Dr Peter Hurford OBE  (22 November 1930 – 3 March 2019)

Organist, Composer, Teacher, Visionary and Friend

It is with the greatest sadness to have been informed of Peter’s death on 3 March at the age of 88.  He and his wife Pat had been friends for years, two of the kindest people who emerged to give me help, support and advice following the death of Paul. This was their tribute to his life and work, matched with encouragement to me going forward. Pat passed away in 2017, but we send our sincere condolences to the family who no doubt will be inundated with tributes, their father and grandfather touched so many lives.

Whilst his repertoire was substantial, it is for his devotion to the organ works of Bach that Peter is perhaps best remembered. The clear articulation, considered tempi and wonderful expression in his playing breathed fresh life into these mighty works for devotees and newcomers alike, and his packed recitals were ‘manna from heaven’ for concert promoters, not only in this country but across all four corners of the globe. Peter recorded the complete Bach organ works for both Decca and BBC Radio 3, creating whole new audiences for all the works in the various collections, not just the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor – a work suggested as spurious by Hurford’s great friend, the Bach scholar Professor Peter Williams (d.2016).

Not content with being a globe-trotting performer, Peter was also a visionary who wanted to raise the profile of the organ, its repertoire and provide a meaningful launch pad for future generations of organists. So in 1963 Peter founded the International Organ Festival in St Albans, where he was also Director of Music at the city’s Cathedral and following the installation of a new instrument he designed with another legend of the organ world Ralph Downes. After a huge amount of background work, planning the structure and raising funds, this festival and its central raison d’etre, the International Organ Competition, has since become a magnet for performers and audiences alike, has launched the careers of performers who have since become household names, Dame Gillian Weir and Thomas Trotter among them, and enhanced the well-being of the City of St Albans and its rich history. The IOF is recognised as one of the foremost organ competitions globally. To win ‘the St Albans’ is a stand out on any CV. Peter was President up until his death.

The LBS Connection

Peter Hurford’s connection and involvement with LBS began in 1991 when he gave one of his iconic Bach recitals on the Rieger organ in St. Marylebone Parish Church. He was an early advocate of introducing his recitals to the audience beforehand, connecting immediately with his fans even though he was eventually to be playing up in the organ loft. Later Peter gave a Bach lecture-recital on the Flentrop organ at the Dutch Church in London featuring the mighty Prelude and Fugue in E flat BWV 552 and in between festivals kept in touch with much good advice during the formative years. As his playing days were receding, I invited Peter to be an Honorary Patron, which he accepted with alacrity, attending our concerts, recitals and social occasions with Pat by his side, as she always was, a tried and trusted stop puller too!  When he was no longer able to attend in person, Pat represented him. Wonderful loyalty. By 2009, Peter’s health was taking its toll and he retired from playing altogether.

I last heard Peter’s playing in St Alban’s during a performance of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, presented in a series of recitals according to the church year, to which the audiences listened with rapt attention. The lasting impression was of a musician completely at one with the music - just Peter, Bach and the organ.

There will be many who will add their own voices in tribute in the coming days, with generations of organists who have followed in his footsteps putting their own stamp on organ music and projects today, taking the organ, organ playing  and its repertoire forward into the future.  That would give Dr Peter Hurford OBE much pleasure.

We remember Peter, his musicianship and fine example, with much gratitude.  RIP

Margaret Steinitz, LBS Artistic Director and Bachfest Founder

The 31st International Organ Festival is from 8-20 July in St Albans. One of the prizes to be won is the Peter Hurford Bach Prize.


Photo Credit: St. Albans International Organ Festival



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