John Hunt Discographies (Cont)

John Hunt was born in Windsor and graduated from University College London in German Language and Literature. He has worked in personnel administration, record retailing and bibliographic research for a government agency, and is on the lecture panel of the National Federation of Recorded Music Societies.

In his capacity as Chairman of the Wilhelm Furtwängler Society UK, John Hunt has attended conventions in Rome, Paris, Zürich and Jena and has contributed to reference works about Furtwängler by John Ardoin and Joachim Matzner. He has also translated into English Jürgen Kesting's important monograph on Maria Callas.

John Hunt has published discographies of around 75 performing musicians, several of which have run into multiple editions.

Photo: Classical Music Magazine, UK
Photo: Classical Music magazine, UK

" I actually like reading old record catalogues…."

John Hunt talks to Robert Hartford about discography, detective work and Mr and Mrs Furtwängler

Some of the best-informed and wickedly scurrilous musical gossip comes across the counters of record shops. Years ago, I was amazed to find the fellow who sold me my LPs had not only been to last night's performance but had better-informed views about it than the morning's papers. After seeing him regularly at Wigmore Hall recitals, Goodall Ring performances and even the Bayreuth Festival, I discovered his name to be John Hunt. Since then I have seen his activities as an amateur musical journalist come to outweigh those of many a professional. He runs the Wilhelm Furtwängler Society (WFS) in the UK, publishes discographies and lectures to music groups and record clubs.

'I reckon it was seeing Callas in La Traviata in 1958 that really hooked me,' says Hunt, adding wryly, 'And when I was studying in Würzburg I rang the Bayreuth box office and bought a ticket for Die Meistersinger just a week or two before the performance. Then a group of us went to Salzburg and heard Mitropoulos, Böhm and Karajan conduct operas with legendary casts on four successive evenings. Can anybody do that now?'

To his regret, John did not hear Furtwängler (the conductor died in 1954). 'I had his records of Schubert's Ninth and Beethoven's Choral and thought they were something special. I became involved with the WFS shortly after it was founded - it is now the oldest such society anywhere - and have been chairman since 1977. We have more than 300 members now, but had even more before France, Japan and the US set up their own societies along similar lines to ours.' The aims of the WFS are to promote Furtwängler's art, to keep its members informed of developments by means of a newsletter, edited by Hunt, largely in the field of recordings and publications which appear with surprising regularity.

There is detective work, too. Because the avid, worldwide interest in Furtwängler is not satisfied by his commercial records, a supplementary stream of releases has appeared, taken from broadcasts. Many are valuable and some, such as the EMI Ring, put out at the behest of the WFS. 'But a lot are spurious,' claims Hunt,'either somebody else conducting or a known Furtwängler recording doctored with audience noise and applause to make it sound genuine. We used to find some really crude efforts and set about sorting the fakes out from the good ones.' Hunt and his associates checked the alleged dates of performances against true ones and, using their knowledge of the style and repertoire, exposed several recordings as not what they are claimed to be: Dvorak's New World and Haydn's London symphonies being withdrawn.

Hunt's work has brought him the friendship of Frau Elisabeth Furtwängler, the conductor's widow, and he visits her home in Switzerland. 'She is a very active 80-year-old,' he says. 'She has her family and grandchildren and still finds time to take an interest in all we do. When she went to Japan, where there is great enthusiasm for Furtwängler, even though he never conducted there, she found herself mobbed "like one of the Beatles".' With some diffidence, Hunt admits, 'She did tell me I had done more for Furtwängler's reputation than any of the record companies.'

A natural development of his detective work was Hunt's discography, The Furtwängler Sound; publishers being shy of a list of record numbers, he decided to publish it himself. It was a success, went into second and third editions (a fourth is in preparation) and grew into substantial proportions; neatly laid out, printed on good paper and solidly bound in laminated covers, the books are truly expert jobs. Now illustrated with playbills, autographs and concert programmes they also include a list of all Furtwängler's performances from 1906 to 1954. Astonishingly, these take in Wimbledon and Watford.

'I must be a bit of a freak,' Hunt confesses. 'I actually like reading old record catalogues!' The success of the Furtwängler discographies took Hunt onto another conductor whose career he has followed: Herbert von Karajan. By chance, he discovered somebody had done work similar to his on the Philharmonic Orchestra so, noting the connection, John published the two as a 530-page blockbuster in 1987. This year Hunt extended his cover to a volume devoted to Italian maestros (Toscanini, Cantelli, Giulini) and sopranos with Viennese associations (Schwarzkopf, Grümmer, Güden, etc), in the same attractive format. He is now planning similar treatment of the likes of Sabata, Serafin and Knappertsbusch, coupled with singers such as Rysanek, Dermota and Kunz, etc.

Not content with these labours of love Hunt also travels to give his talks up and down the country and across the sea to Ireland. His is a story of dedication to music and musicians for, in his seemingly narrow territory of discography, a purposeful pattern of research is being carried out and a history written.

(Extracts from an article from Classical Music magazine, April 1992)