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Denis ApIvor's music remains little-known
and unrecorded. GORDON RUMSON pleads his case.

Denis ApIvor was born in 1916 in Eire. Though of Welsh background he has spent most of his creative life in England. For many years he was much influenced by the Viennese serial composers including Webern, and while many of his works have a Spanish colouring, the sound and ideals of the 18th century with their clarity and wit have also left their mark. Intellectually he has been profoundly affected both by T.S. Eliot and Buddhism.

From this audacious combination, categorising him instantly as one of Nietzsche's 'Good Europeans', Denis ApIvor has synthesised a meaningful whole with a firm creative hand. The reason for this is simple: Denis ApIvor has the rare gift of melodic creation that gives strength and form to his music. With this innate gift, nurtured by contact with the music of Warlock and van Dieren and developed by careful study, ApIvor has unified the seemingly disparate elements of his life. Neither the varied techniques of composition he has used, nor even the three distinct style periods of his life can disguise his essential nature. His voice can be heard throughout.

But for now his voice can only be heard by those who have access to the musical scores or chance to be nearby an isolated performance. It is a tragedy that a composer of such eminent worth is completely unrepresented by performances on CD or even LP (the exception being a single guitar work recorded in the 1980s). Of the 4 operas, 5 symphonies, ballets, concertos, numerous piano works, songs and many chamber pieces for a total of 100 opus numbers, not a note is available and this in spite of performances by eminent musicians such as Sir E. Goossens, Christopher van Kampen, Martin Jones, Julian Bream, del Mar, the Amici String Quartet, Eiluned Davies, the Allegri Quartet and Thea King among others.

Denis ApIvor and Louisa Beard. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Steven Lee. Used with permission.

Fortunately performances continue: for example, soprano Louisa Beard will perform Dr ApIvor's songs after Federico García Lorca op. 8 and op. 100 at the British Music Information Centre (10 Stratford Place, London W1N 9AE Tel. 0171 499 85 67 Tickets £5 at the door) on Wednesday July 28, 1999 in a concert sponsored by the Oficina Cultural of The Spanish Embassy with the collaboration of the Instituto Cervantes.

Denis ApIvor began music studies early and was composing by his tenth year. He was a member of the choir at Christ Church Oxford and later at Hereford Cathedral. There he studied the clarinet, piano, organ and played in the local orchestra.

His compositional life can be divided into three periods. From 1936 to the early 1960s, from the 1960s until the mid 1980s and from that time leading up to the present. The first period is melodious and tonal with much chromaticism developing towards Schoenbergian serialism; one easily hears the music of van Dieren and Warlock lurking in the background. The second is the abstract serialist phase and is characterised by music of intense intellectual control, non-thematic process and yet also the use of indeterminacy. The third phase is characterised by a refined simplicity.

Because his family was opposed to music Denis ApIvor pursued and completed medical studies. However, he continued simultaneous studies in music through his contact with Cecil Gray and Alan Rawsthorne. He also became closely acquainted with Constant Lambert. This last contact was to be of crucial significance, for after War service in India as a doctor, Denis ApIvor returned to England, with further study and composition until 1950 when Constant Lambert performed Dr ApIvor's setting of T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men (op. 5 1939 revised 1949). The performance's success brought Denis ApIvor into considerable prominence. This composition for men's chorus and orchestra, which had been completed before hostilities began, is one of Dr ApIvor's most important. It captures the mocking and enervated essence of the text with music that is precise, ironic and powerful. Again through Lambert's good words, Denis ApIvor received numerous commissions from the Royal Ballet. Perhaps his greatest success came with Blood Wedding, which was widely performed (Germany, Vienna, Copenhagen, New York, Cape Town, Ankara and Santiago).

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Copyright © Gordon Rumson, July 25th 1999

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