Denis ApIvor

Denis ApIvor (14 April 1916  27 May 2004) was a British composer, part of the generation of modernists that included Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens. He had a parallel career as a consultant anaesthetist.


Born in Collinstown, County Westmeath, Ireland, to Welsh parents, he went to Hereford Cathedral School and was a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, and Hereford Cathedral. Because his parents opposed a career in music, he studied medicine in London, but had also pursued the study of music from an early age (Davies 2004). He began his medical studies at the University of Aberystwyth in 1933, moving the next year to University College London. At the outbreak of World War II he was for a time house physician at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, Hampstead. In 1942 he was called up and spent most of the war in India (Johnson 2004). He studied composition with Alan Rawsthorne and Patrick Hadley. His most successful early works included a setting of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men (1939; rev. 1946), several ballets, including A Mirror for Witches, with choreography by Andrée Howard (1951) and Blood Wedding (1953), and an opera Yerma (1955–59, first staged 1961).

While he introduced serial elements in his Piano Concerto (1948), it was only in 1955 that he began regularly using a more freely atonal and athematic serialism, which he continued to do until 1988 (Davies 2004). He was influenced in this by Edward Clark, a conductor, former BBC music producer, student of Arnold Schoenberg and husband of Elisabeth Lutyens.

Guitar works

ApIvor is particularly well known to guitarists, as he made a major contribution to the repertoire of their instrument. Solo works include Variations (1956), Discanti (1970), Saeta (1972), and ten serial pieces included with his book Serial Composition for Guitarists (1982). He also wrote a Concertino for guitar (1954), Liaison for guitar and keyboard (1976), and Cinquefoil for flute, guitar, and viola (1984).


  • Davies, Lyn. 2004. "ApIvor, Denis". Grove Music Online, edited by Deane L. Root (updated 30 August). Oxford Music Online (accessed 4 November 2017)..
  • Johnson, David Hackbridge. 2004. "Denis ApIvor" (obituary). The Guardian (14 June).
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