Ernest John Moeran Biography (BBC)
Though born in Heston, west of London, Moeran was largely brought up in the village of Bacton, on the Norfolk coast, where his father was parish priest. He spent five years at Uppingham School, then in 1913 he went to the Royal College of Music, studying piano and composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. But at the outbreak of the First World War 18 months later, he joined the Norfolk Regiment as a despatch rider. In 1917 he was severely wounded in the head and, after some frighteningly primitive surgery, he was declared unfit for active service and discharged. The experience, almost certainly complicated by neural damage, affected his behaviour and psychological stability in the years to come.
After a brief period teaching music at Uppingham, Moeran returned to the RCM, now studying with John Ireland. He also began collecting folk music in East Anglia (particularly in its country pubs) and making arrangements of the melodies he heard. These left an imprint on the character of his own music, especially the two orchestral Rhapsodies (1922 and 1924). After conducting the second of these, Hamilton Harty commissioned Moeran to write a symphony, but the formal challenge appears to have been too intimidating for this relatively untried young composer, and the project stalled.
It was about this time that Moeran became close friends with the brilliant, hard-drinking and almost certainly manic-depressive composer and writer Peter Warlock (real name, Philip Heseltine), and developed the dependence on alcohol that blighted his later years. During this period Moeran wrote little but after Warlock's probable suicide in 1930 significant works began to appear again, notably two atmospheric orchestral pieces - Whythorne's Shadow (1931) and Lonely Waters (1932) - and the String Trio (1931). At the same time Moeran's interest in his Irish roots intensified. He spent more and more time in Ireland, finding out about its music and developing an abiding love for the mountains and coasts of County Kerry in south-west of the country. Buoyed up by this, he was able to return to the long-abandoned Symphony, completing it in 1937.
Two more fine works followed: the Violin Concerto (1937-42) and Sinfonietta (1944) - both brighter and more extrovert in character than the troubled, melancholic Symphony. In 1945 Moeran married the English cellist Peers Coetmore, composing a cello concerto for her the same year, and a still more impressive sonata in 1947. But the marriage was not happy and Moeran's mental health declined still further. In 1950 he was found dead in the River Kenmare, having suffered a heart attack.
Interest in Moeran's work dwindled after his death, but in more recent times his melodic vitality and romantic flair for creating richly atmospheric moods, combined with refined, inventive craftsmanship, have brought him new admirers.
Profile © Stephen Johnson
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