Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moeran: Symphony in G minor

Whenever I bring a new piece of classical music to someone’s attention I always describe the images and emotions it conjures for me.  Perhaps this is because, personally, music is both the most expedient route to an emotion and fuel for colourful imagination.  Almost unfailingly, the scenes a piece sketches for me are of nature.  Nature was a source of inspiration for many Post-Romantic composers such as Mahler and Schoenberg, and Ernest John Moeran is no different. 

Moeran’s Symphony in G minor is a marvellous piece of music that captivates the dichotomy of nature’s beautiful landscapes and the ravenous vitality that continuously reshapes them.  Moeran juxtaposes these two themes throughout the four movements in spine-tickling fashion.  Timelessness and utter transiency combat each other in the Lento with instrumentation similar to that in “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” from Holst’s “The Planets” Suite. There’s a powerful solo trombone entrance in the middle of the Lento that, if I may assert my personification, takes on the role of nature’s Darth Vader.

Not all movements are shrouded in the dark side of the force.  The Vivace, for instance, has a lighter, more playful and spring-like character, an allusion to the panorama from whence inspiration came.  Much of the symphony was written in County Kerry, Ireland (pictured above), a landscape marked by rocky inlets with lapping ocean waves and beautiful green, rolling hills and mountains dotted with sheep.  But no matter how pure and beautiful Moeran’s symphonic painting of the countryside is, he never quite lets us forget that the spirit of nature’s Darth Vader is omnipresent.  Don’t fret, there is a protagonist!  At four minutes into the final movement, Lento - Allegro molto, Moeran unleashes the heroic brass to race across the terrain on string-and-woodwind stallions.

The only completed symphony we have of his, Moeran took thirteen years to compose this work, having abandoned its original form and retracted it from a premiere performance twice before finally unveiling it in 1937.  Fortunately, a three-movement Sinfonietta and an orchestral Serenade are possible extensions for our exploration of this wonderful composer.  The Sinfonietta can be found on the same Naxos Music label recording I heard.

Before I wrap this up, I want to know what you’re thinking of!
- What are some further recommendations you may have for this time period?  I’m itching for more!
- What work, from any time, paints the clearest image of a nature scene for your mind’s eye?  Is it because you listened to that piece when you were there?

I’m looking forward to your comments!  Stay tuned for another Post-Romantic symphony on Saturday.

Happy Listening!


  1. Beethoven's 6th Symphony paints the countryside for me most vividly. I'm inspired to hear Moeran Symphony in G minor, now.

  2. An excellent post! I can think of lots of other works that evoke nature and few seem to do it as well as the English in their Green and Pleasant Land. Vaughan Williams and Delius are prime examples of course.