Looking for Richard Hundley

      On April 7th, Richard Hundley (b.1931) is coming to Norfolk to give a master class. Mr. Hundley is a composer, pianist and choral singer. His life has been structured around music and he will share with us some of that experience.

      Four of Hundley's songs: Waterbird, Sweet Suffolk Owl, Come Ready and See Me, and Seashore Girls were sung in recital by the internationally known countertenor David Daniels in April 1999 at Harrison Opera House. That was my total exposure to his music until I decided to research him for this article. It was Steve's suggestion that we share this introduction with our readers to prepare them for the master class.

      Last weekend I again heard Come Ready and See Me at Jennifer Smith's Junior Recital at Christopher Newport University. The song has a memorable melody and is one of Mr. Hundley's best known. Ms. Smith gave a very pleasing and natural rendition. Her vocal teacher is Shirley Thompson who has been a friend and consultant to Artsong Update. Once again I requested help for this article and Shirley made available to us a video tape of a master class conducted by Mr. Hundley at Towson University in April 1998.

      In the tape he coaches singers in his compositions and those of other American composers. He asked each singer to read the poem aloud before singing. He then worked with both singer and pianist making suggestions for tempo, dynamics and interpretation and even demonstrating at the piano. His approach was considerate and diplomatic, praising freely the things he liked and and making corrections in a totally non-judgemental and inclusive way.

      Mr. Hundley favors legato phrasing in voice and piano, and the lyrical songs are agreeable to sing and to hear. They have been described as "...crystallized emotion. He has mastered the art of agonizing over details until he produces something that sounds simple, even inevitable... His melodies stay in the mind. In his harmonies and open spacings he sounds American, in the sense that Copeland created a recognizably American sound. And he has the American gift for exuberance and humor: look at Epitaph on a Wife, Some Sheep are Loving, Postcard From Spain and I Do." The tenor Paul Sperry whom I quote here points out that Hundley did not go abroad to study. His texts are all in English." He writes every kind of song: slow, fast, wet, dry, funny, moving, waltzes, fox-trots, major statements, little bonbons." (Opera News, August, 1996: The Great American Songbook, pg. 22).

      Unfortunately, only three books of his songs are published: Eight Songs, Four Songs and Octaves and Sweet Sounds, and a few single songs. Other songs can be had by contacting him directly.

      My research for currently available recordings led me to ask Genevieve McGiffert, president of Art Song of Williamburg. She too is an avid collector of American music. "I am surprised that no one has recorded Sweet Suffolk Owl and perhaps even Come Ready and See Me..." But she had none. Searching the web produced no commercial recordings, only distorted ones on the Columbia University website: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/taylor/hundley/. You can hear Come Ready and See Me, Epitaph on a Wife, Seashore Girls, Moonlight's Watermelon and Well Welcome.

      In our CD index we found one song, Astronomers, on a collection of American Songs My Native Land, sung by Jennifer Larmore (Teldec0650-16069-2).

      We also learn from his website that Richard Hundley has had an interesting life. He spent the years 1960-1964 in the Metropolitan Opera chorus, where he met many famous singers of the day. He showed them his songs and they used them in their recitals; the best known being Anna Moffo.

      For ten years he was studio pianist for the famous Verdian Zinka Milanov, by then retired. Once again he met and played for world-class singers like Régine Crespin, Grace Bumbry and Christa Ludwig who came to study with Madam Milanov.

      Hundley has lived in New York City and has known many contemporary composers and has been friends with several. In 1962 he met Virgil Thomson who became his teacher and friend until Thompson's death in 1989. Hundley's mature songs were greatly influenced by Thomson. There seems to have been a steady and slow output of songs. Some of the best known are: Epitaph on a Wife, 1957, The Astronomer, 1957, Come Ready and See Me, 1971, Sweet Suffolk Owl, 1979 and Waterbirds, 1988.

      In 1982 his songs ware added to the repertory list for Carnegie Hall competitions. In 1987 he was recognized as a "standard American Composer for vocalists." Hundley's songs are part of the vocal repertory in major music schools in the United States and abroad. The Columbia website also contains a thesis on American songs built around Hundley's songs, actually listing them in order of complexity for music teachers. (The Solo Vocal Repertoire of Richard Hundley: A Pedagogical and Performance Guide to the Published Works by Esther J. Hardenbergh). It has been suggested that Hundley's songs are rhythmically difficult and are appropriate for the advanced student.

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