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Songs and an interest in literature

The development of ApIvor's early musical style throughout 1933 and 1939 is almost exclusively bound up with texts. With the exception of the Fantasia for Strings, Op. 4 (1938), all of ApIvor's works prior to the choral-orchestral The Hollow Men are solo songs. Indeed the Fantasia, although a purely instrumental work, is itself based upon the melody of a song by the Spanish vilhuelist-composer Diego Pisador (c.1508-57). The origins of ApIvor's interest in songwriting, which proved to be deeply enduring throughout his career, may be traced to a number of sources.

ApIvor's father, who was a classics master at Hereford Cathedral School until his death in 1944, would certainly have played an important role in awakening his son's interest in literature and poetry. ApIvor received a thorough grounding in the classics during his school years, in particular developing an interest in the language of early English lyrics of poets such as Chaucer. It is also clear that ApIvor's participation in Herefordshire concert life exposed him to a wide variety of vocal music. Evidence confirms that ApIvor had the opportunity to hear songs by a number of major composers performed at Hereford during the early thirties, including Granville Bantock, Edward Elgar, Hamilton Harty, Henry Purcell and Hugo Wolf, as well as lesser-known figures such as Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956) and Herbert Hughes (1882-1937).

Of considerable and lasting significance was the influence of Peter Warlock/Philip Heseltine, whose music ApIvor had first encountered during his early teens, through the aforementioned Oxford Book of Carols, which contained three settings by the composer: Balulalow, Tyrley Tyrlow and Adam Lay Ybounden. While resident in Herefordshire, ApIvor also took part in a memorial performance of Warlock's Capriol Suite in February 1932. ApIvor's increasing interest in Warlock's music during the 1930s is reflected in the acquisition of a number of scores by the composer towards 1939, including at least nineteen solo songs and the song cycle, The Curlew.

ApIvor was drawn to what he later described as Warlock's 'deeply Celtic nature his mixture of violent ebullience and gaiety, combined with profound religious feeling and incurable melancholy, which had partially been grafted onto his Anglo-Saxon origin'. This description could in fact be as easily ascribed to ApIvor's own character, as expressed through the variety of settings he composed before 1939. The part played by Warlock in shaping ApIvor's approach to composition during the thirties cannot be overestimated and ApIvor in fact remained obsessed with the composer throughout his life, from both a musical and personal perspective.