About this Recording
8.572844 - HILL, Alfred: String Quartets, Vol. 4 (Dominion String Quartet) - Nos. 10 and 11 / Life Quintet

Alfred Hill (1869–1960)
String Quartets Vol. 4


While Australian by birth, Alfred Hill lived in New Zealand from the age of two until seventeen, principally in Wellington, after which he began studies at the Leipzig Conservatorium, where he encountered Brahms, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Strauss and many other luminaries of the era. After completing his studies in violin and piano in 1891 and receiving the prestigious Helbig award for composition, he lived principally in Wellington for almost twenty years with some shorter residencies in Australia. In 1910 he moved to Sydney where he lived for the rest of his life. He was the only significant composer of Australia and New Zealand representing the Late Romantic era. While the influences of his immediate predecessors are clearly obvious in his early works, his style evolved with some absorption of later styles, though he rejected breaking from the long established traditions of Europe. His prolific output included ten operas (some on Maori themes), thirteen symphonies, seventeen string quartets, many choral works, concertos, chamber music, sonatas, songs and short works for a variety of instruments. Researcher and publisher, Allan Stiles, has noted that there are over 2,000 titles attributable to Alfred Hill and of those, many have never been published and relatively few commercially recorded. His use of Maori music and references to Maori culture were enduring and he later developed an interest in the music of the Australian aborigines. Amongst his earliest compositions were a cantata The New Jerusalem (1891), the Maori cantatas Hinemoa (1895) and Tawhaki (1897) as well as the Maori Symphony No. 1. The interest in Maori culture continued in later operatic scores Tapu (1903) and Teora (1928). He is respectfully remembered by Maori as Arapeta Hira.

Soon after arriving in Sydney in 1910 Hill became a member of the Austral String Quartet and later wrote string quartets for Henri Verbrugghen’s quartet and others. In 1916 the New South Wales Conservatorium (now the Sydney Conservatorium) was established and Hill was appointed as its first Professor of Composition. Quartets Nos. 1–3, spanning the period 1881–1913, reflect his early “New Zealand” style, with strong influence of Dvořák and Tchaikovsky. Quartets Nos. 4–9 span 1916–1935, his tenure at the Conservatorium, and accordingly offer excellent examples of how much his style evolved during this middle period of his output. The influence of impressionism in Quartets Nos. 7–9 paved the way for more freedom in his own style following his retirement from the Conservatorium in Sydney. While his orchestrations of earlier quartets into symphonies may seem to imply a return to the nineteenth-century idiom, the later quartets demonstrate that in fact his style continued to evolve, and that the symphonies were simply orchestrations of quartets composed much earlier. On 27 December 1934, following a disagreement with the Conservatorium, Hill tendered his resignation, a year before he was due to retire, and founded the Alfred Hill Academy of Music. While this rebellious venture only lasted until 1937, it attracted excellent teachers and students.

One of Hill’s dreams, even long after he had taken up permanent residence in Australia, was to establish in New Zealand a full-time national orchestra and a national school of music, to teach western art music and also to preserve the traditions of Maori music and culture. To these ends he corresponded initially with Joseph Savage, Prime Minister from 1935–1940, and later with Peter Fraser, Prime Minister from 1940–49. In 1936 Hill wrote to Joseph Savage appealing for a National Conservatorium to be established and received a reply saying: “I have carefully noted all that you say in this connection and shall be pleased to place your suggestion before the Government for consideration.” The proposal did receive serious consideration even with Hill as its potential director, and during a visit to Auckland in 1938 he gave an interview on the possibility. World War II intervened, however, and the project was abandoned. One can only ponder how differently musical history might have otherwise unfolded. New Zealand did, however, gain a National Orchestra in the years following the end of the war and while Alfred Hill may not have been directly involved, there is no question that his lobbying for this outcome, since the Christchurch Exhibition of 1906/07, played a significant rôle in preparing the way for this eventuality. Of note is an extract from the reply in June 1946 from Peter Fraser, to Hill’s offer to support the venture “An expression of opinion from one of your musical standing and experience is most valuable and you may be assured that your views will carry much weight.”

String Quartet No. 10 in E major (1935) looks back to the earlier pre-impressionist style of Hill. The appearance of a melody with a strong resemblance to I Got Rhythm (1930) brings a hint of Gershwin influence to the work, though in Hill’s hands it is developed convincingly in a classical idiom. The rising four-note motive that opens the work appears in all four movements, often disguised by diminution, augmentation and inversion of intervals and with rhythmic variation, giving an underpinning yet subtle unity at a level not seen in his previous quartets. The last movement is remarkable in its recalling of the three earlier movements in rapid succession in just 32 bars, before leading into the triumphant ending section in E major. The arrangement of this quartet into a symphony in the 1950s is a fine example of Hill’s skills as an orchestrator, with the poignantly beautiful Adagio featuring the double reeds, and in the outer movements the full use of the lower strings and the brass brings a remarkable grandeur to the work.

Hill considered String Quartet No. 11 in D minor (1935) to be his favourite quartet and before it was jointly published in 1946 by Chappell & Company, London and Allan & Company, Melbourne, it had already become popular through the numerous performances by the Queensland State String Quartet. The influence of impressionism noted in earlier quartets reaches its maturity in this work and his craftsmanship in the string quartet genre reaches a new level of refinement. The first movement Andantino introduces the interval of a tenth with each instrument entering in turn, and this motive becomes a feature in the fugal section later in the Allegro section of the movement. The Adagio features the viola in the opening bars in a highly ornate melody which soon passes to the first violin. After a more animated middle section the cello recalls the opening melody, passing it back to the viola before closing the movement in the remote key of F sharp minor. The Finale, in 6/8 metre, features a melody with a folk-like character that has some similarities to a much earlier Maori-inspired song, Tarakihi (the cicada), based on an ancient chant, with allusions to a haka rhythm.

For his ‘Life’ Quintet for Piano and Strings, with Eight Voices in the Finale (1912) Hill provided the following programme:

Grave, Allegro: At the Back of Life is Mystery – Life is Vigorous.
Marche funèbre: Life has its Sorrow, but even in the Grave there is Hope.
Scherzo: Life has its Playground.
Finale: Gloria in Excelsis Deo – A Paean for the Joy of Life.

While ‘Life’ was written in Sydney in 1912, the concluding chorale had already appeared in the Finale of the Exhibition Ode, performed at the opening of the Christchurch Exhibition in 1906. A fully orchestrated finale of the quintet (with different words) became the cantata From the Southern Seas, performed in Sydney for an Empire Day broadcast on 27 May 1933. Ultimately the entire work was reworked to become his Symphony in E flat, also known as the Joy of Life Symphony.

Donald Maurice
Notes on the ‘Life’ Quintet drawn from Stiles Music Publisher’s score

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