A Hoffering on A Hill

rayner-hoff-alfred-hillAlfred Hill (1936) by Rayner Hoff (1894-1937) patinated plaster. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

Australian/New Zealand composer, conductor and teacher, Alfred Francis Hill was born on 16 December 1869 in Melbourne, Victoria. He spent most of his early life in New Zealand. He then went to Germany and studied at the Leipzig Conservatory between 1887 and 1891 and played second violin with the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

Hill returned to New Zealand, where he was appointed director of the Wellington Orchestral Society. 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.

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.

  • 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 (NSW).
  • In 1915–1916 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, 1921 married his former student Mirrie Solomon, also a composer.

From 1937, Hill devoted himself  to composition. He wrote more than 500 compositions, including 12 symphonies; 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.  In 1947 he became president of the Composers’ Society of Australia.

Hill was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1953, and a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1960.

  • Alfred Hill died at the age of 90 on 30 October, 1960. He was survived by his second wife Mirrie Hill, and the three children of his first marriage who were given the Wagnerian names Isolde, Tristan and Elsa.

About the sculptor: George Rayner Hoff was born on 27 November 1894 on the Isle of Man, the son of a stone and wood carver of Dutch descent. He came to Australia at the age of 28. Hoff is known for his memorial work on one of Australia’s finest art deco structures – the Anzac War Memorial in Sydney. Hoff died at the age of 43 on 19 November,  1937. Alfred Hill is the last portrait head Hoff sculpted.

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