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Obituary: Dr Donald Hunt

17 August 2018

Dr Simon Lindley writes:

A WARTIME Gloucester Cathedral chorister, Donald Frederick Hunt served as assistant to his mentor, Dr Herbert Sumsion, at Gloucester, until his appointment to St John’s, Torquay, in 1954. The move to Leeds Parish Church came in 1957, with a return to his West Country roots as Master of the Choristers and Organist of Worcester Cathedral in 1975.

Additional to his focus as one of Britain’s leading church musicians, Dr Hunt, who died on 4 August, aged 88, had other substantial gifts — not least conducting, composing, speaking, and writing. He cultivated artistic and personal friendships with leading Continental musicians in Scandinavia and Germany; of those from France, he was particularly associated with Pierre Villette and Jean Langlais. Both were invited to Worcester: Villette to hear his choral music and Langlais to reopen the Worcester organ in 1978 after restoration.

An imaginative and visionary director of eight Worcester Three Choirs’ Festivals, he enjoyed a particularly fruitful partnership with John Sanders at Gloucester and Roy Massey at Hereford. Elgar Society and Elgar Foundation appointments reflected an absorbing and lifelong interest in Elgar’s music. A couple of decades into “retirement”, he emerged in 2014 to universal acclaim as the editor of the entirety of the part-songs for Novello’s Elgar complete edition and, only last year, as the editor of 12 of Elgar’s sacred pieces from Cramer Music with a foreword by the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley. He directed his own Elgar Chorale and was principal of the Elgar School of Music.

A veteran of countless choral broadcasts and recordings, he also recorded fine interpretations of Elgar’s organ oeuvre and music by Sumsion, too, as well as earlier solo LPs from Leeds Town Hall and Leeds Parish Church. Honours came in the form of a Leeds Doctorate of Music in 1975 and an MA from the University of Worcester in 2010. He was appointed OBE in 1993. In the educational field, he held posts at Leeds Girls’ High School and Leeds College of Music.

Significant community involvement featured in each appointment. He founded the Gloucester St Cecilia Singers, still a flourishing group directed by successive Gloucester assistant organists. At Leeds, he took over major responsibilities with the Leeds Festival Chorus and Leeds Philharmonic Society. His long service to Halifax Choral Society (1957-88), in succession to his immediate LPC precursor, Dr Melville Cook, was greatly valued, and he involved himself in much other choral endeavour within the county of broad acres and farther afield.

Composing began in earnest in Leeds and flourished thereafter; Hymnus Paschalis from 1995 was written for a concert by Worcester Cathedral Choir when it was joined by two other choirs from Breda and Haarlem, and was repeated for Donald’s final Worcester Festival in 1996. Inspired by an ancient chant in a hymnal from the Stanbrook nuns, this is a glorious setting of scenes from the Easter story enhanced by historic texts and melodies, exquisitely arranged for voices and organ, or small orchestra.

There are volumes of reminiscence and recollection from his pen, as well as equally scholarly studies of Elgar and S. S. Wesley.

One of his four children, the baritone Tom, joined his father as an acclaimed professional musician, and another, Nick, runs the best restaurant in Worcester. There are eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Donald’s wife of more than 60 years, Jo, a valued veteran of his adult choral groups from Gloucester days onwards, and daughters, Jacqueline and Jane, with the boys, were always the most gracious of Worcester festival hosts, and at the Elgar 150th-anniversary festival in 2007. At all these, Donald’s administrative acumen and personal stamina were much in evidence.

An evensong in his memory will be sung at Gloucester Cathedral on Sunday 16 September at 3 p.m., and a midday Saturday musical event at Worcester Cathedral is planned for January.

Dr Roy Massey adds: At Worcester, Donald maintained a splendid standard in the daily choral services and continued to develop the work of the excellent Worcester Festival Choral Society.

He also exerted enormous influence on the development of the Three Choirs Festival at this period, directing eight Worcester festivals with conspicuous success and bringing much imagination and expertise to the deliberations of the triumvirate of organists at the head of the enterprise.

His performances of the music of Elgar were unusually authoritative, as was his advocacy of music by French composers, which was another great love of his. The chorus loved him, the orchestras respected him, and his boy choristers would have lain down and died for him.

Besides composing and writing books, he also followed avidly his favourite football team in Leeds, and cricket at the Worcester county ground.

Donald Hunt was a great friend, a fine musician, and a much-loved man.

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