Ernest Moeran: Lonely Waters

Context

Published in a set of two piece for small orchestra, Ernest Moeran’s Lonely Waters was published in 1935. However, Moeran completed the work sometime in 1931, with the premiere taking place a year later in January 1932 at The Queen’s Hall. Lonely Waters is dedicated to Ralph Vaughan Williams and has been described as the ultimate showcase of Moeran’s style. 

At the end of the original Lonely Waters, there is a folk vocalist that is positioned at the back of the orchestra. They describe the melancholy tones of the piece through the lyrics from whence the title came:

 

So I’ll 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.

 

In the second version that Moeran made, he omitted the singer and instead a lone cor anglais plays the melody of the song at the back of the orchestra. 

 

The Music

Taking the form of an orchestra rhapsody, Lonely Waters is based on a set of variations of a traditional East Norfolk folk-song. Chiefly led by the strings throughout the course of the work, Lonely Waters begins quietly and soon flourishes. The modest forces that Moeran writes for is not noticeable with his rich textures and warm atmospheres that dominate this piece. 

Lonely Waters is a nostalgic piece that opens with the main theme, led by the strings. A solo oboe emerges and this fluctuating strings add colour to the woodwind interjections. As Moeran builds these rich textures up, he uses the woodwinds to keep the folk-song theme developing. Moeran’s use of dynamics adds to the mystery of the work as the quietness of the first few minutes adds to the overall character. 

The climax of the piece is supported by a precisely-timed cymbal crash that explodes on the emotional peak of the music. Moeran’s melodic writing shines through in Lonely Waters as the variations of the theme begin to intertwine and the climax is reached. As the music becomes quieter, the solo cor anglais (or voice) sings the lines of the poem. The opening string theme and the solo oboe then return, creating a full-circle moment. 

 

Final Thoughts

Ernest Moeran’s gentle and nostalgic small orchestral rhapsody Lonely Waters shows the composer’s flair for melodic and textural writing. The warm character of the piece is welcoming and the variations that Moeran creates are emotionally-driven, making the work a real stand-out in his archives.

 

Happy Reading!

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