Leeds University Library

ApIvor Collection Guide

Detail of score for Chaucer Songs, Denis ApIvor, 1936


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Denis ApIvor (1916-2004) is typically associated with the small circle of British composers that emerged in London during the mid-1930s, which also included names like Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens (contemporaries of Walton, Tippett and Britten). He was one of the first British composers to explore modernist composition techniques (particularly serialism) in the early post-war period, preparing the ground for the more radical experiments of such groups as the Manchester School during the 1960s. A medical man (an anaesthetist) by profession, ApIvor retained a distance from the music establishment for much of his career, composing without recourse to the musical dictates of the time. His stylistic decisions were in and out of step with developments in British music, making his compositions difficult to categorize or contextualize, yet at the same time highly individual and often innovative.

ApIvor's public career reached its peak during the mid-1950s: he achieved his first major breakthrough with a highly original choral-orchestral setting of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men (1939), which was broadcast by the BBC in 1950. He then proceeded to make his reputation as a composer for the stage, receiving several commissions from the Royal Ballet, of which the most successful was his adaptation of Lorca's play Blood Wedding (1953). ApIvor continued to receive commissions and broadcasts of his music from/by the BBC during the 1960s and 1970s (benefitting from the pro-modernist William Glock climate in particular), but by the mid-1980s his work was beginning to fall into obscurity. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in ApIvor's music, marked in particular by an increased frequency of public performances of his smaller chamber and vocal works. Much of ApIvor's music is notable for its drawing on extra-musical sources, literature and art in particular. He is particularly known for his adaptations of Lorca plays for opera and ballet and his settings of T. S. Eliot and also composed a number of pieces that were inspired by the work of the painter Paul Klee.

The Denis ApIvor Collection was acquired in 2001 by Special Collections, University of Leeds when ApIvor, who was in his eighties at this time, agreed to donate his remaining manuscripts and related musical effects to Special Collections as a means of providing an accessible research source for his work. We are fortunate to possess a complete set of ApIvor's musical works, which exist in the form of either copies of scores made by the composer or original handwritten MS. The collection also contains numerous sound recordings made by the composer of broadcast or private performances of his music as well as substantial documentary material including sketches of works in progress, personal memoirs, autobiographical material, press cuttings and letters, all of which give a very rich picture of his life and work.