromer, he learned the violin. His music master there was Robert Sterndale Bennett, grandson of Sir William Sterndale Bennett, one of the few notable English composers of the generation preceding Elgar.

In 1913, he entered the Royal College of Music to study with Stanford. When war broke out in 1914, he became a dispatch rider and a year later, earned the rank of a commissioned officer. He was severely wounded in the head and posted to non-combatant duties. In 1919 was hired as music master of his old school, Uppingham. In 1920, he decided to continue his musical training, becoming a private pupil of composer John Ireland until 1923. During his studies with Ireland, he began to publish his music (mainly songs and other smaller pieces) and a collection of East Anglian folk songs.

He became known in the 1920s mainly for shorter works, but during this time also composed more substantial compositions. His strongest melodic influences were the East Anglian folk songs from his youth. In the harmonies and other elements of his music, there was an immediate influence of Frederick Delius. As time passed, this influence grew less as Moeran absorbed aspects of style from Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Bax. He became a well-known figure on the London musical scene, becoming friends with, and living with for a few years, Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) and the artist Hal Collins. It is believed that his problems with alcoholism began during this period.

He was impelled, in the early '30s, to retire to the Cotswalds to reconsider his style, particularly to strengthen his command of counterpoint and work out a broader type of harmonic thinking. Now he began cultivating larger-scale musical forms. One of the first fruits of this introspective period was his only symphony, in G minor. Even though it still reflects the scenery of the British Isles, Moeran said it was inspired by "mountains and seaboard of County Kerry" and "the sand dunes and rushes of East Anglia." It no longer sounds like a typical work of the "English pastoralist" school. It is a "struggle symphony," and it pretty clearly shows that the struggle was for his own individuality. The symphony was accounted a great success after its premiere in 1938. An increased sense of energy is typical of the music written after his stay in the Cotswalds. A more lean though not quite neo-Classical sound appears in his Sinfonietta (1944). His next major work was a cello concerto, written for Peers Coetmore in 1945. He married Coetmore the same year.

In 1950, he was found floating, dead, in the River Kenmare, having suffered a heart attack and fallen in. Sketches for a second symphony show that he was again broadening his harmonic thinking to include an increased use of bitonality. From the beginning, his compositional skill and technique were of a very high order, and works were meticulously re-written, accounting for his relatively small output. What he did accomplish causes him to be ranked highly among British composers.
Picture for category Moeran, Ernest John

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