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FELIX APRAHAMIAN (1914 - 2005): A personal memoir

As a writer and critic, Felix Aprahamian, who died in London last month at the age of ninety, was a big name to me when I was at school. By the time I first met him he had already been long retired from his mainstream activities that included being a Sunday Times critic and writer for the Gramophone. To know him was an inestimable privilege because it seemed he had met practically everyone who counted in classical music in the twentieth century. This emerged through his legendary stories which usually involved one or more of such people. At first - and God forgive me for even thinking this – I was sceptical about the veracity of some of them. But I soon came to realise, after a spot of covert research, that they really were true and were a function of a bounding enthusiasm that lead him to having a finger in a seemingly infinite number of pies.

As an unstoppable raconteur (he would fix you in his line of sight and point authoritatively at you so that you felt the story had been stored especially for you) he knew how to gauge his audience, and if it was gossip that was required then that was what was delivered. If it was musical knowledge and wisdom that one hoped from him, however technical, then that was there for the taking. I remember him telling me his anecdote of how, when in Paris at the age of 19, he was called upon by Charles-Marie Widor to turn the pages for the great organist in the organ loft at the church of St-Sulpice. Felix, something of an organist himself, said, "I learned more about organ registration, sitting next to him during that recital, than at any time in my life". He then went on to succinctly describe, in technical detail, just what it was that he had learned.

Felix had an encyclopaedic knowledge of a huge range of music, enabled by a quite prodigious memory. He would make it his business to know about some things even if he was totally out of sympathy. In this category was most C20th avant-garde music. Unless it were French. French music was a specialism and a passion, and there were many in France during the war who owed much to his efforts in organising, in London, an extensive series of concerts devoted to promoting the music of that country and in aid of the Free French cause. Grateful composers and musicians stayed with him in his house in north London, among them Poulenc and Messiaen. His mutually affectionate correspondence with the latter over a period of fifty years has been published and constitutes an important document.

Only a few years ago, as he started to become a little frail, I took over some of his pre–concert talk commitments. I knew it would be a hard, if not impossible act to follow. This was more than amply confirmed at a conversation I had with him shortly before I started, during the course of which he let drop, "As Sibelius said to me…..."

John Leeman


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