Denis ApIvor (1916-2004)

cid_ii_159c0c59a367c357 This is a project to record all of the works for solo guitar by Denis ApIvor.

My first meeting with Denis ApIvor was an extraordinary coincidence. In 1983 I made a recording (Daybreak) with the innovative recording engineer Mike Skeet. He was using one of the earliest digital recording systems and a revolutionary microphone developed by the then British company Calrec (A Soundfield microphone intended for ambisonic recording). I wanted to make an album which reflected my love of Flamenco as well as Classical guitar and I found Denis’ piece Saeta in the London Guitar Studio. I knew that Saeta was a form of Flamenco sung exclusively at Easter and that excited my interest. I had no idea who Denis was nor did I realise immediately that the piece employed serial technique, I just thought it was good. We completed the recording and Mike Skeet released it though his label Whitetower Records.

Some time later Mike rang me and said that he had just finished a recording of piano pieces by Bernard Van Dieren and that Denis ApIvor was the consultant/editor. He had played Denis our recording of Saeta and Denis liked it so much he wanted to meet me if possible and also show me some of his other guitar pieces. Eventually we met at his house in Hampstead and discovered we had a lot in common especially a love of Lorca the Spanish poet and dramatist. I went off with a load of guitar music and later that year (1984) was lucky enough to be allowed to film in and around the Alhambra in Granada and its sister palace the Generalife. In choosing the pieces to film from the album Daybreak I put forward the Saeta to the producer, explained the connection of Denis to Lorca and the producer suggested filming in the village of Viznar in the mountains above Granada, the last place Lorca had been seen alive before he was taken out to be shot somewhere on the road to the next village. When we got to Viznar and headed for the local bar/restaurant to set up our base the mayor was there enjoying his glass of wine before lunch. We got talking and he had actually been in the village in 1936 when they brought Lorca in with two others and locked them up overnight in the police station. He said it happened all the time in that era but they knew who Lorca was.

We filmed me playing Saeta in the streets of the village, intercut with images from the Spanish Civil War and photos of Lorca himself. I put it up on YouTube some time ago where you can see it along with a much younger version of me. The original recording was released as a video and it was also broadcast on what was then a very young Cable TV network when we added short poems of Lorca’s using Denis’ translations and read by my friend Sylvia Syms.

The reason we had been able to go to Spain and film in the first place was because I had been lucky enough to acquire a sponsor. There were also sufficient funds to finance a Wigmore Hall recital for my London debut (1985) and commission a piece from John Tavener (Chant). I chose John because he taught composition at Trinity College Of Music where I had studied and had taught my friend and fellow student Geoffrey Twigg who had written both a chamber concerto for me and a set of solo pieces which had won the composition prize of that year at Trinity. I decided to include another of Denis’ works for guitar and after talking it over with him chose the Sonatina. On reflection that may have been a bit adventurous for both me and the audience but I thought it a very good piece of music. One way or another Denis and I became friends and I spent the day of my Wigmore at his house in Hampstead, mostly in the garden with a glass of wine.

Despite not succeeding in promoting his work as much as I would have liked I feel the pieces for guitar are of an exceptional quality with a wonderful clarity of texture based on a real understanding of a difficult but beautiful instrument. I welcome this opportunity to demonstrate their worth and to encourage a fresh evaluation of a much underrated, indeed at times almost invisible, British composer.