Composer and conductor.
A new biography of Hill, Alfred Francis appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Born in Melbourne on 16 December 1870, Alfred Hill came from a musical family. At a very early age he was taken to New Zealand, his father setting up in business as a hatter in Lambton Quay, Wellington. The long and distinguished musical career of Alfred Hill may be said to have begun at the age of eight, when he appeared as a talented cornet player at a benefit concert given in Wellington. At 15 he went to Leipzig where he spent five years studying at the conservatorium, graduating with distinction. His instrument was now the violin, and during his student days he played in the Gwendhaus Orchestra under many famous musicians, including Brahms, Bruch, Tchaikowsky, and Greig. Some of his earliest compositions were published in Leipzig at this time, among them a “Scottish Sonata”.
He returned to New Zealand and at the age of 21 became conductor of the Wellington Orchestral Society, working also at composition, violin teaching, and playing. A quarter of a century spent in New Zealand at the most impressionable period of his life brought him into close contact with the Maori people. For them and for their music he had a deep affection and this inspired many of his compositions. His reputation was established by his setting of the Maori legend of Hinemoa, first performed in 1902, and songs like Waiata Poi, composed, it is said, for Rosina Buckman, Waiata Maori, and Tangi enjoyed very wide popularity. Another work played in many countries was his “Maori” quartette.
Soon after the turn of the century Alfred Hill settled in Sydney. He was one of the founders of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and became one of its professors. In Australia he produced his Maori opera Tapu. He returned to New Zealand to conduct the professional orchestra assembled for the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1905 and to give performances of Hinemoa. A further visit was paid later, when he brought another of his operas, Moorish Maid. From then on he lived mainly in Sydney. In 1926 he toured America, lecturing, and conducting the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in two concerts. In England he conducted a concert of his own music.
His works, in addition to those already mentioned, included two symphonies, seven concertos, string quartettes, seven operas, a mass, suites, sonatas, cantatas, numerous songs, and a considerable amount of film music, among which may be mentioned Rewi's Last Stand, Broken Melody, Smithy, and Forty Thousand Horsemen.
He died in Sydney on 31 October 1960.
Alfred Hill's tuneful and strongly romantic music did not attempt to follow modern trends. Consequently it was slow to be received in musical quarters, and it was not until 1945 that a full concert of his works was given in Sydney under Henry Krips. He had a strong gift for melody, his craftsmanship was assured, and all his writing was of exemplary clarity. With his artistic life so divided between New Zealand and Australia, he is best described as a true Australasian; kind and modest by nature, who was virtually the founder of musical composition in the two countries in which he lived.
A sister, Mabel (1872–1955), achieved success as a singer and water-colourist. She married John McIndoe, printer, of Dunedin, and was the mother of Sir Archibald McIndoe. L.C.M.S.
- Evening Post, 31 Oct 1960 (Obit).