A LONG AND DIFFICULT ROAD
Denis ApIvor's music remains little-known
and unrecorded. GORDON RUMSON pleads his case.
<< continued from part 1
Among Dr ApIvor's most significant works are the songs from the early
period and which include settings of Federico García Lorca. The murder
of this great poet in 1936 profoundly shook Denis ApIvor and it could be
said that his whole creative life has been the working through of this tragedy.
Not only has Dr ApIvor set Lorca's poetry in songs from an early period
(op. 8, 1945-46) and in the most recent works (op. 100, 1996) but he has
composed a major opera (Yerma 1956-1960) after Lorca (with libretto
by Montagu Slater) and a cantata Thamar and Amnon (op. 25, 1954 and
performed by Sir E. Goossens and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). Denis ApIvor
has even translated the complete poetry of Lorca into English. In all of
these compositions, Dr ApIvor evokes a Spanish atmosphere with a remarkably
sure hand and without ever degenerating into pastiche.
The 1960s ushered in a period of experimentation and development along
the lines of serial technique. There had been works built on serial principles
such as the Piano Pieces op. 14 which are imaginative and effective.
Continuous development and non-thematic process characterise the compositions
of the middle period. The largest piano work is The Lyre Playing Idol
op. 45, (1968) inspired by a small figurine of an ancient god. Denis
ApIvor imagined the god summoning up the dawn, the wind, the rain, the thunder,
and the night in movements of vivid magical gesture. (Although about 20
minutes long a recent performance was a great success even for an audience
unprepared to appreciate serial music.) The Violoncello Concerto, op. 64
(1976-7) which was performed by the Welsh BBC Orchestra with Raphael Wallfisch
as soloist is a powerful and striking work, and which reveals another aspect
of Dr ApIvor's compositional skill: his brilliant and vigorous orchestration.
There are numerous major works for orchestra from this period as well.
By the mid 1980s Denis ApIvor began to move away from abstraction towards
a simplified music. Though he did not know of Górecki or Pärt
at the time and though Dr ApIvor's music is not minimalistic, there are
certain affinities. There is a return to a limited palette of pitches used
in the fashion of a mode. Melody and the interaction of lines have become
the guiding principles.
From simple material, Denis ApIvor weaves complex webs of sound in works
such as Pieces of Five op. 88 (1992) for solo saxophone, the Third
String Quartet op. 84 (1989) and the Fifth Symphony op. 87 (1991). In each
case the music is direct and deeply expressive. Only the first has been
This expressiveness has been achieved by Denis ApIvor's innate melodic
gift though only a composer long schooled in the strictness of serialism
could create melodies of such inner strength and flexibility. His 80 or
so songs represent an enormous contribution to the art song. Perhaps the
most hauntingly beautiful is the setting of T.S. Eliot's Eyes that Last
I Saw In Tears op. 95 No. 1a (1994) which for the sake of some analogy
might be compared with Dido's Lament of Purcell. There is that same
tragic undercurrent expressed without exaggeration. Quite simply this author
believes this is one of the most beautiful songs ever composed.
On Wednesday July 28, 1999 at the British Music Information Centre
(10 Stratford Place, London W1N 9AE Tel. 0171 499 85 67 Tickets £5
at the door) soprano Louisa Beard will perform the Seis Canciones de
Federico García Lorca Op. 8 (1945-46) and Lamentaciones
Op. 100 (1996) also on texts by Lorca, as well as Eyes that last I saw
in tears after Eliot with pianist Geoffrey Burford. The actor Mark Sands
will recite the texts of Lorca in English and the pianist will also give
the premiere performance of Danzas Op. 86b for solo piano. The audience
will be treated to a rare event: the audible circle of a life's work. For
in his late songs ApIvor, after a long and difficult road has returned to
the already impressive and hauntingly beautiful starting point, immeasurably
wiser and more profound.
It is time that Denis ApIvor's works be well known. Concerts such as
Louisa Beard's bring us closer to the realisation of this necessity.*
*Other performers have been playing Denis ApIvor's music
including the Viola Sonatina and a late organ work. The author does not
have more specific information about these performances. The ArtSong Collective
has been performing Dr ApIvor's songs for several years and plan a recording.
Other recent performances include the Pieces of Five for solo saxophone
(premiere performance, John Reid, Calgary Alberta) and the author (The
Lyre Playing Idol, Four Easy Pieces Op. 86a, Eyes that last
I saw in tears, with Katie Partridge, in Calgary between 1997-1999)
as well as various performances organised by Alistair Chisholm.
Copyright © Gordon Rumson,
July 26th 1999
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