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8.220345 - HILL: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6 / The Sacred Mountain
The Australian composer Alfred Francis Hill was born in Melbourne in 1870, a member of a musical family. His early experience of music was as a violinist in the kind of small orchestras employed at the time by travelling opera companies. In 1887 he went to Leipzig, where he was to spend a period of four years as a student of Gustav Schreck, taking lessons from the violinist Hans Sitt, and from the scholar Oscar Paul. The influence of Leipzig, where Hill played under Carl Reinecke in the Gewandhaus Orchestra, remained strong in his later career, as did the example of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Bruch and Hermann Götz. As a Gewandhaus Orchestra player, Hill also took part in concerts directed by Tchaikovsky and Brahms.
In 1892 Hill went to New Zealand, where he became conductor of the Wellington Choral Society, and was active as a soloist and teacher. At the same time he embarked on a series of compositions that made use of material of Maori origin, his interest in this music later being extended to include the music of Australian aboriginals and of New Guinea. Works of direct Maori inspiration include the first of his numbered symphonies, the Maori and the choral works Hinemoa, a Maori Legend and Tawhaki.
After four years in Wellington, Hill returned to Australia as a member of the ensemble directed by the Belgian violinist Ovide Musin, settling, when the ensemble was disbanded, in Sydney, where he directed concerts for the Professional Orchestral Concerts Association and the Sydney Liedertafel.
In 1902, Hill went back to New Zealand to direct his Maori opera Tapu, and to conduct the first professional orchestra of the colony at the International Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906 and 1907. The following year he was again in Sydney, where he was active on the staff of the Austral Orchestral College and with the Australian Opera League, for which he wrote the one-act opera Giovanni, the Sculptor, seen during the League's opening season in 1914.
In 1913 Hill had been a member of the advisory committee on the establishment of the New South Wales Conservatorium, and joined the staff as professor of harmony and composition in 1916, retaining his position until his resignation in 1934, after a disagreement with the new English principal, Edgar Bainton. He died in Sydney in 1960, having remained until the end of his life a leading influence in the musical life of Australia and New Zealand.
Hill's compositions include a number of dramatic works from the 1898 opera, Lady Dolly, up to The Ship of Heaven, first staged in Sydney in 1933. The next five years brought a concentration on chamber music, with 17 string quartets, and a number of sonatas and ensemble pieces. It was principally during the final twenty years of his life that Hill turned to larger forms of composition, re-arranging some of his chamber music for full orchestra.
Of Hill's thirteen symphonies, the majority are arrangements of earlier works, principally the string quartets that occupied him in the 1930s. The first symphony, written between 1896 and 1900, the Maori, was originally designed for orchestra, but it was not until 1941 that the second appeared, with the title Joy of Life, derived from a chamber piece, Life.
In 1951 Hill wrote his third numbered symphony, Australia, and this was followed in 1955 by the fourth, The Pursuit of Happiness, an apt title for a work of great lyrical interest. The tenth symphony appeared in 1958, the total of thirteen including three earlier, undated works.
In style Hill retained the late romantic manner and musical vocabulary of his early years in Leipzig, a tradition followed in the title and programmes of his orchestral music. By 1955, music of this kind could only appear an anachronism, but the date of composition should not prevent the enjoyment of music that demonstrates a sure command of the orchestral idiom of an earlier generation, as the symphony moves from an impressive opening through a lyrical, slow movement to an exciting finale with the right amount of contrapuntal activity.
Hill dedicated the C minor Symphony to the Austrian conductor Henry Krips, who occupied an important position in Australian musical life after emigrating from his native country in 1938. The score carries on the title-page a quotation from the philosopher Bertrand Russell, capped by an epigram by William Morris: "Whether your life is a happy or an unhappy one is likely to depend on your work as much as upon anyone factor. There are few greater sources of happiness than really creative work. In its highest flights this must always be the privilege of exceptionally gifted people, but in humbler form it could be very common", followed by, "Happiness without daily work is impossible."
The composer explained the first movement, The Search, in programmatic terms. The introductory Allegro represents the hazy country, the Kingdom of Happiness, shadowed by dreams: the first subject of the movement gropes in the dark for light that is always there, if unseen, with the second providing a glimpse of some impossible heaven: the coda suggests that the evening of life may bring joy. The second movement, The Heart of Man, presents the heart of man as an exquisitely tender thing, with a second subject standing for human aspirations towards the highest goal.
The Finale, The Solution, suggests in its first subject that the great source of happiness is work, useful, creative and constructive. The second subject adds that work brings joy, followed by a chorale that proposes the idea that even the humblest form of work will make us thankful for the gift of life.
Hill's short symphonic sketch The Sacred Mountain is again characteristic of his style, a rhapsodic evocation that serves to remind us of the composer's ability as a writer of film music, coupled with a sure handling of orchestral texture. Tongariro was the sacred mountain of Tuwharetoa, the great ancestor of the Taupo people. From Tongariro white mist floats into the crater of Pihanga, an allusion to the legend that Pihanga was Tongariro's wife, and that the clouds seen drifting from one to the other are visible tokens of his love for his mountain-spouse.
Hill adapted his Symphony No. 6 in B-flat from a string quartet of 1938, dedicating the symphony to Henry Krips, who conducted the first performance in Adelaide in 1956, the year of its completion. The first movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by an Allegretto, the principal theme of which declares its Irish origin. A second, more tranquil subject appears with a slow section that prepares the return of the thematic material that now takes the movement to a lively conclusion. An Irish song, Shule Agra (Walk, my darling), forms the basis of the second movement, with violin cadenzas provided by Hill's wife. It is followed by a scherzo in the form of an Irish jig. The finale, after a slow introduction, turns to lighter thoughts, into which a Celtic element is absorbed to produce a work that seems worthy of one of the great nationalist composers of the late nineteenth century, in an Irish frame of mind.
During his ten years residence in Japan as concert master of the Tokyo Philharmonic and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestras, Wilfred Lehmann was engaged to conduct on numerous occasions. Since his return to Australia in 1971, he has conducted the Oueensland Symphony Orchestra on numerous occasions, and returned to Japan in December 1972 for further conducting engagements. In 1973 he received most favourable reviews as guest conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and as a result has repeatedly directed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and ABC Orchestras, in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. In 1979-1980, he was Music Director for the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, in Tennessee, U.S.A. In 1981, Wilfred Lehmann was appointed the Director of the ABC Sinfonia.
Chief Conductors have included such eminent figures as Alceo Galliera, Juan Jose Castro, Walter Susskind, Kurt Woess, Georges Tzipine, Willem van Otterloo, Fritz Rieger and Hiroyuki Iwaki. Among the visiting conductors have been Klemperer, Barbirolli, Sargent, Stravinsky, Cluytens, Horenstein, Krips, Jorda, Schmidt-Isserstedt, Martinon, Kurt, Silvestri, Dorati, Markevitch, Kubelik, Ferencsik, Ehrling, Kletzki, Mackerras and Copland.
In addition to its public concert commitments which number approximately 117 each year, the MSO performs regularly on ABC Radio and Television, and continues to enjoy considerable success in concert appearances at house and abroad.
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