George Dorrington Cunningham
(1878-1948)

CunninghamGD1.jpg
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- Kingsway Hall, London, 1927, 1933, 1937
- Central Hall, London, 1932-33
- St. Margaret's, London, 1927-29
- Birmingham Town Hall, 1945

George Dorrington Cunningham (October 2, 1878 – August 4, 1948) was an English organist.

Born in London to musical parents, Cunningham studied piano with his mother, subsequently switching to organ at the Guildhall School of Music. Upon graduation he studied with Josiah Booth at Park Chapel, Crouch End, North London. From there he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music, where he became an FRCO at age eighteen and organist of the Alexandra Palace at twenty-two, in 1901.

After 1900 Cunningham's fame as a recitalist steadily grew. However, during the armistice celebrations of 1918 the instrument at Alexandra Palace was wantonly wrecked, and was not restored and re-opened again until December 1929. From 1920 to 1924 he was organist of St Alban's Church, Holborn.

In 1924 Cunningham was appointed Birmingham City Organist and Birmingham University Organist. He was conductor of the City of Birmingham Choir for many years. He also played often at the Town Hall of the same city. In September 1930 he made recordings on the restored Alexandra Palace organ.

Cunningham's most important students were E. Power Biggs, George Thalben-Ball, who succeeded him at Birmingham in 1949, Fela Sowande, and Michael (Stockwin) Howard, Geraint Jones and Arnold Richardson.

Cunningham died in Birmingham, aged 69.

(Partly from Wikipedia)

Cunningham was professor of organ at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and through this position he was able to influence a whole generation of organists, and most of Cunningham's legacy lies in fact with his many illustrious students as mentioned in the Wikipedia biography above, where Edward Power Biggs and George Thalben-Ball rank among the top. Besides a quite comprehensive publication covering the majority of Cunningham's recordings - if not complete - by Martin Monkman on Amphion Recordings in the late 1990s, his recorded legacy is unfortunately very neglected. 


This is, as I’ve mentioned many times on this site, of course the case with many organists from the first half of the 20th Century, but in the case with Cunningham, alongside the German organist Alfred Sittard, it is in fact a conundrum why their supreme artistry is lost to time.


Thankfully through this presentation of some of Cunningham's recordings, I am able to shed some light on his art and perhaps contribute to giving his name the historical resonance worthy of his art.

A note on the recordings:

Cunningham was one of the first organists to record extensively after the introduction of the electrical recording process in the spring of 1925 made it possible to record the organ properly. The earliest recordings are from 1926 and during the next 10 years he made his most significant recordings, among them his recordings of Julius Reubkes sonata, W. A. Mozarts Fantasia in F minor and the first movement from Charles-Marie Widors 5th smphony. Among his later recordings are the two organ concertos by G. F. Händel from Birmingham, where he enjoyed much popularity and toward the end of his tenure was given the title of Doctor of Music by the University of Birmingham.

The recording venues were divided between Kingsway Hall, Central Hall and St. Margaret’s Church all in London. These places were widely used for recording English organ recordings in the period. Both Kingsway Hall and Central Hall were originally built for evangelical, methodist, purposes, but especially Kingsway Hall soon became known for its superior acoustics and HMV/EMI used Kingsway Hall extensively before the settled on Abbey Road Studios, their now most famous venue.