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Obituary: Richard Lloyd

14 May 2021

David Hill writes:

RICHARD HEY LLOYD, who has died, aged 87, was a cathedral organist and choirmaster and a prolific composer of anthems, canticles, and organ music.

He was born on 25 June 1933, near Stockport, Cheshire, the younger of two children. He was a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral from 1942 to 1947, and retained strong links with the cathedral during his lifetime. He went on to be educated at Rugby School, where he was a music scholar. In 1952, he went to Cambridge as organ scholar at Jesus College. He read for a degree in music and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists.

In 1957, he was appointed assistant organist of Salisbury Cathedral, where he also taught in the cathedral school. This allowed him to share his life-long love of English literature with the pupils alongside sport, particularly cricket, and music.

In 1966, he was appointed organist and master of choristers at Hereford Cathedral, succeeding Melville Cook. He became immersed in the Three Choirs Festival, directing three Hereford festivals in 1967, 1970, and 1973, where he brought a freshness of ideas and approach to programming. In 1973, he started the festival with Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which had not been heard in Hereford in the festival since 1914. His final work at the Three Choirs was Elgar’s Apostles, unheard there since 1904.

He was an avuncular, caring, and sensitive character, and so he found facing professional orchestras, not generally known in those days for emitting welcome or positivity to conductors, a challenging and draining experience.

On one occasion during a rehearsal, in which Dame Janet Baker was the soloist, the orchestra was not being helpful or supportive to him: Dame Janet stood up, faced the players, and suggested that they should pay attention, as “this young man has something to say about the music.” The rehearsal orchestra was duly admonished, and the rehearsal continued, but with a changed atmosphere. The orchestra soon realised that his innate musicality was something that they knew that they should respect. He was a “musician’s musician”, able to produce top-quality performances for which he was increasingly recognised. His contribution to the Three Choirs Festival was unquestionably significant.

In 1974, he was appointed to Durham Cathedral, where he spent 11 years, by all accounts, his happiest. He was loved by the choristers and lay clerks for his care in rehearsals and ability to draw the best from each person. They looked forward to the arrival of the latest composition and another descant to add to the roster of superb last verses of hymns.

Composing was always a central part of his musical life; he produced around 600 compositions and arrangements, many of which were written during his time in Durham. He has been an inspiration to many musicians, writing accessible, beautifully crafted music of very high quality for both parish and cathedral choirs.

Richard’s gift for melody and harmony came from his love of English music from the early 20th century, particularly Howells and Vaughan Williams, whom he would describe as “proper” composers, such was his self-effacing personality.

Richard had an unmistakable “voice” as a composer, unable to be a pale imitation of someone else. Some of his favourite compositions were recorded on two CDs by the Bede Singers and funded by his former choristers. The sopranos involved, none having known him or his work previously, all remarked on the quality of the music and how special the sessions were.

Richard’s sense of humour, never far away, would manifest itself in a myriad of ways. He would compile public music lists in which acrostics would be placed. A different set of Responses was sung each day, and, by printing Byrd, Ayleward, and Tomkins on consecutive days, he would be create “BAT” and another reference to cricket. His love of the sport extended to an acrostic in 1976 which read “Geoff (Boycott) gains the ashes.” This one made it to the Test Match Special Commentary team on the BBC.

He was a brilliant, intuitive musician with a particular gift for improvising, regularly witnessed and appreciated by the three assistants who worked with him: Alan Thurlow, who was sub-organist when he arrived at Durham, me, and Ian Shaw.

I was fortunate to be in the organ loft in Durham in 1982 when Dame Margot Fonteyn, Chancellor of the university, was arriving in the cathedral. Richard launched into an improvisation based on Tchaikovsky’s “The dying swan” (from Swan Lake) on full organ. I turned round only to see a wry smile and glint in his eye: it was quite brilliant.

He loved life, the countryside, food, wine, beer, cricket, literature, and his dogs; but, above all, it was his family that played the most central part in his life.

He left Durham in 1985 and returned to Salisbury to become deputy headmaster of the cathedral school, but retired after three years from ill health in 1988. He devoted himself to composition and examining for the ABRSM, while living in Anglesey and before settling in Herefordshire in 2001.

He married Morwenna, a nurse, in 1962. She has been the rock of love and support, and, with their four daughters, Emma, Julia, Catherine, and Olivia, survives him. He died in Hereford on 24 April after a short illness.

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