02 November 2006

FELIX APRAHAMIAN, who died last Saturday afternoon, aged 90, was a music critic who wrote for the Church Times from 1992 to 2000, after he had retired from a distinguished Fleet Street career.

His writing career had begun in the musical press in 1931; from 1937 he wrote for the nationals. From 1948 until 1969, he was deputy to the music critic of The Sunday Times, who for most of those years was Ernest Newman (he edited two books of Newman’s criticism). Aprahamian wrote elegantly, concisely, and with a deep knowledge of and response to the organ repertoire in particular. In his Church Times pieces, he would throw in recollections of some of the leading musicians of the century.

These came partly from his work with music publishers, and with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he had been assistant secretary and concert director. It might be easier to list the composers with whom he had no personal acquaintance, than those with whom he had. He knew the great Frenchmen Poulenc, Messiaen, Duruflé, Widor, and Vierne, for example; the Hungarian Bartók; and the English composers of mid-century. He was President of the Delius Society. He was of assistance to musicians such as Karl Rankl who had to leave the Continent after the rise of Nazism.

During the Second World War, as part of the war effort, Aprahamian organised, from the office of the Philharmonic, a series of concerts of French music. One of the stories that he told was of having to get permission from the Free French in Algeria to waive the copyright on Fauré’s Requiem, and setting up an English publishing company, the Normandy Press, so that it could be performed by a choir in Luton — which began the work’s huge post-war popularity.

By the time he began writing for the Church Times, he was a grand old man with a great store of anecdotes, the perfect castaway for Desert Island Discs. I once heard him explain why he had kept up his membership of the Athenaeum: “I was proposed by Elgar, and seconded by George Thalben-Ball.”


He was a great giver of parties in his house in north London, which had room for a full-size pipe organ; lucky guests would hear it played by the organist David Liddle, to whom Aprahamian was both friend and mentor. His involvement in musical affairs had continued to be wide-ranging, as he heaped up lectureships and honorary degrees and fellowships: it entailed much travel, and an occasional refusal of an invitation to review an event because he had helped to organise it.

He began reviewing for the Church Times when John Whale found himself short-handed through illness. His attitude was entirely professional. No matter how small the space offered, or how humble the position of the review, he would say: “Just a few well-chosen words? When do you want them?” They would appear punctually, bearing the scars of his fax machine. His housekeeper would call him to the phone to make sense of them.

His reviews were always gracious, and designed to interest the readers in the music. If he thought a concert programme was worth covering, he would undertake the journey despite the difficulties of old age.

He left his vast collection of music and his personal papers to the Royal College of Organists.

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