Richard Albert Hundley was born on September 1, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio to a father who was an itinerant laborer, and a mother who was a housewife. About one year after his birth his parents separated and then divorced, with the court awarding his mother custody. She remarried, but several years later was again divorced. They moved several times and Richard recalls a lonely childhood. "I played alone, which was most of the time, because my mother, having divorced my father, seemed always to be moving from one city to another. No sooner than I had made a new friendship, it was abruptly ended by our moving."|
Around the age of seven, Richard went to live permanently with his paternal grandmother, Anna Susan Campbell, in Covington Kentucky. At his grandmother's, Hundley had " backyard playmates and an upright piano." (Hundley, Juilliard master class; November 14, 1995) In the living room of his grandmothers house sat a huge upright, and he recalls being "immediately attracted to this wonderful instrument on which I could pick out the melodies I had been singing." (Hundley 1996). Hundley remembers that as a child he was always singing. "I sang on my way home from school, and sang when I played alone." (Hundley 1996). His grandmother, recognizing his love for music and believing that all children should have an avocation, enrolled him with the local piano teacher, Mrs. Wyman. Mrs. Wyman encouraged his love of music, but still he preferred improvising his own pieces to memorizing those of another composer. "Making up pieces seemed the most natural thing in the world, it was the title that caused me difficulty." (Hundley 1996).
Richard's grandmother gave tea party's for her lady friends, and he soon began performing his pieces for his grandmother's friends. At one of these gatherings, a woman who called herself a medium declared that Richard had been famous in another life, like Chopin. (Hundley, personal communication, November 14, 1995). Not knowing who Chopin was, Richard's grandmother called the Cincinnati Public Library for Chopin's identification and was informed that he was a famous composer and pianist. From that time on, Richard's grandmother referred to him as a pianist and a composer.
Around the age of ten, Richard was introduced to grand opera at a Cincinnati Summer Opera performance of Guiseppe Verdi's IL Trovatore, at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. He recalls that hearing operatic voices accompanied by a large orchestra was a revelation, and the emotion he experienced "remains as fresh in his memory as if he had just returned from the performance." (Hundley 1996). He was deeply moved by the ability of this vocal music to portray deep emotion and feeling. His imagination was kindled and the impact of this experience can be found in his music throughout his career. His focus on text and it's inherent emotions, as well as a love for the classical voice is rooted in this early episode.
By the time Richard was a young teenager, his grandmother recognized a need for a more disciplined approach to the piano and arranged for him to take piano lessons at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. At the Conservatory he was put in the charge of Illona Voorm, a Hungarian pedagogue and formerly an assistant to Bela Bartok who was a strong disciplinarian. Madame Voorm's training was so effective that within a few years, at the age of fourteen, Hundley performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor (K.466) with the Northern Kentucky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mr. Katz. At the age of sixteen he performed a movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A major (K.488) with the Cincinnati Symphony under the baton of Thor Johnson.
During his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Richard began notating his compositions. His fluid improvisatory gift made composing easy, however, notating these improvisations into formal pieces was so difficult that by his junior year of high school he had only written down two compositions. But in his junior year, within one months time, he composed and fully notated five songs. The reason for this sudden outpouring of creative energy was that he had fallen in love. Richard became attracted to a smart girl in his English class. To win her favor, he appealed to her fondness for popular music by adding to his piano repertory a piece with "an elaborate boogie-woogie bass and lots of glissandi for flashy display." (Hundley 1996). Soon after, the girl consented to a date. When he went to her apartment, he was introduced to her mother, Mary Rodgers Fossit. "She was an attractive and very feminine woman in her mid-thirties. She loved music and I was immediately attracted to her. Soon after, I lost all interest in the daughter and became infatuated with the mother." (Hundley 1996). Mary Rodgers Fossit was a poet and had a deep knowledge of literature and music. Richard asked her to write lyrics for him to set to music. She consented and they became collaborators. Several of the resulting songs were entered into a National Scholastic Magazine competition and Richard won a prize.
Hundley's early life was profoundly influenced by three women, (Madam Vroom, Mary Rodgers Fossit, and his grandmother) all of who recognized and nurtured his love and talent for music.
Hundley moved to New York City in 1950 in order to continue his studies at Manhattan School of Music. But after a year of study he was forced to withdraw due to financial hardship. Life was a daunting proposition. Unable to continue his formal musical studies and faced with the necessity of making a living he worked at various odd jobs. In the evenings Hundley immersed himself in the musical scene of New York City. He began studying composition with composer Israel Citkowitz - a student of Boulanger. Citkowitz helped Hundley with counterpoint but he was harshly critical of Hundley's compositions. Nonetheless, Hundley continued to compose. He wrote Softly the Summer (August 1957), Epitaph on a Wife (November 1957), and The Astronomers (September 1959). |
In 1960 he joined the Metropolitan Opera Chorus as a tenor. He sang in the chorus for four years and continued to compose during the three month summer hiatus. During this period he wrote Isaac Greentree, Elizabeth Pitty, Joeseph Jones, Spring, For Your Delight, I am not Lonely, Postcard from Spain, Some Sheep are Loving, When Johnie was Jimmie, and Screw Spring.
His employment at the Opera House reaped much more than a paycheck. During this time he ingratiated himself to many of the singers, and began showing them his music. Singers such as Annalese Rothenberger, Rosalind Elias, and Anne Moffo began to perform his works. It was Anne Moffo at the height of her world fame, who won wide critical attention for the young composer by including a group of his songs on her concert tours of major U.S. and European cities. In Philadelphia in 1963 where Miss Moffo first performed his songs, Max de Schauensee wrote in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, "the songs showed a gift for melody and writing for voice."
In 1962 Hundley was introduced to the composer Virgil Thomson. Although Hundley never engaged in formal lessons with Thomson their relationship would span the next 27 years and would prove highly stimulating and beneficial to the younger composer. "He never denied me access to his store of knowledge." (Hundley 1996). Asked to explain their affinity, Hundley replied "We liked each other's music."
Hundley left the Metropolitan Opera at the end of the 1963-64 season. "After four years I was finding it an unbearable hindrance to my creative development to sing six performances a week and rehearse almost every day. My ears were filled with dead men's music!" ( Hundley, personal communication, October 3, 1996). In the late 1960's Hundley was invited, and worked for two summers at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. In the summer of 1966 he studied with William Flanagan - a student of David Diamond. Flanagan was also music critic for The Herald Tribune, Stereo Review, and Musical America.
During the seventies and eighties Hundley continued to compose. his music was performed and reviewed with increasing frequency. In 1972 he was reviewed in High Fidelity:
|Style of Composition|
Hundley writes for the voice with a sensitivity that comes from an expertise developed over many years of singing and being around other singers. Though he writes gratefully for the voice, he says that his main concern is to write expressively. In a letter to the composer, American operatic soprano Anna Moffo wrote that his songs are "vocally rewarding" and she "found him to have a truly great gift of melody and a way with setting words to these melodies.." (Moffo, personal communication, March 11, 1982).|
Hundley's style is also influenced by his talent and fondness for improvising with his singing voice and on the piano. This inclination towards spontaneous creation was evident in his childhood. From his earliest memories, he was always singing and making up melodies. When he had a piano, he began to compose accompaniments for these melodies. The added dimensions is his love of poetry and his inclusion of the text into the process.
Hundley memorizes the text before setting it to music, then begins to combine it with a melodic shape that reflect his feelings about the text. The melodic shape and rhythm are worked until a balance between the emotional meaning and textual clarity is reached. In his songs he writes the vocal line first. Virgil Thgomson said that his songs could stand by their vocal lines alone.
Throughout his life, Hundley has had close relationships with many of America's great composers. In the 1950's and 1960's, in addition to his teachers Thomson, Citkowitz, and Flanigan, he was in contact with Noel Farrand, Stanley Hollingsworth, John Brodkin Kelly, Lee Hoiby, David del Tredici, and John Corigliano. He also met and socialized with Marc Blitzstien, Henry Cowell, Gian Carlo Menotti, Leonard Bernstien, Alec Wilder, and Samuel Barber.