Peter Hurford (1930-2019)
News reached us yesterday evening of the death, aged 88, of British organist Peter Hurford, a phenomenal musician who recorded extensively throughout his long and successful career. Although he will probably not be primarily remembered for his early music-making in the West Midlands, Hurford does have a modest connection to Leamington Spa, where for a brief period in the 1950s he was organist at Holy Trinity Church and directed a local choral society.
From these beginnings, Hurford rose to great heights within the organ world; one of his most lasting legacies is the St Albans International Organ Festival, inaugurated during his tenure as director of music at the cathedral there in the 1960s to put a newly-installed organ through its paces. The momentum lasted well beyond that single event and the Festival quickly became a permanent fixture. This Festival, and the competitions incorporated into it, have launched or boosted the careers of many a subsequent organist – Dame Gillian Weir, Kevin Bowyer and Thomas Trotter, to name just three.
Among fans of recorded music, Hurford’s name will most closely be associated with his complete set of the organ works of JS Bach, a massive undertaking recorded for Decca in the 1970s and still available today. At the organ he epitomised what came to be seen as an “English” school of Bach performance, whose relatively brisk tempi and light-touch ornamentation distinguish it from the approach generally taken in mainland Europe.
Those with a connection to the choral world, on the other hand, may know his name as a result of the popularity of his Litany to the Holy Spirit, a short yet charming piece for upper voices. Hurford composed a considerable number of Anglican liturgical works but the Litany is by far the most frequently-performed; its simplicity and emotional directness have ensured that it remains a staple of the repertoire at many churches and cathedrals.
Peter Hurford (organ of Sydney Opera House)
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