Saturday, July 27, 2013

Moeran's "Lonely Waters"

Here is a piece that I listen to at least once a week, sometimes every morning: “Lonely Waters” by Ernest John Moeran (1896-1950). I make a purely personal connection with the piece to the pond on my grandmother's farm, which I last saw over forty years ago, and to the Akron, OH lake called Schocalog Pond (pictured here), along which we used to live.

Moeran was an Anglo-Irish composer, a World War I veteran, and a composer associated with Charles Villiers Stanford, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, John Ireland, Peter Warlock, and others. Sadly, he died at the edge of water when only 55. Standing on a dock at Kenmare in Ireland's County Kerry, Moeran suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

An old postcard
In the notes of a recent Naxos release of this piece and the Cello Concerto (Catalog Number: 8573034), Paul Conway writes:

“Though published together in 1935 as Two Pieces for small orchestra, Lonely Waters and Whythorneʼs Shadow are very different in character and instrumentation. In their own respective ways, these two short pieces are entirely representative, fine examples of Moeranʼs art...Dedicated to Vaughan Williams, this is one of the first of Moeranʼs works to speak with his distinctive musical voice. It takes the form of a mini-orchestral rhapsody that weaves three measured and nostalgic variations around a folk-song from East Norfolk. The scoreʼs modest forces are supplemented by a suspended cymbal that supplies one precisely timed and very effective crash at the workʼs emotional peak. In the scoreʼs final page, a folk-singer, positioned at the back of the orchestra, describes in melancholy tones, the lonely waters of the workʼs title

An old postcard from Oil City, PA 
So Iʼll go down to some lonely waters,

Go down where no one they shall me find,

Where the pretty little small birds do change their voices, 
And every moment blow blustering wild.

“Moeran wrote an alternative, purely orchestral, ending... in which the singerʼs eloquent melody is voiced by a keening cor anglais.” Although I haven't written here about Whythorneʼs Shadow, the two pieces do make a complementary pair, with this piece  less melancholy and also nostalgic.

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