The distinguished musician Dr Donald Hunt, who has died at 88, was a man of many parts: choirmaster, conductor, composer, organist, festival director, author and Elgar specialist.
Born in Gloucester in 1930, he was one of Yorkshire’s leading musical practitioners from 1957, moving away in 1975 to be Cathedral Master of the Choristers and Organist at Worcester, where he directed eight Three Choirs’ Festivals. He was also the long-serving music director of the Elgar Chorale and Principal of the Elgar School of Music.
In Leeds, he succeeded Dr Melville Cook, another Gloucester-trained musician, as organist and Director of Music at Leeds Parish Church. Along the way he conducted Halifax Choral Society, the Huddersfield Glee and Madrigal Society and the Wakefield Festival Chorus, as well as high profile chorus-masterships to the Leeds Festival and Leeds Philharmonic Society, where he was also associate conductor, working with Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Additionally, he taught music at Leeds Girls’ High School and lectured at Leeds College of Music, receiving in 1975 an honorary Doctorate of Music from Leeds University.
In 1972, he was named Leeds’ third City Organist, reviving a Town Hall post that had lapsed for more than half a century.
He later revisited Yorkshire with his Elgar Chorale and as guest conductor of Leeds Phil, the Leeds Festival and the Leeds Minster-based St Peter’s Singers. There were legendary accounts of Messiah and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and a memorable concert at York Minster in 2008, in which he shared the conducting with Dr Francis Jackson and Dr Philip Moore.
Dr Hunt’s specialist knowledge of the works of Elgar was without parallel – in late retirement he finished the authoritative edition of Elgar’s Part-Songs for the Complete Elgar Edition, and a collection of early anthems under his editorship appeared last year.
His affinity with Elgar’s music was absolute. As an articled pupil of the composer’s friend, Dr Herbert Sumsion, at Gloucester Cathedral – where he had been a boy chorister and later assistant organist – Dr Hunt always acknowledged that he had received the best possible grounding. The two men remained friends until Sumsion’s death in 1995.
He was probably the last cathedral organist trained under the articled pupil system, rather than at a conservatory or university. As with Elgar, Dr Hunt’s interpretations of the music of his mentor are benchmarks against which all others are judged.
He recorded extensively at Leeds and Worcester, with superb solo accounts of Elgar’s organ music which helped secure his legacy for future generations.
He was also a composer, notably of church music, and produced an ingenious Easter work, Hymnus Paschalis, devised for a special concert at Worcester that had involved three choirs.
He was awarded the OBE in 1993.
He is survived by Jo, his wife of more than 60 years, daughters Jacqueline and Jane, sons Thomas and Nicholas, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.