Looking for Richard Hundley

      On April 7, 2002, 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: 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.

The Richard Hundley Master Class

      At about 3:20 on Sunday, April 7, the master of ceremonies was giving an extended introduction when Mr. Hundley interrupted him: "Pardon me, but I was actually Zinka Milanov's studio pianist for thirteen years instead of the ten listed on the website." Mr. Hundley, dressed in a black double-breasted suit with a bright yellow and red tie presided over the rest of the program with childlike aplomb.

      Though there was a printed program with text, Mr. Hundley asked that his song Waterbirds be done first. In each case, he asked that the singer read the poem. Taken from his cantata of ten songs for chorus The Sea is Swimming Tonight, became a solo song when tenor Paul Sperry requested it be set for him. This song of tenderness and nostaglia, performed by Deborah Harris, contained interesting variations for voice and piano. Ms. Harris did a lovely job of floating the closing notes. Charles Woodward, pianist complied with the composer's request to extend the legato ending even though it was not written in the music, and thus it was for the entire program.

      Later in the program Deborah Harris, soprano, sang Sweet Suffolk Owl, another of Mr. Hundley's most popular pieces. "Modern but not dissonant with blocks of sound in the piano," it was brought to life by the effervescent singer with a sweet sound. I especially liked the musicality of the oft-repeated owl sounds "Te whit, te whoo!" However, the composer asked for a more bird-like "hootie" sound. Mrs. Harris is a graduate of James Madison University.

Come Ready and See Me

No matter how late
Come before the years run out...
For no one can wait forever
Under the bluest sky
I can't wait forever
For the years are running out.

James Purdy, 1968

      Sung by a poised Marilyn Kellam in a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, this song moved my heart and I was won over to Mr. Hundley's music. Charles Woodward played beautifully as instructed. Dr. Kellam sings in the Virginia Opera chorus and is an active recitalist on the Eastern Shore.

      Two whimsical songs were sung by vocal students of Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick of Christopher Newport University. A sophomore, baritone Joe Guardiano sang Epitaph on a Wife. Acording to the composer, this charming, comedic song is to be done in a stately way. He suggested folding the hands as in prayer at the end. The text: "Here lies my wife, Semanthia Proctor, she had a cold and wouldn't doctor. She couldn't stay she had to go - Praise God from whom all blessings flow." The singer caught the fun of this song with his fine voice.

      Anthony Colosimo, a freshman at CNU, sang Bartholomew Green. Described as a bon-bon of a song, Mr. Hundley was so pleased with the performance that his only request was that it be repeated immediately and was disappointed that Mr. Colosimo was not singing anything else.

      On a text by e.e. cummings, Seashore Girls is a profound story of very young children losing themselves in a day at the seashore. Rita Addico Cohen sang this and Will There Really be a Morning. Ms. Cohen's voice has taken on a richer patina since the birth of her second child and her voice had an added depth and beauty. Tweaking details of the accompaniment and singing of the words is Mr. Hundley's conception of what is to be done at a master class. Ms. Cohen has a masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music and and has performed professionally in both musical theatre and opera.

      Two other songs were on the program. Pamela DeMeyere sang Sweet River. The composer's comment was "charming! You did that beautifully and the rhythm was just right." Patricia Rublein sang I Do, another bon-bon the composer dubbed a musical valentine, commissioned by Paul Sperry, who has recorded the song. Ms. Rublein sang this simple little song in a lovely voice. Ms. DeMeyere and Ms. Rublein are board members of the Virginia Art Song Society which sponsored the master class, and both perform locally.

      Mr. Hundley has written some tuneful American songs which should be better known. His emphasis on respect for the singer and how words should be set were a main theme of his presentation. Perhaps he will do a piece for us on this subject for a future newsletter.

Hundley Discography Revisited

      The composer suggests that it takes six months of singing a song before it is worked into the voice so it can be done properly in public. Later he mentioned that a six-week grant to do a recording of his songs brings a flat refusal from him. He is interested in having enough time for high artistic achievement rather than just a hastily put-together recording. This seemed a bit short-sighted to this listener, given the scarcity of recordings of his music.

      As our readers will recall, I could find only one song of his on CD. Immediately after that article was out we got feedback from our art song community readership. Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick of CNU and Darryl Taylor of the African American Art Song Alliance both recommended tenor Paul Sperry's CD Romantic American Songs (Albany ALB 043). It includes eleven songs, six of which were sung at the April 7th master class. Also included are works by Thomson,Chanler, Bowles (4) and Farwell.

      From Dr. Joanne Simms of ODU and Lisa Edwards-Burrs, a fine vocalist from Richmond, we learned of a CD titled Where the Music Comes From (American Songs), sung by Cynthia Haymon with Warren Jones, piano (Argo). It includes Strings in the Earth and Air and Come Ready and See Me. Unfortunately this CD is currently out of print. You could look for a used copy or hope for a re-issue.

      Also mentioned by Dr. Simms is baritone William Sharp and William Blier's CD (New World NWR 80369). Only Sweet Suffolk Owl is on this CD but there are a number of Paul Bowles' songs plus Thomson, Lee Hoiby, John Musto and Eric Klein songs.

      Tod Fitzpatrick also recommends American Song Recital, Laura Wagner, soprano with Fred Weldy at the piano on Channel Classics (CCS 5293). The songs: Come Ready and See Me, Sweet Suffolk Owl and Waterbirds. Also included are songs by Bernstein, Urquhart, Laitman, Bowles, Corigliano, Duke and Gershwin.

      Come Ready and See Me from Fredericka von Stade's 1992 CD Salute to America was used on WHRO to announce the Hundley Masterclass. It is no longer available.

      So Much Beauty a CD by Janeanne Houston, soprano and Robert Jorgensen, piano opens with three selections by Richard Hundley. Click here for the review.

      Available CD's are currently listed on the H&B Recordings Direct site.

More on Richard Hundley, Including Comprehensive Song List

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