Tenor Paul Sperry on the music of Richard Hundley
Richard Hundley says his objective as a composer is “to crystallize emotion.” He succeeds amazingly well. Some of his pieces I find heartstoppingly beautiful: “The Astronomers,” “Come Ready and See Me,” “Waterbird.” He has mastered the art of agonizing over details until he produces something that sounds simple, even inevitable. I think he has taken the apparent simplicity of his teacher and friend Virgil Thomson and invested it with more urgent emotion. His melodies stay in the mind. In his harmonies and open spacings he sounds American in the sense that Copland 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!” for examples.
Hundley’s training differs from many other Americans – he never went abroad to study, and he credits his three years in the Metropolitan Opera chorus and his even longer stint as accompanist for Zinka Milanov’s lessons as formative to his gifts as a song writer. There is no question that he understands both the voice and piano perfectly. And singers love his songs. My only regret is that more of them aren’t published.
His songs, like Schubert’s, are easy to fuse into wonderful recital groups - he writes every kind of song: slow, fast, wet, dry, funny, moving, waltzes, fox-trots, major statements, little bonbons. His set of songs, “Octaves and Sweet Sounds,” is the only collection he has put together and suggested that they be performed as a group. They can also be excerpted but they work very well as an entity. Happily, Hundley is still producing marvelous pieces; as I write this I am about to premiere what we hope is the final version of a delightful setting of Vachel Lindsay’s “The Whales of California.” I say we hope it’s the final version because he likes to make adjustments until he’s sure he’s got it right. When he does get it right, it certainly is right - I’ve been singing “The Astronomers” for nearly thirty years and haven’t grown tired of it. As crystallized emotion, it is a gem.