Alfred Hill (composer)

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Alfred Francis Hill CMG OBE (16 December 1869 – 30 October 1960) was an Australian/New Zealand composer, conductor and teacher.


Alfred Hill was born in Melbourne in 1869. His year of birth is shown in many sources as 1870, but this has now been disproven.[1] He spent most of his early life in New Zealand. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory between 1887 and 1891 under Gustav Schreck, Hans Sitt and Oscar Paul. Later he played second violin with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, under the conductorship of names such as Brahms, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Bruch, and Reinecke. While there, some of his compositions were played with fellow students, and several were published in Germany. These included the Scotch Sonata for violin and piano.[2]

Hill returned to New Zealand, where was appointed director of the Wellington Orchestral Society.[2] He also worked as a violin teacher, recitalist, chamber musician, and choral conductor. He was active in the push for a New Zealand Conservatorium of Music, and for the foundation of an institute of Māori studies at Rotorua. During this period he completed his first string quartet, on Māori themes, which later would achieve some familiarity in the United States through regular programming by the Zoellner Quartet in the period surrounding World War I.[3]

In 1897 Hill returned to Australia, where he taught for a number of years. He married his first wife, Sarah Brownhill Booth, a New Zealander, on 6 October 1897 in Paddington, New South Wales.[4] They were to have three children, who were given the Wagnerian names Isolde, Tristan and Elsa.[4]

On 1 January 1901 he conducted a choir of 10,000 voices and ten massed brass bands as part of the celebrations of the Federation of Australia in Sydney.

After several years regularly travelling between Australia and New Zealand, Hill settled in Sydney in 1911, becoming the principal of the Austral Orchestral College, and viola player of the Austral String Quartet. In 1913 Hill founded the Australian Opera League with Fritz Hart, as part of an attempt to create an Australian operatic tradition. Hill was also a founder of the Sydney Repertory Theatre Society, and a foundation council member (later president) of the Musical Association of New South Wales.

In 1915–16 Hill co-founded the NSW State Conservatorium of Music and became its first Professor of Theory and Composition, and later deputy conductor to Henri Verbrugghen.

In 1921 he divorced his wife, and on 1 October married his former student Mirrie Solomon, also a composer.[4]

The Australian Broadcasting Commission was formed in 1932 and Hill was member of the ABC's Music Advisory Committee.[2]

He composed and conducted music for the Hugh McCrae play The Ship of Heaven, which was produced by the Independent Theatre in 1933.[5]

From 1937, Hill devoted himself full-time to composition. He wrote more than 500 compositions, including 12 symphonies (of which 11 are arrangements of previously written string quartets), eight operas (including The Weird Flute), numerous concertos, a mass, 17 string quartets and other chamber works, two cantatas on Māori subjects (Hinemoa and Tawhaki) and 11 other choral works, and 72 piano pieces.[2]

One of his string quartets, from 1945, was the very first Australian composed chamber work to be recorded.[6]

In 1947 he became president of the Composers' Society of Australia.

While much neglected nowadays, he is still very well known on both sides of the Tasman for a short song "Waiata Poi", which was recorded by many singers including Peter Dawson. His short piece for narrator and orchestra, Green Water, with words by John Wheeler, has been recorded at least twice.

Alfred Hill was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1953,[7] and a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1960.[8]

In 1959 his 90th birthday was celebrated by a special concert of his music played by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Henry Krips. Alfred Hill died at the age of 90 in 1960. He was survived by his second wife Mirrie Hill, and the three children of his first marriage. Isolde Hill became well known as a singer.[4]

Listen to Alfred Hill's The Moon's Golden Horn online at ABC Classic FM's classic/amp website.

Discography (partial)[edit]

  • String Quartets Nos. 5, 6 and 11 (Australian String Quartet) : Marco Polo 8.223746
  • String Quartets, Vol. 1 (Dominion String Quartet) – Nos. 1, 2, 3 : Naxos 8.570491
  • String Quartets, Vol. 2 (Dominion String Quartet) – Nos. 4, 6, 8 : Naxos 8.572097
  • String Quartets, Vol. 3 (Dominion String Quartet) – Nos. 5, 7, 9 : Naxos 8.572446
  • String Quartets, Vol. 4 (Dominion String Quartet) – Nos. 10 and 11, Life Quintet : Naxos 8.572844
  • String Quartets, Vol. 5 (Dominion String Quartet) – Nos. 12, 13, 14 : Naxos 8.573267
  • Symphony Nos 3 and 7, The Lost Hunter, The Moon's Golden Horn (Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Wilfred Lehmann) : Marco Polo 8.223537
  • Symphony Nos 4 and 6, The Sacred Mountain (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Wilfred Lehmann) : Marco Polo 8.220345
  • Symphony Nos 5 and 10, As Night Falls, Tribute to a Musician (Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Wilfred Lehmann) : Marco Polo 8.223538
  • Green Water (Peter Munro, narrator; Queensland Symphony Orchestra, John Farnsworth Hall) (1954; ABC recording)[9]


  1. ^ Music Australia
  2. ^ a b c d Liner notes to Alfred Hill – Symphonies 8 & 9, ABC recording
  3. ^ See, for example, “Zoellner Quartet Concert Will Be Given in Fraser Hall Thursday Evening,” Lawrence Journal-World, 3 April 1917, accessed April 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Australian Dictionary of Biography: Alfred Hill
  5. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 7 October 1933
  6. ^ Ian Crispin Creswell, "Share of secrets on music for films", The Canberra Times, Arts & Entertainment, 12 May 2000, p.12
  7. ^ It's an Honour: OBE
  8. ^ It's an Honour: CMG
  9. ^ ABC Classic FM Music Listing, 7 April 2012


  • McCredie, A. D. 1978. "Alfred Hill". In Australian Composition in the Twentieth Century, ed. Frank Callaway and David Tunley, 7–18. Melbourne and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-550522-0
  • Thomson, J. M. 2001. "Hill, Alfred." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.

External links[edit]