About this Recording
8.554079 - MOERAN, E.J.: String Quartets / String Trio (Maggini Quartet)

Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950)
String Quartet in E flat major
String Quartet in A minor
String Trio in G major

Ernest John Moeran belongs to the generation of British composers that flourished in the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in 1894 into a family of Anglo-Irish origin and was sent to school at Uppingham, where Joachim was an occasional visitor. His studies at the Royal College of Music were interrupted by the war, in which he was seriously wounded, and his health and later stability seem to have been seriously affected by his injuries, when a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain. He resumed his studies at the Royal College under John Ireland after a brief period of work as a schoolmaster at Uppingham. Ireland remained a strong influence on his composition, as was Delius and, it might be supposed, his friend Peter Warlock. Other influences may be found in the landscape and folk-song of his native Norfolk and in those of the country of his forebears, Ireland, where he died in 1950. His earlier work included songs and chamber music that earned him favourable attention, while the 1930s brought a change of direction, notably in his First Symphony, a work suggesting the influence of Sibelius that given its first performance in January 1938, after a prolonged period of gestation. In 1945 he married the cellist Peers Coetmore, for whom he wrote his Cello Concerto, followed by other works for the instrument.

Moeran's String Quartet in E flat major is apparently an early work, its manuscript found among the composer's papers by his widow after his death. It opens with a first violin theme of pastoral suggestion, then a transitional passage of greater range and excitement, followed by the gentle second subject. The central development of this sonata-form movement brings shifts of tonality, cross-rhythms and elaboration of texture, as the second violin and cello offer an arpeggio accompaniment, before the viola leads into a quieter mood. The original key returns with the first subject in recapitulation, duly followed by the second, which leads to a rapid coda of repeated notes, gradually dying away to a softly sustained tonic chord. The opening phrase of the viola, in the second movement, is at first answered strongly by the other instruments, then in softer tones and for a third time by a very soft D major chord. There follows the introduction to a folk-song-like theme in that key from the first violin, succeeded by a passage of greater vigour that leads to the final Vivace. This is opened by the rhythmic repetition of a single note by the muted second violin. A thematic fragment is heard from the muted first violin, imitated by the viola before the unmuted cello proposes a theme, echoed by viola and second violin in turn, in the compound rhythm of the first movement. This is followed by the first violin with its own thematic material. There is a change of key from E minor to E major and a change of pace and rhythm, marked Allegretto, moving, with other changes of tonality, to a muted Andante and a final duple metre Allegro vivace.

Moeran's String Quartet in A minor was written in 1921 and dedicated to the Belgian violinist Desiré Defauw, founder and leader, as a refugee in London, of the Allied Quartet, a war-time creation, with Charles Woodhouse, Lionel Tertis and Emile Doehaerd. The work is dominated by the characteristic features of English music of the period, drawing heavily on material that suggests or openly re-states, in its modal implications, native folk-music. The first movement allows the cello the first statement of the principal theme, echoed by the viola, before the first violin continues, going its own way. There is a modal secondary theme, proposed by the first violin and subsequent changes of tonality and texture, as the material is explored and expanded, before strident chords re-establish the key and the viola leads to a hushed conclusion. The viola has the principal theme of the E major slow movement, before the first violin takes it over. There is a brief outburst of excitement in the central section, before peace is restored with the full return of the main theme. The quartet ends with a Rondo, its principal theme, repeated to provide a frame-work for intervening episodes, again suggesting English folk-song in its pentatonic contours and alternation of 6/8 and 3/4 metres. It is the second theme that is allowed to move into F sharp minor, and thence, more easily, into the tonic A major for a triumphant and very emphatic conclusion.

Moeran completed his String Trio in G major in 1931. Dedicated to the Pasquier Trio, it has been regarded as marking the height of his achievement at this period.

The first movement, in the unusual metre of 7/8, which brings an inevitable and here irregular variation between triple and duple rhythms, again allows the violin to propose a folk-like theme of pentatonic suggestion. A passage over a murmured rapid cello accompaniment, marked misterioso, leads to a secondary theme, providing the material from which the movement develops. The A minor Adagio, marked ben sostenuto, unwinds gently enough until the cello introduces a moment of stridency leading to a fragment of violin melody against a viola accompaniment that provides occasional clashes of gentle dissonance. The opening material returns, now in a remoter key, before the modal final cadence. The viola starts the modal third movement, in a tonality of E minor, with an insistent rhythm that continues as a dominant element, taken up by the violin and then by the cello. The viola provides the final bars, as the music slows to allow a sotto voce and slow foretaste of the final Andante grazioso, in which related material is developed until the folk-song of the Presto, with its rapid accompanying figuration and final even faster jubilant ending.

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