Peter Hurford dead at 88

April 14, 2019
Peter Hurford

Peter John Hurford, 88, organist, church musician, performer, recording artist, teacher, composer, and author, died March 3 in St. Albans, UK. He was born November 22, 1930, in Minehead, Somerset, UK, and was educated at Blundell’s School. After brief studies at the Royal College of Music in London, he earned dual degrees in music and law at Jesus College, Cambridge, studying with Harold Darke, later studying organ in Paris, France, with André Marchal.

He served as organist for Holy Trinity Church, Leamington Spa, from 1956 until 1957, while also music master at Bablake School, Coventry, and for Royal Leamington Spa Bach Choir. From 1958 until 1978, he was organist and choirmaster of St. Albans Cathedral Choir, St. Albans. In 1963, Hurford was founder of what became the St. Albans International Organ Festival, as a new Harrison & Harrison organ had been installed at the cathedral, designed by Ralph Downes and Hurford.

In 1956, Hurford performed at Royal Festival Hall, which launched what would become an international performance career. A recording artist as well, he recorded more than fifty discs. His largest recording project included the complete organ works of Bach in the 1970s for Decca (1975–1981) and BBC Radio 3 (1980–1982); he would also record the complete organ works of Mendelssohn, Franck, and Hindemith. He taught at Oxford and Cambridge universities and was an honorary fellow in organ studies at the University of Bristol. He held several international artist residencies and was a consultant for design of the organ of the Sydney Opera House. He was named an Honorary Fellow of Jesus College in 2006, served as a president of the Incorporated Association of Organists and the Royal College of Organists, receiving the latter’s medal in 2013, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1984. He served on international competition juries, including Haarlem, Bruges, Prague, Linz, Nürenberg, Berlin, Dublin, and Chartres. Hurford was an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music and honorary fellow both of the Royal College of Music and of the Royal School of Church Music, and held honorary doctorates in music from the University of Bristol and from Baldwin-Wallace College, Ohio (home of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute).

A composer, his works were mostly published by Oxford University Press and Novello. His book, Making Music on the Organ (Oxford University Press, 1998), was widely distributed. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, retiring from performing in 2009.

In 1955, Hurford married Patricia Matthews, who died in 2017. Peter John Hurford is survived by a daughter Heather, sons Michael and Richard, nine grandchildren, and sister Maureen. A private funeral was held March 18. A memorial service is to be held June 15 at St. Albans Cathedral.

(photo courtesy: St Albans International Organ Festival)