Alfred Hill (1870- 1960)
String QuartetNo.5 in E flat major, "The Allies"
String QuartetNo.6 in G major, "The Kids"
String QuartetNo.11 in D minor
\His facilityand strength in handling the factors of composition are most admirable. A critical mind and a sincereadmiration for logic and symmetry save him from the excess of radicalism intowhich young composers are so prone to fall."
So read sentencesfrom an entry in Henry Krebhiel's Music in America (1901) on thecomposer George Chadwick (1854-1931), sentences which re-echo in the numerouscritical assessments that were accorded Alfred Hill and expressed in his ownlife-time. Thus, on 9th August, 1945, Sir Neville Cardusreviewed Alfred Hill's String Quartet No.11 in D minor in the followingterms:
'Thecomposition was new to me: and I have lived in this country for more than fiveyears at a stretch andhave heard much Australian music of little sensibility and less all. The quartetof Hill is beautiful in warm melody, with sympathetic writing for eachinstrument; it is cultured music of a full and refined personality."
Hitherto,biographical literature has tended to focus upon specific aspects of AlfredHill's career as composer, conductor, pedagogue and polemicist, rather thanexplore his case-history as exemplary of an interaction between differentcultural systems and traditions. For Hill's location in Australian and New Zealand musical life in the early twentieth century wasanalogous to that of those North American composers John Knowles Paine, ArthurFoote, George Chadwick, Horatio Parker and Daniel Gregory Mason. In common withHill, most of these received their final training in the Europeanconservatories, returning to Boston and New York and the North Eastern seaboardregions of the United States of America to become variously active, again likeHill, as conductors, composers, pedagogues and critics, playing a decisive r61ein the shaping of early musical curricula in the conservatories anduniversities. In common with Alfred Hill, their leadership as teachers involvedthe transplantation of the compositional models, norms and processes that hadbeen previously imparted to them in the mainly continental conservatories. Forthe development of musical life especially in Sydney, Melbourne, theSouth-Eastern seaboard regions of Australia and also of New Zealand, it wasthat era in which High Colonialism was broadened, liberalised and humanisedthrough the introduction of steam-ships through the Suez Canal to Europe, theintroduction of telegraphic communications and high urbanisation and thebroader range of contacts with Europe to the newly emergent traditions arisingfrom the recently established conservatories of music there.
Born in Melbourne in 1870, Alfred Hill's earliest musical experiencesand professional training were gained as an instrumentalist (cornettist andviolinist) in the various small orchestras and ensembles that serviced thenumerous itinerant theatrical troupes of the day that customarily toured Australia and New Zealand under numerouscommercial managements, especially during the prosperous decades of the 1870sand 1880s. Thereafter, he had four years of rigorous professional training(1887-1891) at the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig, and from September 1888 as asecond and later as a rank-and-file first violinist in the GewandhausOrchestra, whose Generalmusikdirektor Carl Reinecke was also Director of theRoyal Conservatory, and thus in a double sense one of Hill's mentors andmodels. Among his other mentors of these Leipzig years may be numbered the violinists Hermann, Bollard, Hans Sitt (thislast for chamber music, score-reading and ensemble composition), Gustav Schreck(a later renowned Cantor at St Thomas) and the historianaesthetician Oskar Paul. In 1891 Hill completed his studies at Leipzig with honours, receiving the Helbig Prize awarded forexceptional all-round achievement, as composer and instrumentalist. As theseearly documents testify, Hill had already attracted attention as a composer ofchamber music, his "Scotch" Sonata for Violin and Pianoforte beingnot on I y assigned the commendation, but actually attaining performance andpublication. This work also reflected Hill's responses to European andespecially Gaelic and Celtic musical folklore that were to recur at laterphases throughout his subsequent career as chamber-music composer, notably the GaelicSketches for String Quartet or in the Celtic String Quartet (laterreworked as the "Celtic" Symphony). This enthusiasm fordifferent musical folklores later to include those of the Polynesians, Maorisand Australian Aborigines, was a trait Hill also shared with several of hisNorth American-born, but European-trained, contemporaries such as Edward MacDowell(in his instance Amerindian music).
When, at the conclusionof his Leipzig sojourn, Hill returned to the Antipodes,it was initially to New Zealand that he travelled, tobe based in the capital at Wellington as conductor of the OrchestralSociety, the Choral Society, as solo instrumentalist and as pedagogue. Hisearliest compositions there included a cantata The New Jerusalem (1891),the Maori pageant cantatas Hinemoa (1895) and Tawhaki (1897) aswell as the "Maori" Symphony (c. 1901). The apparententhusiasm for Maori and Polynesian folklore in this early group of works wassubsequently maintained in such later operatic scores as Tapu (1903)and Teora (1928).
Anothercontributory factor to the production of the seventeen string quartetswas Hill's continued enthusiasm for this genre, both as a performer andpedagogue. Hill was, for instance, a member of the early Austral String Quartet(c. 1911), and a producer of works for the Verbrugghen and other laterstring quartets. Thereafter, Hill emerged as the first Australian composer toproduce an extended series of contributions to this genre.
The recentavailability on compact disc of German chamber music by Reinecke, Rheinberger,Max Bruch, Hermann Goetz and Robert Fuchs, as well as of the more importantcomposers of the period, has made possible a closer comparison of their stylesand textures with those of their new England epigones, and for that matter, ofAlfred Hill. Common features linking the works of these composers can beenumerated as follows:
I. First movements, as a rule in a sonata or modified sonata form, arepreceded by a slow introduction.
II. A minuet or other dance stylisation, or a ternary type ofintermezzo, was sometimes provided as a substitute or alternative to a scherzo.
III. Slow movements, often ternary (ABA)in structure and occasionally carrying programmatic or evocative titles, weresometimes of the Romanze type. Within such ternary structures the Bsections were as a rule more animated in pace and character.
IV. Finales often favour rondo or sonata forms or a synt