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The Hollow Men 2

Another factor that influenced ApIvor's decision to set The Hollow Men was the change in his emotional outlook during the months leading up to the war. In his 'Short historical essay' (1988), written in the third person, ApIvor states that:

By 1939 the vertiginous rush to world war, the Spanish Civil War, with the death, among others, of Garcia Lorca, had produced such a state of despair, that the composer found himself quite easily turning from the charm and archaism of mediaeval and sixteenth-century texts to Eliot's most despairing text The Hollow Men.

ApIvor's setting of The Hollow Men offers a unique musical response to Eliot's text. In essence, the composer provides a multi-faceted musical account of the underlying recurrent theme of the poem, that is, the sense of spiritual inadequacy, which persists throughout, and remains largely unresolved at its conclusion. This is achieved by the means of a tailor-made contemporary musical language which is presented at the beginning of the piece and has specific functions in relation to the progress of the poem's narrative. In commenting upon his approach to setting The Hollow Men in 1958, ApIvor revealed the extent to which he had perceived numerous qualities in the poem which were half-way to music:

A remarkable feature which must immediately strike a musician, is the music-like mode of construction employed by the poet. [...] The effect is not impressionistic, as, for instance, are certain parts of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, but the poem employs, deliberately or unconsciously, musical devices - in reality variations on thematic fragments - which form the basis of the art of composition. What a composer does in the way of subtle variation - augmentation, diminution, inversion, echoes, mirror-images and reappearances for dramatic effect - is the method used by Mr. Eliot in his theme of 'death's kingdom'; 'lost kingdoms'; 'death's other kingdom'; 'death's twilight kingdom'; 'death's dream kingdom'; and 'For Thine is the Kingdom'.

After hearing the work's first performance, Musical Times reviewer Colin Mason, commented that:

The greater significance of the work seems to me to lie in the evidence it offers that the composer has really profited by the example of the 'great' composers of the early twentieth century, particularly Stravinsky. This is true of so few modern English composers that it puts Denis ApIvor among the very few who are likely, when their mature works can be heard, to earn themselves a lasting international reputation.