About this Recording
8.223746 - HILL: String Quartets Nos. 5, 6 and 11
English 

Alfred Hili (1870-1960)

Alfred Hill (1870 - 1960)

 

String Quartet No.5 in E flat major, "The Allies"

String Quartet No.6 in G major, "The Kids"

String Quartet No.11 in D minor

 

“His facility and strength in handling the factors of composition are most admirable. A critical mind and a sincere admiration for logic and symmetry save him from the excess of radicalism into which young composers are so prone to fall."

 

So read sentences from an entry in Henry Krebhiel's Music in America (1901) on the composer George Chadwick (1854-1931), sentences which re-echo in the numerous critical assessments that were accorded Alfred Hill and expressed in his own life-time. Thus, on 9th August, 1945, Sir Neville Cardus reviewed Alfred Hill's String Quartet No.11 in D minor in the following terms:

 

'The composition was new to me: and I have lived in this country for more than five years at a stretch and have heard much Australian music of little sensibility and less all. The quartet of Hill is beautiful in warm melody, with sympathetic writing for each instrument; it is cultured music of a full and refined personality."

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Hitherto, biographical literature has tended to focus upon specific aspects of Alfred Hill's career as composer, conductor, pedagogue and polemicist, rather than explore his case-history as exemplary of an interaction between different cultural systems and traditions. For Hill's location in Australian and New Zealand musical life in the early twentieth century was analogous to that of those North American composers John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, George Chadwick, Horatio Parker and Daniel Gregory Mason. In common with Hill, most of these received their final training in the European conservatories, returning to Boston and New York and the North Eastern seaboard regions of the United States of America to become variously active, again like Hill, as conductors, composers, pedagogues and critics, playing a decisive r61e in the shaping of early musical curricula in the conservatories and universities. In common with Alfred Hill, their leadership as teachers involved the transplantation of the compositional models, norms and processes that had been previously imparted to them in the mainly continental conservatories. For the development of musical life especially in Sydney, Melbourne, the South-Eastern seaboard regions of Australia and also of New Zealand, it was that era in which High Colonialism was broadened, liberalised and humanised through the introduction of steam-ships through the Suez Canal to Europe, the introduction of telegraphic communications and high urbanisation and the broader range of contacts with Europe to the newly emergent traditions arising from the recently established conservatories of music there.

 

Born in Melbourne in 1870, Alfred Hill's earliest musical experiences and professional training were gained as an instrumentalist (cornettist and violinist) in the various small orchestras and ensembles that serviced the numerous itinerant theatrical troupes of the day that customarily toured Australia and New Zealand under numerous commercial managements, especially during the prosperous decades of the 1870s and 1880s. Thereafter, he had four years of rigorous professional training (1887-1891) at the Royal Conservatory in Leipzig, and from September 1888 as a second and later as a rank-and-file first violinist in the Gewandhaus Orchestra, whose Generalmusikdirektor Carl Reinecke was also Director of the Royal Conservatory, and thus in a double sense one of Hill's mentors and models. Among his other mentors of these Leipzig years may be numbered the violinists Hermann, Bollard, Hans Sitt (this last for chamber music, score-reading and ensemble composition), Gustav Schreck (a later renowned Cantor at St Thomas) and the historian aesthetician Oskar Paul. In 1891 Hill completed his studies at Leipzig with honours, receiving the Helbig Prize awarded for exceptional all-round achievement, as composer and instrumentalist. As these early documents testify, Hill had already attracted attention as a composer of chamber music, his "Scotch" Sonata for Violin and Pianoforte being not on I y assigned the commendation, but actually attaining performance and publication. This work also reflected Hill's responses to European and especially Gaelic and Celtic musical folklore that were to recur at later phases throughout his subsequent career as chamber-music composer, notably the Gaelic Sketches for String Quartet or in the Celtic String Quartet (later reworked as the "Celtic" Symphony). This enthusiasm for different musical folklores later to include those of the Polynesians, Maoris and Australian Aborigines, was a trait Hill also shared with several of his North American-born, but European-trained, contemporaries such as Edward MacDowell (in his instance Amerindian music).

 

When, at the conclusion of his Leipzig sojourn, Hill returned to the Antipodes, it was initially to New Zealand that he travelled, to be based in the capital at Wellington as conductor of the Orchestral Society, the Choral Society, as solo instrumentalist and as pedagogue. His earliest compositions there included a cantata The New Jerusalem (1891), the Maori pageant cantatas Hinemoa (1895) and Tawhaki (1897) as well as the "Maori" Symphony (c. 1901). The apparent enthusiasm for Maori and Polynesian folklore in this early group of works was subsequently maintained in such later operatic scores as Tapu (1903) and Teora (1928).

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Another contributory factor to the production of the seventeen string quartets was Hill's continued enthusiasm for this genre, both as a performer and pedagogue. Hill was, for instance, a member of the early Austral String Quartet (c. 1911), and a producer of works for the Verbrugghen and other later string quartets. Thereafter, Hill emerged as the first Australian composer to produce an extended series of contributions to this genre.

 

The recent availability on compact disc of German chamber music by Reinecke, Rheinberger, Max Bruch, Hermann Goetz and Robert Fuchs, as well as of the more important composers of the period, has made possible a closer comparison of their styles and textures with those of their new England epigones, and for that matter, of Alfred Hill. Common features linking the works of these composers can be enumerated as follows:

 

I. First movements, as a rule in a sonata or modified sonata form, are preceded by a slow introduction.

II. A minuet or other dance stylisation, or a ternary type of intermezzo, 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, were sometimes of the Romanze type. Within such ternary structures the B sections were as a rule more animated in pace and character.

IV. Finales often favour rondo or sonata forms or a synthesis of these, and often offer retrospective glances at the past thematic substance of earlier movements.

V. The technique of thematic reminiscence or cross reference was a feature of some, but not all, of the string quartets and the symphonies adapted from them. The young Mendelssohn had, of course, resulting from a study of Beethoven's last quartets, explored these possibilities in his early quartets Opus 12 and 13.

 

The earliest of the recorded quartets on this compact disc is the Quartet No.5 in E flat, the manuscript is dated Mosman, 24th June. 1920 and subtitled 'The Allies". Details of the work's first production on 3rd March, 1921 are recorded in the Alfred Hill papers, complete with press reportage and criticism of that event. Originally dedicated in this form to Henri Verbrugghen, whose quartet first performed it, the work was subsequently revived as the Symphony No.11 in E flat, and renamed The Four Nations, whilst retaining the same general literary programme that applied to the original string quartet.

 

Hill's production of all but two of his string quartets appear to date from his Sydney years, over a quarter century from 1912 with the String Quartet No.3 in A minor "Carnival" (later reworked as the Carnival Symphony) to the Quartet No.17 in C, dated 18th March, 1938. Throughout those intervening years, Hill had been associated with the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music as its Professor of Harmony and Composition, and as an assistant conductor of the New South Wales and New South Wales Conservatorium Orchestras. Almost all of these quartets were written at his harbour-side residence on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour at Mosman. in whose large water-frontage music-room Hill customarily assembled ensembles or professional colleagues and gifted students for rehearsals and soirees, an ideal environment for the creation of such a work series.

 

The manuscript of the Quartet No.5 in E flat exists in a folio in which Hill has also included copies of a Minuet by Thomas Attwood and its redrafting by Mozart. The quartet has four movements:

I. Allegro risoluto (containing other differently paced subdivisions) in 2/2 E flat.

ll. Intermezzo: Allegretto in B flat in 2/4 and trio in E flat.

lII. Romanze 3/4 in G major (with an animated middle section).

IV .Finale, Allegro in E flat with an interpolated reminiscence of the opening of the first movement, immediately before its animated but abbreviated Coda.

 

The first movement introduces its principal theme in the first violin as an Allegro risoluto in 2/2 time. After thirteen bars, a new contrasting idea, also assigned to the first violin (Andantino), emphasizes the related regions C and G minor, en route towards a stronger assertion of the tonic key of E flat in the following Tranquillo section in 12/8 in which viola and first violin initiate a dialogue based upon a near variant of the principal theme. There follows an allegretto molto introduced in the dominant sphere of B flat. This idea, which serves as the movement's contrasting second subject material, is cast in common time, and characterised by a constant rhythmic shaped from a continuity of dactylic rhythmic motifs. Thereafter, the substance of the remainder of this movement is provided through the fluctuating alternation of these principal and secondary thematic groups, the compound 12/8 rhythms contrasting admirably with the four-square forward thrusts in common time.

 

The second movement is an Intermezzo and Trio in a three-part ABA form, rounded off by a short Coda. The opening Allegretto in G minor is also shaped in a similar tripartite ABA form with main interest assigned to the first violin in the spirit of a nineteenth century Quatuor brilliant. The contrasting Trio in E flat is mobilised by nimble andfleet-footed pizzicato figures in contrast to melodic materials shared, if unequally, between viola and cello, until concluded by octave and unison flourishes for the first and second violin, signalling a resumption of the previous Quatuor brilliant style, which also permeates the short eight-bar Coda.

 

The Romanze (Andantino) in G major, stressing a tertian relationship to the home tonality of the work, is also devised after a ternary design, with two flanking Andantino sections, enclosing a more animated middle Agitato inaugurated in E minor. The opening and closing Andantino sections embrace several main ideas: the first a four-bar assigned to the viola, then a contrasting four-bar section, in which the first violin seizes the opportunity for a thematic albeit varied backward glance at the opening idea of the first movement. Above a pedal-point of G, the violin then ushers in a new theme, subsequently taken over by viola, to which the first violin is assigned a lyrical counter-subject. The remaining twelve bars of this first Andantino section then revert to the materials of the two opening thematic sentences, but now in reverse order. In the following Agitato, thematic interest is initially divided between the cello and the first violin against repeated note harmonic underpinning in the middle voices. The appearance of a low pedal-point of C in the cello supplies the transition to the reprise of the opening Andantino, identified as before by the flourishes for solo viola. This reprise, however, envolves the elements of thematic extension and variation of its own second group of themes, now presented con sordino by violin supported by middle voice Alberti figuration above a tonic pedal- point in the cello. Thereafter the bipartite thematic group, with its reminiscence of the first movement, returns to be rounded off by a quiet coda.

 

The Finale is a sonata-styled structure with clearly defined profiled and contrasted primary and secondary materials, with the contrast between tonic and dominant spheres also emphasized in the contrasting textures of these two sections, with activated crotchet movement and figuration in the three upper voices energetically spun above the modulatory and sequential ostinato figures assigned to the cellist. For the second subject the first violin floats in sustained legato phrases, over the rustling bowed and fingered tremolando in the middle voices, again underpinned by the dominant pedal-point of the cello. The development section subsumes both primary and secondary materials, making generous provision for the development through fragmentation, a generous statement of the second theme by viola alone, a pedal-point of C, and some canonic writing for the two violins. There follows an orthodox reprise section, at the end of which is interpolated meno crochet = 60, a final reference to the first movement, before a short coda flourish rounds the movement, as well as the work itself, off.

 

If Alfred Hill's fifth quartet was conceived for an ensemble well attuned to the refinements of performance practice, his next work, the sixth, as implied in its dedicatory subtitle "The Kids" and for The young fry at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, suggests a work also with pedagogical aims and challenges. The inscribed date reads 3 September, 1927. The first movement, an Allegro crochet = 138, is of a well-proportioned symmetrical design with balanced exposition and reprise sections, but with abbreviated development of only nineteen bars' duration. The first 33 bars of the first subject are initially neatly packaged into four- or two-bar sentences, made the more accessible and memorable through the use of sequence and a focussing of melodic interest into the first violin part. The second subject appears at figure 3 (bar 35) with the marking a tempo, and is conveniently located above a dominant pedal-point in D in the cello. A noteworthy feature about this second subjectis its treatment as a duet, first between first and second violins, and then by second violin and viola, whereby the second violin's thematic material remains constant, while the viola is assigned the previous first violin material but an octave lower, the result being a combination of the principles of invertible counterpoint with those of parallel movement. The ideas prove fruitful, permitting as they do, the emergence of counter-subject material in which the viola has the main interest. After some exploration of the thematic possibilities of this, the movement section is rounded off by a bluff cadential unison statement ending in the dominant. After the short development section initiated in stretto fashion between the lower and upper strings, and once again stressing the role of descending sequence, the possibilities of the second subject are briefly reflected upon, any further exploration being terminated through resumption of the first subject and the extended reprise now to follow.

The second movement is a lively Scherzo in E flat, with a Trio in A flat. This scherzo is immediately generated by an energetic rhythmic theme based on a triple-metre repeated note pattern, offset by a briskly contrasted idea for cello. It comprises the first half of the Scherzo and reprise section of the movement. The second section of the Scherzo, initially based on a dialogue between first violin and viola, ultimately resolves into B flat. The contrasting Trio, also in two parts, is in A flat.

 

The following slow movement Adagio ma non troppo is shaped again in ternary form, with the two similar flanking parts enclosing a more animated middle section marked piil moto. The melodic character of the movement is determined by the eight- bar melody for cello with which proceedings commence. The more animated middle section is highlighted by similar textures to those encountered in the second subject of the first movement. The reprise at the tempo primo is an extended and more ornamental version of the exposition in that the first violin supplies an extended and more embellished counter-subject to the original cello theme.

 

The Finale, an Allegretto (crochet = 69), is a lightly tripping sonata movement based on a syncopated rhythmic pattern in 6/8, its character recalling the dance and divertimento styled movements that were so often favoured to conclude classical string quartets.

 

According to the chronology of Alfred Hill's string quartets the Quartet No.11 in D minor was written in 1935, immediately alter the String Quartet in E minor, subsequently re-adapted as the Symphony No.7 in E minor and already recorded in this series. In the period before and after the creation of this work Hill had relinquished his professorship in harmony and composition at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, following various policy conflicts between himself and the newly incumbent director Dr Edgar Bainton. The Quartet in D minor has come to enjoy a greater frequency in performances and recordings than other quartets in the series and was moreover jointly published (1946) through a collaboration between Chappell & Company pty Ltd. London and Allan & Company Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne. At the time of its publication, the work had become popularised through its many performances and recording by the Queensland State String Quartet. In the years that surrounded its early compositional process and early production, Hill had shown a greatly revived interest in New Zealand musical development, partly stimulated by the then forthcoming centenary celebrations of the founding of the original colony, an event commemorated by such artistic developments as the creation of the Centennial Orchestra, the forerunner of the New Zealand National, now New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Hill's interest in these developments has been documented in correspondence with the long-serving prime minister Peter Fraser. Among the desiderata outlined by Hill in his correspondence was the necessity to establish not only a national conservatorium, but also such an institute that would collect, preserve and document the considerable resources of Maori and Polynesian indigenous musics of the region. Hill's response to these resources, even if a somewhat Euro-centric one, is weIl represented throughout his work in such genres; from opera, oratorio, cantata, symphonic (the early "Maori" Symphony) and other orchestral programme music, for example The Sacred Mountain, to the smallest miniatures such as Waiata Poi, often available in alternative instrumentations.

 

The Quartet in D minor has three main movement sections as follows:

I. Andantino ?Allegro (crochet = 116) D minor - D major

II. Adagio in ?/span>

III. Allegretto in D minor- D major,

 

With the sonata-type finale also incorporating various sonic characteristics of the Scherzo.

 

As in other quartets by this composer, the introductory Andantino to the first movement included thematic points, for example the motivic ideas introduced by an upward leap of the tenth motto and the short sighing four-bar theme marked Lento. A point of comparative interest here might have been Hill's admiration of Grieg's Quartet in G minor. The Allegro proper is introduced by a downward thrust for viola and cello followed by a modulating pattern in parallel fifths and sixths for the two violins above a sheet anchor "bordun" pedal-point (viola) below which the cello proclaims (espressivo) its vigorous and accented initial theme, to which the viola (espressivo) soon replies with a Iyrical eight-bar sentence. Once again double bar, a fermata and a change of metre indicate the appearance of secondary materials, before retrospective references are made to the four-bar Lento theme and then the opening ideas of the introductory Andantino. The exposition is, as before, rounded off by a homorhythmic tutti and a double bar with a resolution in F major. The development commences piu lento, with some canonic imitation for first violin, cello and viola based upon the opening idea of the introductory Andantino, a passage of modulatory interest leading to a dominant seventh of the movement's home tonality, once again emphasized by a double-bar caesura. The resumption of the Allegro ushers in the reprise of this movement, with the second subject, and all subsequent events, settled into D major.

 

The Adagio that follows conforms to the usual ternary design, with a more animated middle section, already encountered in other slow movements by this composer. The flanking Adagio 3/4 section, of a subtle modulatory character, is ushered in by an embellished theme for viola, with an expressive counter-subject assigned to first and then second violin, before the former takes over the viola material. The middle Allegro con moto 3/4 negotiates a turn towards B minor, emphasized in the sul ponticello tremolando for viola and cello at figure 15. In its choice of texture and figuration this section is a distant re-echo of the style of the first movement. In the abbreviated reprise that follows, the original viola subject is now first assigned to the cello, thereafter completed by the viola. The movement ends on a 6/4 chord of the distant key of F sharp minor.

 

The Finale, which starts as an Allegretto in 6/8 in the home key of D minor, blends the various elements of the divertimento and scherzando spirit within the broad outlines of the sonata concept. A secondary feature of the principal subject group is the rhythmic idea on the figure 6/8  which imparts a fleeting scherzando character to this section of the exposition. This scherzando is moreover accentuated by the lively second violin motifs that follow at figure 17 and there is a descending pattern based on falling fourths in a sequential arrangement, that also shapes a stretto. The brief development section, demarcated at both ends through double bars, provides little more than an opportunity for the original principal, scherzando and second subjects to make each a brief entry, before a piu lento section, also marked quasi recitando, facilitates a succession of pedal-points culminating on an inversion of the dominant seventh of the home key. In the reprise section, the two main principal and scherzando ideas move events from D minor to the dominant of D major, at which point the second subject is re-introduced, and followed in its turn by a coda based on the scherzando rhythm. This plunges into a series of descending scale passages, the third of which is characterized by changes of pace and metre, as it subsides across quiet, remote horizons.

 

Two of the three foregoing quartets of Hill are characterized through the use of subtitles, suggesting melodic resources, stylistic points of departure or the pragmatism of performance practice. In this regard, Hill could look back on several streams of European romanticism, including the lightly programmatic quartets of Joachim Raff (1822-1882), with which he had been familiar already during his student days at Leipzig. Subsequent production of later quartets should facilitate a fuller panorama of all these contributory influences.

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