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Ernest John Moeran

Symphony in G minor

Commissioned in 1924 by Hamilton Harty, the Irish conductor, Moeran's Symphony in G minor was nearly completed before the composer withdrew it and reworked it, beginning in 1934. Apparently between this time and the first performance in 1938, Moeran managed to estrange himself from Harty by his "erratic and, at times, increasingly embarrassing behavior." Leslie Heward conducted that first performance at a Royal Philharmonic Society.

The symphony, in four movements, received mixed reactions, but has remained available in recording to this day. Most of the reviewers spent their time looking for obvious comparisons with other composers, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Brahms, and particularly Sibelius, who is credited with influencing every other British composer of that era.

Moeran called the environment of nature essential to his inspiration. His biographer Geoffrey Self says that any examination of the symphony must begin with the slow movement and move outwards, perhaps because that movement dates from 1924. The slow movement has been called "one of the finest pieces of nature music ever written" and is described as a meditation on the folksong "The Shooting of his Dear," (sic) which Moeran had previously arranged. In it Moeran also uses characteristics of Irish and Norfolk song. The third movement, a Scherzo, is structurally isolated from the rest of the symphony, called unique in British music. It is a real scherzo, in the sense of being "light in meaning, movement and texture … something which often eluded British composers." (Example, think of the second movement of Walton's Symphony #1, the scherzo, written and to be played 'con malizia' – the more the better.) The outer movements are connected to what Self calls "cells" of the folksong. The first movement is "an exposition of conflict … between the rigour and discipline of the primary idea, together with its attendant martial fanfare and the pastoral vision of the secondary idea. No resolution is achieved by the end of the movement… The tension and struggle return in the last movement." Self continues, "Most commentaries on the Symphony in G minor have remarked on the bitterness of its conclusion." He continues to refer to the final movement's mood of anger, attributing it to similar feelings in many who served in WWI. Nevertheless, many find in this work references to nature, beautifully orchestrated with doubled woodwinds, and wonderful melodies.

Copyright © 1997 by Jane Erb, All Rights Reserved.

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