Monash University

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Alfred Hill: a grand old man of Australian music

posted on 2017-02-08, 04:01 authored by Crowley, John Stephen
In his book, Australia's Music: Themes of a New Society, Roger Covell argues that Alfred Hill does not deserve the title of Grand Old Man of Australian Music based on the perceived absence of originality and power in his music. In light of this belief, Covell asserts that the music of Alfred Hill is not worthy of resuscitation by Australian orchestras and ensembles. Over the last 30 years or so, many like-minded commentators have taken up the Covell view and, in the process, inflicted immeasurable harm to Hill's once strong reputation as one of Australia's most influential and important composers. Such has been the damage to Hill's compositional profile that, in line with Covell's advice, his music is rarely performed by leading Australian ensembles. This is in stark contrast to the number of performances his music attracted between 1935-1960 by numerous ABC orchestras around Australia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult throughout the 1940's. This thesis seeks to challenge the conclusions of Covell and other sympathetic writers on two levels. First, it seeks to oppose the view that the music of Alfred Hill is lacking in power and originality. It does this by delving into and exploring the writings of pre-Covell musicologists and critics from 1900-1950 who prized Hill's music very highly on, amongst other things, the existence of originality. The thesis also examines the very productive relationship Hill enjoyed with the ABC from 1936-1960 as evidence of a greater presence of originality than that afforded by Covell. Second, this thesis aims to challenge Covell's decision to deny Hill the title of Grand Old Man solely on the basis of his compositional offerings. It is argued that this portrait of Hill is far too narrow and does not do justice to the varied and extensive role he played in the evolution of Australia's musical culture over a 75-year period. By examining his efforts in a wide range of important ventures including the establishing of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the National Opera League, his direction of the Sydney Liedertafel and the Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society, and his efforts in raising public awareness and appreciation of local cultures-Maori and Aboriginal, it becomes clear Alfred Hill was as much a musical pioneer as he was a composer. As a musical pioneer and a composer of significant importance, it is argued that Alfred Hill is indeed deserving of the title of Grand Old Man of Australian Music.


Principal supervisor

Carol Williams

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Historical Studies


Master of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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