George William Louis Marshall-Hall (28 March 1862 – 18 July 1915) was an English-born musician, composer, conductor, poet and controversialist who lived and worked in Australia from 1891 till his death in 1915. According to his birth certificate, his surname was 'Hall' and 'Marshall' was his fourth given name, which commemorated his physiologist grandfather, Marshall Hall (1790–1857). George's father, a barrister – who, however, never practiced that profession – appears to have been the first to hyphenate the name and his sons followed suit.
Marshall-Hall's father owned a 65-ton iron ocean-going yacht which, he said, was kept "in great measure to give my family fresh air, the opportunity of seeing foreign ports, of leading a healthy life such as cannot be led on shore". He was, he declared, a "family yachtsman who likes to see his youngsters' skin-tanned". As a child George probably participated in family trips on this vessel when it explored Norwegian fjords and grappled for broken telegraph cable in the Atlantic Ocean.
He began his schooling in Brighton. But then his family moved to Blackheath in London's southeast where in 1873 he enrolled in the Blackheath Proprietary School and at much the same time began taking private music lessons. His interest in music, according to his brother, had first been aroused by his paternal grandmother and his great-uncle. The latter, it seems, was himself an organist and composer. In 1878 the family moved again, this time to Montreux on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where George formed a choral society which met to practise in the family dining room.
By 1880, having become proficient in both French and German, he was back in England teaching languages and music, first at the Oxford Military College, Cowley, and afterwards at Newton College, South Devon. Then, late in 1886, bent now on devoting himself to a career in music, he returned briefly to Switzerland to take up a position as organist in Lausanne before becoming musical director of Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire. In 1888 he was appointed orchestral and choral conductor as well as composition- and singing-teacher at the London Organ School and Instrumental College of Music. At the same time articles written by him on musical subjects began appearing in English newspapers and magazines.
He was later to claim that his father disapproved of his choice of career, declaring that 'he wouldn't want any damn fiddler in his family' and, when thwarted in this regard, cutting his son off without a shilling. So George apparently received no paternal assistance when, unable to get enough work in his chosen profession on occasions in the 1880s, he was compelled, he recalled, to sleep in the snow in Trafalgar Square and to button his jacket up to the neck when in polite society in order to conceal his lack of a shirt collar and waistcoat.
His fortunes took a turn for the better in 1890 when he was appointed as foundation Ormond Professor of Music to head the newly created music department at the University of Melbourne. He had few formal qualifications for the position. In 1883 he had enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London but left after only a single term, having according to a friend become 'impatient with the college's slow ways and slower Professors'. This was the sum total of his tertiary education in music. His only other relevant achievement apart from his freelance musical journalism had been a February 1888 performance by the London Symphony Orchestra of an excerpt from his opera Harold. The appointment of Australian university professors at that time was usually based on recommendations from expert committees set up for the purpose in London. The deficiency of Marshall-Hall's formal qualifications for the Melbourne chair is reflected in the fact that, although he was one of 48 applicants when the post was first advertised in March 1888, the London committee declined to make a recommendation. One member, the Professor of Music at Oxford, Frederick Ouseley, conceded that there were 'some eminently respectable men, and good musicians in the ordinary sense of the words' among the applicants, adding however that there were 'certainly not five – hardly one – of whom I could honestly speak as first-class [...]. The best men have not become candidates'. Certainly two other committee members, principal of the Royal Academy of Music Sir Alexander Mackenzie and concert pianist Sir Charles Hallé, while echoing Ouseley's view, agreed that Marshall-Hall was the only candidate who was 'near to the mark'. But when later that year the job was re-advertised, Marshall-Hall was still not considered the most suitable applicant by the committee, which selected four names, including his, to send to the Council of the University of Melbourne, but declined to rank them. The impasse was broken in 1890 when the Council obtained private advice from Hallé (then on a concert tour of Australia) and (indirectly) from Mackenzie and the Director of the Royal College of Music, Sir George Grove, all of whom recommended the appointment of Marshall-Hall.
Musical contributions in Australia
A flamboyant extrovert of immense vitality and exuberance, Marshall-Hall prized 'constant activity [...] constant striving' that absorbs one's 'whole energy', arousing 'a condition of [...] superabundant life' and enabling one to partake 'to the utmost of the joy of living'. And this outlook was reflected in the way he lived his life. Contemporaries remarked on his loud laughter and his habit of humming operatic airs as he strode around town, of tapping his baton importunately on the podium and glaring at restive concert audiences to achieve silence when conducting, and of writing explosive comments – such as 'O superfine Assiduity' and 'monstrous ignorance' – in the margins of books he read, by way of showing his contempt for the writer.
This same insatiable energy governed his musical activities in Melbourne, where he arrived to take up his new position at the beginning of 1891. During the following quarter of a century he was to exercise a wide-ranging and deep influence on music education, appreciation and performance in his new home. He soon showed that he would not be satisfied with simply presiding over the university's new music department with its degree and diploma courses. The former was focused on composition, the latter on performance, but there was little sustained demand for either. In the whole of the first decade of the chair's existence only three students obtained a degree in music and twenty-three acquired a diploma. Moreover, Marshall-Hall complained that he had no control over the practical work of diploma students, as apart from himself the university employed no music staff, which meant that students had to take private lessons from teachers of their choice in the external community. To overcome this problem and increase enrolments Marshall-Hall called for the establishment of a university conservatorium, and on 19 July 1894, legislation was passed to create the first conservatorium in the British Empire within a university. With the professor as ex-officio director it opened for business in 1895, renting premises initially in the unfinished Queen's Coffee Palace on the corner of Rathdowne and Victoria streets, Carlton, but moving soon afterwards to the ground-floor of the Victorian Artists' Society building in East Melbourne. From the beginning enrollments boomed.
In the meantime, George Marshall-Hall was also making his mark on the broader musical community outside the university. He established a largely professional orchestra which, after an initial public performance toward the end of 1891, began in the following year to give an annual series of concerts, mostly on Saturday afternoons under the professor's conductorship in the Melbourne Town Hall. When the last one had been performed in 1911, a total of 111 such concerts had been given – an average of more than five a year. In addition, from 1897 to 1902 he acted as honorary conductor of the Melbourne Liedertafel, a male choir. And all the time he continued to compose music, including a concert overture in G minor, an Idyll, a symphony in E flat, incidental music for a performance of Euripides' Alcestis, a string quartet in D minor, a dramatic ballad based on Keats' 'La Belle Dame sans Merci', a study on Tennyson's 'Maud', a Capriccio for violin and orchestra, a choral ode, a music drama called Aristodemus and two operas. Most of these works were performed in Melbourne under his direction.
He also found time to publish numerous newspaper articles, four books of verse and a play called Bianca Capello, as well as delivering many passionate and provocative speeches in the concert-hall and elsewhere which were widely reported in the press.
Among other things, he preached a whole-hearted, sensuous enjoyment of living, extolling 'the mighty immutable goddess of laughter and love' and 'the splendour and vigour of [...] immanent, multiplied, voluptuous vitality'. He encouraged his fellows 'to taste life to the full' by throwing themselves with 'extreme exuberance' into its 'manifold sensations', allowing its joys to 'pulse in the passionate blood and burst through the brain' until 'body and mind quiver and bound as though interpenetrated by an instantaneous current of electric fluid'. This won him friends and admirers in Melbourne's bohemian community, including such well-known artists as Arthur Streeton (with whom he shared digs for a time in St Kilda), Tom Roberts and Lionel and Norman Lindsay, who reacted favourably to his convivial exhortations to come 'Be merry while we may' in the enjoyment of 'the glorious ardours of the genial bowl'. No doubt they also welcomed his pronouncements on the superiority of artists over ordinary mortals.
But his abrasive personality gained him enemies, too. Former Victorian Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Robinson's 1890 warning to Melbourne University council that Marshall-Hall exhibited 'a certain outspoken roughness in his manner' was something of an understatement. On taking up his new post in the following year, he was clearly intent on rousing his fellow citizens out of what he saw as their smug philistinism. He denounced local musical performances as 'execrable' and deplored the vacuousness of Melbourne's concert-goers who, he declared, had 'no taste ... and are profoundly ignorant of what music is'. He proclaimed the city's music teachers to be 'frightfully bad' and when private school principals grumbled about the high failure-rate in the matriculation music examination for which he was responsible, he retorted that it was fortunate that 'our schools are the last places in the world to which our youth turn for light and understanding, otherwise they would grow up mentally akin to those monstrosities which I remember with dim horror upon the tables of boarding-houses and which go by the name of resurrection pies'. And he complained rancorously about the 'frivolous incapable buffooneries', 'vicious emanations' and 'sterile, unproductive mediocrity' of local music critics. People who disagreed with his literary judgements were also in danger of feeling his sharp tongue. At a Town Hall concert on 24 July 1893, he took time off from conducting to inform the audience that a recent article in the Argus condemning the 'putrid [...] mass of [...] sensuality' in the plays of Henrik Ibsen was the 'shameless and ignorant' work of a 'scurrilous newspaper hack'.
A symphony by him was played at the Queen's Hall, London, in 1907 conducted by Sir Henry Wood. Though somewhat influenced by the work of Wagner, Brahms and Puccini, George Marshall-Hall's compositions display pronounced individuality and sincerity. It was nevertheless as a teacher, enthusiastic and free from pedantry, and as an inspiring orchestral conductor that he did his most important work, and the value of his influence on the musical life of Melbourne can hardly be overstated. Marshall-Hall was tall, dark, witty, humorous and intolerant of pretence.
- Certified Copy of An Entry of Birth, Given on 22.1.1975 at the General Register Office, London, No. BC871181
- A. L. Munn The Alpine club Register 1864-1876 London, 1926, pp. 6-8
- see e.g. Marshall Hall to J.H. Collins 18 September 1875 and 21 October 1875 in Archives of the Mineralogical Society, London
- "Tristan and Isolde" by John E. Marshall Hall in Musical World 18 January 1889
- Field Quarterly August 1871 pp. 170-171
- see e.g. Geological Magazine 1869 p. 528
- Principal's Register, New Boys: Visitors' Book in Local History Department, Manor house Library, Lewisham, UK
- Typescript in Marshall-Hall papers, Melbourne University Archives Group 1/1/2; the writer identifies himself as Marshall-Hall's brother which means he is either John E. or Algernon S. Marshall Hall
- J.E. Marshall-Hall to William Moore n.d. Marshall-Hall papers, Melbourne University Archives Group 1 1/1/2
- Typescript in Marshall-Hall papers, Melbourne University Archives Group 1/1/2; the writer identifies himself as Marshall-Hall's brother which means he is either John E. or Algernon S. Marshall-Hall
- John Tecklenborough Seven Years' Cadet Life. Containing the Records of the Oxford Military College ... Oxford, 1883 p.12
- Testimonial from G. Townsend Earner 21 October 1885 Melbourne University Council Letter Book 3, 295 in Melbourne University Central Registry
- Newtonian vol. 12, p.176
- Melbourne University Council Minute Book 3, 297
- J.E. Marshall-Hall to William Moore n.d. Marshall-Hall papers, Melbourne University Archives Group 1 i/i/2
- see e.g. Magazine of Music June1888, August 1888
- Ella Winter to Herbert Brookes 9 January 1921 in Marshall-Hall papers, Melbourne University Archives Group 1/5
- Sir Arthur Brownless to G. Berry, 1 September 1890, in Melbourne University Council Letter Book 3, 351, Melbourne University Central Registry
- Students' Register, Department of Portraits, Royal College of Music, London
- John Runciman in Magazine of Music June 1892
- programme note on 'The Defence of Earl Godwin before the Witan' from Harold in Melba Memorial Conservatorium Archives, Melbourne
- Ouseley to Victorian agent-general G. Berry 3 May 1888 Melbourne University Central Registry Correspondence file 1888/31
- A.C. Mackenzie to G. Berry 30 May 1888, C. Halle to G. Berry 27 April 1888 in Melbourne University Central Registry Correspondence file 1888/31
- G. Berry to Sir A. C. Brownless 1 February 1889 Melbourne University Central Registry Correspondence file
- Sir William Cleaver Robinson to G. Berry 19 June 1890 Melbourne University Council Letter Book; Australian Critic 1 October 1890; Melbourne University Review October 1890; A. C. Brownless to G. Berry 2 September 1890 Melbourne University council Letter book 3, 351 in Melbourne University Central Registry
- Alma Mater June 1900, August 1899
- Herald 28/2/01
- Weekly Times 30 December 1899
- e.g. Ernest Scott A History of the University of Melbourne Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1936 p.145
- Melbourne University Calendar 1902 pp 361-387
- Argus 1 December 1891
- Argus 20 February 1891
- Melbourne University Calendar 1895 Melbourne, 1894 pp 3425-6
- Leader 9 March 1895
- Victorian Artists' society papers, Latrobe Library MS7593, Box 586/2
- Melbourne University Calendar 1902 pp 361-387
- Marshall-Hall Concert Programme 5 October 1912 in Melba Memorial Conservatorium Archives
- Melbourne Liedertafel Minute Book (28 February 1902) in the Percy Grainger Museum, Melbourne
- Table Talk 20 March 1891, 17 February 1893, 25 August 1893, 27 October 1899, 5 April 1911; Argus 13 February 1907; Punch 27 December 1900; Age 5 May 1912; Herald 25 January 1915
- To Irene, A Book of Canticles, Hymn to Sydney and Hymns Ancient and Modern
- Melbourne, MacCarron Bird & Co., 1906
- Hymn to Sydney p.17
- Musical Herald 1 May 1901
- 'A Canticle to the Gods' in Book of Canticles p.66
- Musical Standard 11 March 1905
- Argus 1 April 1911
- Hymn to Sydney, p.10
- Musical Herald 1 May 1901
- 'To a Parson on his refusing a Glass of Wine with contumely' in Hymns Ancient and Modern p.12
- e.g. Argus 1 July 1891
- Robinson to Uni Council 19 June 1890 MUCRCF 1890'/30
- Sydney Morning Herald 26 November 1892
- Argus 15 November 1892, 6 January 1896; Sydney Morning Herald 25 November 1892; 10 July 1900; Champion 27 June 1895; Alma Mater July 1899: Table Talk 22 March 1895; Leader 24 March 1893
- Argus 15 November 1892
- Champion 27 June 1896
- Argus 6 January 1896
- Alma Mater June 1900
- Australian Musical News December 1911
- Table Talk 12 May 1893
- Argus 24 March 1894
- Table Talk 12 May 1893, 2 August 1895
- Argus 22 July 1893
- Argus 24 July 1893
- Joe Rich 'His Thumb unto his Nose : the Removal of G.W.L. Marshall-Hall from the Ormond Chair of Music' PhD thesis, Melbourne University 1986
- Joe Rich 'A Thoroughly Shameful Affair: The Removal of G.W.L. Marshall-Hall from the Ormond Chair of music' in Victorian Historical Journal Vol 61, No. 1 March 1990
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Marshall-Hall, George William Louis". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- Maureen Thérèse Radic, 'Marshall-Hall, George William Louis (1862 - 1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, MUP, 1986, pp 420–423. Retrieved 17 January 2009
- Thérèse Radic and Suzanne Robinson (eds) Marshall-Hall's Melbourne: Music, Art and Controversy 1891-1915 Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012