Death of a prominent British organist, 88

Death of a prominent British organist, 88


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2018

The organist and choir conductor Donald Hunt died on Saturday.

A Gloucester lad, he studied with Elgar’s friend Herbert Sumsion, he became city organist of Leeds in the 1950s and Organist and Master of the Choristers at Worcester Cathedral in 1976. As such, he served as artistic director of the annual Three Choirs Festival.

A respected Elgarian, he features on many recordings.


  • Mark Mortimer says:

    A talented man. Have several of his excellent arrangements in my choral collection. I had heard however from an organist friend (in the know) that he was a bit of a martinet in Worcester & not beloved by all choristers.

  • Cyril Colvin says:

    Keep martinet opinions to yourself and your organist friend in the know.

    Dr Hunt was an inspiration and devoted a huge amount of time and talent to the cause of musical performance and lecturing.

  • Dennis J Davis says:

    I heard Donald Hunt conduct one of the earlier UK performances of Messiaen’s La Transfiguration in Birmingham Town Hall, very memorably and much later had the opportunity to thank him personally. May he rest in peace.

  • Simon Reynolds says:

    Donald Hunt was a visionary musician with a unique compositional voice. His work at Leeds Parish Church in the 60s and early 70s saw the repertoire at its most adventurous. He leaves many legacies, but it is to be hoped that his compositions will come to receive renewed attention in the future. Francis Jackson once joked that he had written Ravel’s church music for him. He is not alone. Donald Hunt also did, extending the language of French impressionism, and crafting from it a distinctive timbre for the English choral tradition. His Responses (1973) alone are an example of this. So too is his Hymnus Paschali from the 1990s.

    • Nicholas Bradbury says:

      I associate myself with everything Simon says. I learned with a shock from Kate Molleson, after listening to Wednesday’s Choral Evensong on R3 playback in the middle of last night, that the great Donald Hunt had died at the weekend. Too many wondrous musical memories to list, so I’ll share a personal memory from (probably) about 1961 when my family motored (the term fits the times) from Leeds (where my father worked as a music critic on the now revolting (sorry) Yorkshire Post) to the 3 Choirs and the Hunt family car boiled over on Holme Moss. We sat cheerfully by the wayside for it to cool.
      Donald Hunt was a musician and conductor in the top league and I remember him with huge respect and his family with affection. May they be consoled in their grief.

  • Peter Ellis says:

    Donald Hunt was also music director of the Halifax Choral Society for many years until 1988. He was a wonderful musician, leading forces in some incredible recordings and broadcasts including Dyson’s Canterbury Pilgrims, Gurrelieder and (from memory) some of the Havergal Brian enormities. Under his direction the choir also commissioned John Joubert’s “The Choir Invisible” which is long overdue another public outing.

  • David Richardson says:

    When I freelanced as a trumpet player in the North of England in the early 1960s, often in orchestras accompanying amateur choral societies, a date with Bradford Old Choral Society and Donald Hunt (still quite near the begining of his career and also organist of Leeds Parish Church) was always one to look forward to. He stood out as a conductor with a real professional technique, pacing rehearsal time, being demanding in the right ways, cordial with the performers and producing strong performances and a good choral sound. After 20 years in Leeds, also leading the Festival Chorus And others, from 1975 he had a distinguished 20-year period as organist of Worcester Cathedral.

  • Paul Dutton says:

    Donald was a great man and wonderful musician, a man with much humility. He was an inspiration to myself and generations of choristers whilst at Leeds Parish Church. I am personally so very grateful for all the opportunities he afforded me during my time there and all the wonderful memories that I had and still hold. It is because of Donald that I continue to be involved in choral and church music. He will be missed by many but particularly his family to whom I extend my wishes and love.

    • Sarah Barr says:

      Paul – Sarah Sharp here – you will remember Jo and Colin from the LPC. The music you all produced in the 60s and 70s was just wonderful and os much down to Donald who got the best out of you all. We have such fond memories of those wonderful services, socials and choir trips.

  • Stuart Wilson says:

    To echo what Paul Dutton and others have said , as a chorister at Leeds Parish Church with Paul and with my father a tenor in the same choir, Donald was an inspiration and also very generous man. He influenced my life long love of music and his passing has prompted many happy memories for me and my family. My and our condolences to all the family.

    • Sarah Barr says:

      Stuart – my brother Jonathan sang with you in LPC and my stepfather Colin was a bass. I echo your views – wonderful music, fantastic people and so many wonderful memories have come flooding back. Donald was just a presence who filled every room he walked into – and he coaxed and cajoled extraordinary sounds from you all on every occasion.