Today: McKeldin CLOSED

Bruce Hungerford

The Australian pianist Bruce Hungerford was born in Korumburra, Victoria, November 24, 1922. He received his initial education in Melbourne, and later studied piano with Ignaz Friedman in Sydney in 1944. During the same year, Hungerford insisted on playing for conductor Eugene Ormandy, while Ormandy was on a tour in Melbourne. Ormandy eventually arranged for Hungerford to go to America in 1945 and study with Ernest Hutcheson at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. 

Photograph, Bruce Hungerford, pianistAfter two years Hungerford felt that he needed to move on and again sought Ormandy's advice. He suggested going to see Olga Samaroff, who offered to take Hungerford on as a student in Philadelphia. In October of 1947, Hungerford moved to Philadelphia and began working with Samaroff, but continued to look for a mentor. Hungerford was deeply disappointed with his lessons with Samaroff and approached Dame Myra Hess early in 1948 for advice. He received coaching and lessons from Hess during each of her visits to the United States and maintained a close personal relationship with her until her death in 1965.

It was Hess who suggested that Hungerford study with Carl Friedberg, and she recommended Hungerford as a student. This began a long and fruitful relationship that lasted until Friedberg's death. Hungerford studied intermittently with Friedberg for about eighteen months and was then selected in the Fall of 1950 as the recipient of the first annual Carl Friedberg Alumni Association Scholarship, providing him with tuition for 25 lessons with Friedberg. At the first scholarship lesson Friedberg "talked for quite a while first and said that he had given me this scholarship as he is convinced I have the goods. I am no longer a student but a master, and I am to converse with him now with that understanding."

In 1947 Olga Samaroff suggested that Hungerford either try to establish himself in Europe as a concert pianist or move back to Australia and become a piano teacher. Although Hungerford continued to perform in the United States for the next ten years, he felt that he needed to conquer Europe in order to launch a major career, so he moved to Germany in 1958 and began concertizing all over the continent. In 1958 Hungerford changed his name from Leonard to Bruce and described this decision in an unpublished, undated three page manuscript, apparently the beginning of a memoir which was never finished: "When it came to naming me my parents were torn between 'Bruce' and 'Leonard.' I think they really wanted Bruce, but I was such a puny specimen that they hardly felt I fitted the name of the Warrior King of Scotland. Then a day or two before I was to be christened, my grandfather journeyed down to see me. He was a Scotsman to the backbone and after taking one look at me said sadly, "This is no 'Bruce', and so the die was cast, at any rate for my first 35 years." Thus Hungerford was christened 'Leonard', and he used that first name until 1958 when, on the eve of his first concert tour of Europe, he formally changed it to "Bruce" for reasons both personal and professional.

In 1967 Maynard and Seymour Solomon, the founders and directors of the Vanguard Recording Society, signed Hungerford to record all of the piano works of Beethoven. Hungerford moved from Germany to the United States, maintained a reduced concert schedule and joined the faculty of the Mannes College of Music. Building on a childhood interest in nature and natural history, Hungerford studied vertebrate paleontology at Columbia University and at the Museum of Natural History in New York in the 1950s and achieved a level of expertise sufficient to gain him admission into some of the inner circles of working paleontologists. One of his favorite pastimes was digging for dinosaur footprints in the Connecticut River valley. The results of his labors were displayed in his home,. which was dubbed "Dinosaur Haven" by his friends. Hungerford combined interests in archaeology and ancient Egypt with his highly refined skills as a photographer to forge a career, pursued simultaneously with his career in music, as an Egyptologist. Hungerford made six research trips to Egypt during his lifetime, the first in 1961 as still photographer on the NBC River Nile Expedition and the others under the auspices of the American Research Center in Egypt and the American University in Cairo. He lectured frequently on Egypt, sometimes combining lecture tours with his concert tours. In 1971 he wrote and recorded "The Heritage of Ancient Egypt," a 17-part audio-visual series illustrated with 1200 of his own color transparencies, which was sold to museums and universities across the Unites States. Hungerford was killed in an automobile accident January 26, 1977 in New York City at the age of 54. He left a legacy of nine all-Beethoven records and one record each of works by Brahms, Chopin, and Schubert on the Vanguard label.


Listen: Litanei (Schubert)