About this Recording
8.223537 - HILL: Symphonies Nos. 3, 'Australia' and 7

Alfred Hill (1870–1960)
Symphonies Nos. 3, ‘Australia’ and 7


The historical evaluation of the development of music in Australian society and the emergence of creative traditions in the fifth continent are two themes that impose ever increasing claims upon the resources of the nation’s music industries and scholarship. To meet these challenges, the need is now recognised to make these traditions better known through research and distribution of emergent literatures as well as through the recovery of music written by and for earlier generations of Australians, be it in printed form, photographic reproduction of manuscripts, and more particularly in the sonic documentation through sound recordings and on video. It is the ambition to assuage this need that has stimulated the recorder production of major and minor works by these Australian composers, whose lives, work and example generate an emergent historical presence and tradition.
The present series of recordings, representing important stations in the life and work of Alfred Hill is important on both national and international historical grounds. In the former instance, it represents the achievement of a musician who contributed to Australian and New Zealand musical life in the multiple capacities of composer, conductor, instrumentalist, pedagogue and polemicist. In the latter instance, it highlights a stream of musical creativity which, fostered in the conservatories of Europe during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, thereafter generated response through imitation to provocation on a widely dispersed and diversified intercontinental canvas well into the first half of the twentieth century. In actual chronological and cultural historical terms, the years of Alfred Hill’s activity in Australia and New Zealand coincided with the decades of a progressive post-colonial emancipation towards a more important national cultural identity.

Following upon his earliest musical tradition, education and musical experiences gained in Australia, Alfred Hill was admitted in 1887 to the Royal Conservatory at Leipzig, then under the directorship of the formidable Carl Reinecke, at that time also Gewandhauskapellmeister, who later engaged Hill for this orchestra. Hill’s mentors and teachers at the Royal Conservatory included such locally and nationally renowned figures as Gustav Ernst Schreck (late Kapellmeister at the Church of St Thomas), the violinist and conductor Hans Sitt (1850–1922), whose artistic example was to prove so seminal for Hill himself. Hill acquired a battery of orthodox techniques in composition at Leipzig, at a time, however, when the young Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Hans Pfitzner were already upsurgent forces in German music. Mahler was at that time the ambitious young Kapellmeister at the Leipzig opera-house under Arthur Nikisch.

From Leipzig, Hill returned to the Antipodes, becoming director of the Wellington Orchestral Society. Thereafter, until his appointment as professor of harmony and composition at the newly established New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music in 1916, Hill travelled to and fro across the Tasman Sea between Sydney and New Zealand as conductor of orchestras, choral societies, Liedertafeln and opera seasons under various commercial managements. At this stage, his main creative energies were directed towards the creation of operas, light operas, oratorios and cantatas with texts drawing upon conventional European themes and Afro-Orientalist exoticism, as well as Australian and New Zealand indigenous folklore and mythology.

If music-theatrical works predominate in the years before 1915, the next quarter century, 1915–1940, emphasised such genres as the concertos and the seventeen string quartets, while the symphonies, dating mainly after 1940, are revisions of selected earlier string quartets and other chamber works.

These unusual origins are well exemplified in the creative histories of the Symphony No. 3 in B minor “Australia” and the Symphony No. 7 in E minor.

Symphony No. 3 in B minor “Australia”

The origins of the “Australia” symphony are traceable for three of its movements to the String Quartet No. 14 in B minor, which Hill completed on 25th November 1937. The comparable movements are the first (total length in both works 372 measures), the second Adagio (quartet, 112 measures; symphony, 118 measures) and the Finale (quartet, 252 measures; symphony, 258 measures). The third movement Scherzo in the string quartet—a Minuet and Trio—was not taken over from this original context for use in the Australia symphony; instead Hill preferred to adapt sections of the sound-track he had composed for the film production Arnhem Land in association with the author-anthropologist C.P. Mountford. The novelty of this adaptation is also underscored in the highly contrasted idiomatic disparity between this movement and the remaining three movements of the symphony.

Another disparity to distinguish the Australia symphony (1951) from the String Quartet No. 14 was Hill’s decision to identify the symphony with a literary programme. This programme, set out as an inscription on the inside cover of the full score, and dated 12th February 1951, reads:

1. Introduction - The lonely, silent land (home tonality B minor-major)
Allegro (a) The workers
(b) The Thinkers
2. Australia, mysterious and beautiful (B minor-major)
3. The Aborigines (G major)
4. The Challenge (B minor-major)

There follows a more detailed programme inscription stating:

I. The heart of Australia is lonely and silent. On the fringe of the great island continent, men crowd like ants into the cities they have made. Some seek quieter places.
II. Australia with its vast plains, forest ranges, and subterranean caves is an eerie place and very beautiful. In the deep recesses of the Australia they once owned, a few aboriginal tribes still go walk-about. They have their food, sing their songs and dance their tribal rituals.
III. There is a challenge to Australians to build a world worthy of their race and country.
(The descriptive implicit optimism of this programme shares a common ethos with the text of the Second Symphony Joy of Life.)

The full score is preceded by verses from a poem by George Essex Evans:

Her song is silence, unto her Its mystery clings.
Silence is the interpreter
Of deeper things.

O for sonorous voice and strong To change that silence into song!
To give that melody release
Which sleeps in the deep heart of peace
With folded wings.

The first movement, moving from B minor to major, commences with a slow introduction, suggesting the opening line of the original programme. The following allegro movement is one of a sonata type, based upon a rhythmically energetic upsurgent melody, suggestive of the metropolitan tensions implicit in Hill’s appended programme, and is admirably contrasted by a change to a broader duple meter for the more relaxed and contemplative secondary subject material, the thinkers in search of quieter locations.

The following Adagio is a ruminatory lyric movement, again in triple time, introduced through successive phrases for French horn and clarinet. Its ternary form with a more animated middle section in the dominant (F sharp major) adheres to a pattern often favoured by Hill for movements of this type—that of the lyric piece or Charakterstück of the late nineteenth century.

In contrast to this is the softly languid, nostalgic miniaturisation in the scherzo in G major, with its main flanking sections in 5/4 time. This more asymmetric movement, assembled from a film sound-track score, enabled Hill to employ more ochred hues in orchestration and the shaping of musical periods than in other movements of the symphony. The concluding Finale derives its impetus from two succeeding ideas, the chorale-styled ascending theme for brass with which the movement commences and the subject based on triple-crotchet type rhythms which follows.

By comparison with the foregoing, Hill’s compositional methods return to the greater orthodoxy of the earlier movements. It is in this movement in particular that Hill is seen confronting both those rhetorical and purely musical problems that emerge in having to recast an originally absolute music for string quartet as orchestral programme music.

Symphony No. 7 in E minor

Although the autograph score offers no referential dates outlining the period of this work’s composition, important secondary evidence is provided in the account sent by Ernest Pass dated 12th March 1956 for the copying of the work. Again an antecedent work source can be discovered among Hill’s earlier string quartets, namely the Quartet No. 10 in E minor dated 22nd June 1935; as a result, this work has a chronologically earlier antecedent than the Australia Symphony. Whereas the third symphony drew upon two models, the E minor symphony (in common with the remaining works in this canon) is based exclusively upon one string quartet. While most of Hill’s quartets and symphonies highlight a recognition of the unity through the cyclic principle of thematically interrelated movements, it is in this symphony that Hill sought to pursue this process with greater concentration and rigour than was usual for him. The result is a work which, on purely formal thematic criteria, was perhaps his most interesting.

The sequence of movements with their tonalities remains orthodox—the sequence being I, E minor – major; II, Adagio A (– C sharp minor – E) – A; III Scherzo B major (Trio in E); IV, Finale E minor – major. The progression of home tonalities is thus conventional I – IV – V – I, one that conformed with the tonal orthodoxy of the Leipzig school of a Reinecke, Schreck or Sitt.

The first movement, after a slow introduction in which the basic elements of the motto encapsulated in the intonations for the brass instruments, is soon energised by an animated (allegro) maestoso subject which is in itself succeeded by more broadly paced and expressive themes, highlighting their derivation from the motto cells, rather than the assertively jagged triple time allegro maestoso theme. Thereafter the first movement, while incorporating some developmental and reprise elements of the sonata process, makes its point through the juxtaposition of ideas obtained from the motto, the energetic maestoso, and a more generously lyrical, flowing dolce theme, an idea that would have attracted the encomia of Hill’s “Leipzig” antecedents.

The second movement in the subdominant with a contrastingly more animated middle section, is inaugurated by motive-based material, with simple accompanimental figuration for two oboes before being taken over by solo horn. Several variants of this enter before appearing in the dominant and its relative minor, signifying the more thickly textured and animated middle section. Thereafter the opening section, somewhat abridged, returns until the movement ebbs away quickly through the strings.

Once again Hill has evolved a scherzo (3/4 in B major) providing an athletic contrast to what has gone before. Its theme is a lithe, upward-surging hemiolic idea, stretched across the bar lines, from which emerges a sustained movement in driving triple time to which the broader, descending melodic patterns of the Trio in E major furnish relief and contrast.

The Finale is in some respects Hill’s most adventurous essay in the solution of a perennial nineteenth century problem. In contrast to the commencement of the Finale to the Australia Symphony, where an arresting chorale-like ascending idea was employed, Hill reverts here to a reassertion of the motivic derived cells, before a fluent idea in quavers for violins against lightly textured pizzicato accompaniment, next heard in imitation by violas, is introduced. These materials generate their own activities, until by dénouement Hill attains a rhetorical coup de théâtre through the introduction of an apotheosis in which the principal ideas of the preceding movements are all successively reintroduced, and rejected, as if recalling such earlier precedents as in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Berwald’s Symphonie Singulière, and similar experiments among several minor composers whose works Hill may have recalled from the Gewandhaus repertory of that time. At the conclusion of this apotheosis, Hill provided a reprise and coda commencing on a tonic pedal-point and emphasising the aforementioned quaver figuration, to conclude the symphony.

The Lost Hunter

Alfred Hill’s orchestral production offered generous accommodation for the inclusion of numerous smaller essays, as a rule small scale miniature symphonic poems, or else short character or lyric pieces, usually requiring orchestras of modest resources and dimensions. The tone poem The Lost Hunter for orchestra dated “Sydney, 7th January 1945” is an example of the former of these two categories. This work, of a little less than fifteen minutes’ duration, is prefaced by the composer’s own literary programme:

“Enraptured by the beauty of the forest, a hunter strayed from his friends and lost his way. He heard horns in the distance, but could not find a way out of the tangled wood. As night was approaching, he sought a sheltered spot to await the dawn. Tired out with the day’s exertions, he fell asleep. In his dreams, the trees took on shapes and appeared menacing, so he blew a blast on this horn. Suddenly the scene changed to one of sunlight and shimmering trees. The animals and birds were friendly, and he joined in their garnbols. After a day of supreme happiness, it grew dark again, and his little friends left him to the gloom of the night. He blew on his horn, in case his friends were searching for him. But only the sounds of nature answered him. But hark! Far away in the distance he heard answering horn and before long there was a happy reunion”.

The work in C major is in several clearly defined sections with their subdivisions, representing the hunter, his horn, the mystery of the forest, and its fauna. Of these, the sonata-influenced, thematically related sequences represent the dream episode and the events leading to the reunion, thereby interrelating the spheres of dream and reality. A simple, evocative, wistful naturalism is achieved through Hill’s apt strokes of orchestration.

The Moon’s Golden Horn

The brief, evocative, lyric piece The Moon’s Golden Horn, dating from 1927, rests in the home tonality of E major, within which imaginative turns of modulation and instrumentation impart atmosphere and continuity, starting with the opening measures with very atmospheric figuration for flute supported by harp, and an imaginative entry for solo horn, testifying to Hill’s delight in poetic miniaturism.

© Andrew D. McCredie

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