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Chaucer Songs

Through Cecil Gray's biography of Peter Warlock, ApIvor was also introduced to the music of Bernard Van Dieren. Van Dieren's musical works were not as readily available as Warlock's during this period and most of ApIvor's knowledge of Van Dieren's work therefore came via memorial performances that took place in the wake of his death in 1936. The influence of Van Dieren upon ApIvor's songwriting is most strongly felt in the chromatic language of the Op. 1 Chaucer settings and it was certainly Van Dieren's example that motivated ApIvor to set a wide variety of texts during the 1930s.

The 'Three Songs for voice and piano' begun in Hereford and completed in London between 1933 and 1934 provide the earliest evidence of how the composers style was evolving prior to the war. These are settings of Romantic texts by William Henry Davies (1871-1940), Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) and a lyric by the Medieval poet William Cornish (c. 1468-1523). Already in these works one can see the composer's preoccupation with the relationship between musical imagery and textual sources with the brunt of the emotional expression being borne by the piano accompaniment. The songs also reveal the two Warlockian extremes of ApIvor's emerging musical personality, from the melancholy pervading 'Sweet chance that led my steps abroad' to the light-hearted, devotion of 'Pleasure it is'.

ApIvor's Op. 1, the Chaucer Songs for voice and string quartet, consists of settings of four texts by the poet: the 'Lay of the Man in Black' , 'To Rosemounde', 'Merciles Beaute' and 'Hyd, Absalon, thy gilte tresses clere'. The use of the string quartet is in keeping with a trend found in the work of a number of British composers during this period in ApIvor's case it was probably the influence of Peter Warlock's 'Sleep' and the settings for string quartet and voice by Bernard Van Dieren, to whom the work is dedicated. While the texts chosen for the cycle are drawn from a number of sources and exhibit various structural characteristics, they are all linked by the theme of infatuation with the female. For each setting, ApIvor attempts by various musical means to discover an emotional state appropriate to its subject matter, with the result that the hyper-Romantic musical style is often dramatic and highly changeable.

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