A Composer Goes to War: E. J. Moeran and the First World War

  • Ian Maxwell University of Cambridge
Keywords: Moeran, First World War, Bullecourt, Royal College of Music, Norfolk Regiment, Dispatch Rider, Oxford & Cambridge Musical Club, North Sea Ground, Four Songs from A Shropshire Lad, West Yorkshire Regiment, Uppingham School, Battle of Arras, Hindenburg Line, Peter Warlock, Philip Heseltine, String Quartet in E flat, PTSD, Ireland, Pastoralism, Folksong


The story of Ernest John Moeran’s experiences during the First World War has long been one of sensational speculation, and a narrative has evolved over the years that has significantly informed the reception and assessment of the composer’s music.  Since 2007, the author of this paper has examined a mass of evidence, much of it previously unknown or disregarded, which has called into question the reliability of this narrative.  Following the 100th anniversaries both of Moeran’s injury at the Second Battle of Bullecourt in northern France on 3 May 1917, and of the ending of the First World War on 11 November 1918, this article has been written to present, in unprecedented detail, an evidence-based account of the composer’s war, from its outbreak in August 1914, to his discharge in January 1919, both chronicling what happened to him, and suggesting how his life and work could be reconsidered in the light of the new narrative.

Parts of this article derive from a paper by the same author: The Moeran Myth, previously published in British Music, vol. 32 (2010), 26-48, and from conference papers delivered by the author at ‘Music in Ireland: 1916 and Beyond’, Dublin, April 2016: Moeran in Ireland, 1917-1918 and 1935, and ‘A Great Divide or a Longer Nineteenth Century: Music, Britain and the First World War’, Durham, January 2017: A Composer Goes to War—E. J. Moeran and the First World War.

Author Biography

Ian Maxwell, University of Cambridge

Dr Ian Maxwell is an Affiliated Researcher in the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge.  He holds a BMus degree from the University of Aberdeen, and a PhD from the University of Durham.  His research interests focus primarily on the composers and music of the so-called English Musical Renaissance, including the preparation of a full biography of E. J. Moeran.  Additional research areas are composer and pedagogue Arthur Willner, the violinist Joseph Joachim, music making in the British universities during the nineteenth century, and computer-assisted musical analysis.  Between 2011 and 2014, Dr Maxwell was editor of the British Music Society, with responsibility for the production of the newsletter BMS News and the journal British Music.

How to Cite
Maxwell, I. (2019). A Composer Goes to War: E. J. Moeran and the First World War. Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 14, 83-109. https://doi.org/10.35561/JSMI14195