The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians. (Andrew Clarke and GH) These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

If you'd like to publish any interesting material about the history of East Anglia on the site, then please send an email to the Resident Historians at Andrew.Clarke@Foxearth.org.uk and we'll add it.

Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Folk-songs of Suffolk and Norfolk

The composer that most people associate with East Anglia is Benjamin Britten. Actually, it was the composer Ernest Moeran who made the greatest contribution to the collection of East Anglian folk-song when it was still a live tradition, and threby lays a claim as East Anglia's own Composer.


Moeran was brought up at Bacton, where his father was Rector. He was born in 1894. the family was Anglo-Irish, but Ernest took to the stark Norfolk landscape and its people. He showed an early brilliance at music whilst at Uppingham, and studied under Stanford before the first world war. He joined up and enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider.

Unfortunately he suffered a severe head wound in May 1917 and was invalided out with shrapnel in his skull and a disability pension. He taught for a while at Uppingham before studying music once more, this time with John Ireland. He began collecting folk songs, and had the particular skill of being able to put the singer at his, or her, ease , and to capture all the nauances of the voice, with all the grace notes and subtle timings. In the 1929s he was able to catch the last years of a dying culture, and his work is of enormous importance. He became a familiar figure in the Norfolk pubs with his notebook, accepted by all. He set some of the songs himself, (Six Folksongs from Norfolk, six Folksongs from Suffolk)

Ernest Moeran wrote music of great emotional intensity, in the romantic idiom, but with his own unique voice. It was a voice tinged with a desperate sadness, due in part to the suffering caused by his head-wound. He suffered from a melancholy which he found increasingly difficult to assuage with drink. One speculates as to how his career would have gone had he not been a casualty of war, but nonetheless his music is honest, well-crafted stuff.

Ernest Moreran eventually moved to County Kerry in Ireland and began to collect folksongs there too. He was surprised to find that they were the same songs he'd heard in Norfolk. He assumed, incorrectly I think, that the songs had been carried by fishermen between the two locations. In fact, it is becoming more and more obvious now that songs, tunes and dance music spread very quickly throughout the British Isles throughout history. Musicians were itinerant by nature and it is surprising to see how ubiquitous a good song becomes, even when given regional treatments.

So even though East anglia can boast a dialect so divergent that it has required dictionaries to itemise the unique words, and has developed regional styles of architecture and crafts, its music is a shared culture with the rest of Britain, even though it just so happens that we clung on to our music longer, and remembered the songs better for the likes of Ernest Moeran, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams to record for posterity.

See the www.moeran.com website for more details of East Anglia's own composer.

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