Obituary: Peter le Huray

Richard Luckett
Monday 12 October 1992 00:02

Peter le Huray, musicologist, born London 1930, married 1965 Bridget Payne (one son, one daughter), died Cambridge 7 October 1992.

PETER LE HURAY was a musician and scholar whose remarkable range and versatility was belied by his absolute unassumingness.

But his innate modesty did not preclude a fierce intransigence when music and musicianship were concerned. Le Huray did not think well of anyone who left a chapel service before the concluding voluntary had reached its end; and when it was customary for the fellows of his college to attend concerts en masse and gowned, occupying the front rows, he did not hesitate to stand up and publicly berate them for applauding a performance which they had correctly assumed to be inspired, but of which they had evidently failed to identify the stimulant.

Peter le Huray was born in south London in 1930, of a Guernsey family; and from 1948, when he was awarded an organ scholarship at St Catharine's, Cambridge, his life was intimately bound up with that of the college. He took a double first in the Music Tripos and was awarded the Barclay Squire prize for his Mus B. His Ph D on the English Anthem, 1580-1640, was supervised by the renowned performer and musicologist Thurston Dart, and after Dart's stormy departure from Cambridge in 1964 he quietly kept Dart's principles alive, but not his flamboyance. He was responsible, in the face of the faculty's indifference (and sometimes hostility), for inviting Gustav Leonhardt and the Kuijken brothers to give masterclasses, and for acquiring original instruments which made 'performance practice' more than a merely nominalistic enterprise. He published Music and the Reformation in England in 1967, a book which remains standard, and has its complement in his extensive editorial work on the standard repertoire of post-Henrican English church music, but was not an obvious preparative for his Musica Britannica volume of the anthems and motets of Matthew Locke, in itself a major work.

As if this was not enough, le Huray took St Catharine's from being a place of no musical repute, into the first rank of musical colleges, with a choir sought after in Europe and the US, a rebuilt organ and a flourishing annual crop of musicians.

Together with John Stevens he played a vital part in making the Cambridge University Press a major publisher of books on music. His own anthology, Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth Centuries (1981), compiled and annotated in conjunction with James Day, was a model for a now well-established series and a leap into a world beyond that with which le Huray was normally associated. The same might equally have been said of his recording of the complete Liszt organ works, a reminder that, as a young man, he had played at the Proms and that some had felt he had been wrong to abandon a career as a performer for the sake of scholarship.

His pupils would not have agreed, though a handful might have appreciated a firmer shove towards practice rather than theory. He was, at any level, an enormously attentive teacher. He established performance practice as a part of the Cambridge curriculum, and wrote its first textbooks. He was never a tutor, but he kept a gentle tutorial eye on everyone he had taught. At Christmas the le Hurays had an uncanny knack of discovering those musicians who were on their own in Cambridge.

Friendship was as much part of Peter le Huray's role as his loyalty to his college and, despite frequent offers from elsewhere, to Cambridge, as his devotion to scholarship and his, however understated, musicianly flair.

(Photograph omitted)

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