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Ivor Keys (1919 - 1995):

Ivor Christopher Banfield Keys was a highly accomplished all-round musician: performer, teacher, composer, writer and academic, whose outstanding career in music began professionally in Belfast, at Queen's University. He was educated at Christ's Hospital, Horsham, where he was accomplished enough a pianist to performed Rachmaninov's C minor piano concerto. In 1933 he was awarded the Associateship Diploma of the Royal College of Organists, and the following year gained the Fellowship Diploma of that College, the youngest person up to that date to have done so. He attended the Royal College of Music (1936-1938) and won an organ scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Cathedral Sub-Organist. In 1940 he was awarded the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music. During the Second World War he served with the Pioneer Corps (a part of the Army whose duties are light engineering) in Kenya.

After the war, he returned to Christ Church, but soon moved to Belfast. Queen's University had decided to create a full-time Lectureship in Music, to which Keys was the first appointment. He wasted little time involving himself with enthusiasm and assiduity in all aspects of Belfast musical life, whether as teacher, lecturer, conductor, organist, pianist or composer (his Clarinet Concerto won the Festival of Britain Prize for composition in 1951). A new Bachelor of Music degree was established in 1947 and the new degree of Doctor of Music in 1953. In addition, in 1951 a new chair in Music, named for Sir Hamilton Harty, the outstanding conductor, accompanist and composer, was established aided by the royalties from Harty's music. Keys, already Reader in Music, was the first to occupy this Chair, which he did until 1954. (In 1978 Keys, always a fine writer on music, contributed a chapter on Harty's chamber music to a book about the composer published by Queen's University, and produced and edited by a successor in the Hamilton Harty Chair.)

Keys moved back to England in that year as Professor of Music at Nottingham University. He was to remains there for 14 years, during which time, as in Belfast, he presided over departmental expansion, while also taking part in the wider musical life of the city, for example as conductor of the Nottingham Bach Choir. In 1968 he moved to the University of Birmingham as Peyton and Barber Professor of Music. Keys was following in the most distinguished musical footsteps. This Chair, originally simply the Peyton Chair, was named for its benefactor, Richard Peyton, who in 1904 offered £10,000 (approximately £575,000 in 2011) to the University of Birmingham for the establishment of a chair of music, "the only condition being that it should in the first instance be offered to & accepted by Sir Edward Elgar, Mus.Doc., LL.D." It was, and Elgar did.

Another predecessor in the Chair - his immediate - was Professor Anthony Lewis, under whom opera was established at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Lewis had previously worked for the BBC where he had devised a series entitled "Handel in Rome" and helped plan the Third Programme (now Radio 3). At Birmingham he cultivated his interest in Handel and Purcell. The Barber opera performances of the 1960s played a significant role in the revival of Handel's operas in England and made a deep impression on the audience, both vocally and visually. The Handel operas, in particular, were remembered for their high quality of vocal performance.

Under the aegis and direction of Ivor Keys, the Barber opera continued as an annual event until 1973, then became biennial. Keys presented four operas by Handel - Rodelinda (1972), Julius Caesar (1977), Sosarme (1979) and Poro (1985) - and eight by other composers from Lully to Bizet. He also co-operated with the Drama Department in creating an integrated Music, Drama and Dance degree, before such combined performance courses became fashionable. His work at Birmingham evidently absorbed him as he remained there until his retirement despite attempted academic headhunting from Oxford, amongst other places.

Outside of the University, Keys was a broadcaster, creating in 1967 and 1976-1977 series of television lectures on music. He was in demand throughout the country as performer, lecturer, examiner, adjudicator and broadcaster, and as far afield as Africa, Australia and Hong Kong. He had long associations with the Royal College of Organists (whose President he was from 1968 until 1970, and the National Federation of Musical Societies. He still composed, including a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (he was a practising Anglican). His writing covered articles, chapters in books (like that on Harty in the Belfast publication already mentioned), and books of his own. These included The Texture of Music: from Purcell to Brahms (1961); Brahms Chamber Music (1974); Mozart: his Music in his Life (1980), and in 1989, Johannes Brahms, which has a rather distinctive layout: Part One is a straight biography, while Part Two is a "catalogue", which lists with analysis and commentary (including musical examples) every Brahms work with an opus number, and some without.

Ivor Keys was appointed CBE in 1976 and Professor Emeritus of Music in the University of Birmingham on his retirement in 1986.

Born: 8 March 1919
Died: 7 July 1995
Richard Froggatt