String Quartet No.1 in B flat Major "Maori"
Had Alfred Hill (1869-1960) been a European or even an American composer, surely he and his music would be better known than they are today. It was his misfortune to be an Australian and virtually all of his wonderful music is unknown outside of that country and New Zealand where he also spent several years. Hill was born in Melborne but his family left for Wellington, New Zealand when he was three. It was there he studied the violin and trumpet eventually winning the chance to study at the Leipzig Conservatory where he graduated with honors in 1891, winning a prize in both composition and performance. His playing made an impression on Carl Reinecke (the Conservatoryís director and the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra) who drafted Hill into the violin section of that famous orchestra while he was a student. Reinecke and Hans Sitt were Hillís composition teachers, the former for chamber music. After his sojourn in Europe, Hill returned first to New Zealand to take up a conducting job in Wellington. In 1910, he settled in Sydney where he served as a professor at the New South Wales Conservatory for much of the rest of his life. He wrote in virtually every genre and has to his credit 10 operas, 13 symphonies, several concertos, choral works, sonatas and as well as a great deal of chamber music, including 17 string quartets.
Hill began work on his First String Quartet while still in Leipzig but did not complete it until 1896 at which time he was living and working in New Zealand. The outer movements were roughed out in Germany while the middle movements came later and incorporate Maori folk melodies. The opening movement, Moderato, allegro, begins with genial, expansive theme which is followed by a lyrical second melody. The second movement is entitled Waiata, which in Maori means songs accompanying the Dance. Two dances are presented. In the first section we hear the Haka Dance, characterized by a powerful and thrusting melody. A trio section, entitled Poi Dance, is slower and more graceful. The third movement is entitled Tangi, Maori for Lament. As the title implies, this is sad, but beautiful music. Though sad, it is not tragic or funereal. A middle section is somewhat faster but does not really change to mood. The finale, Allegro moderato, is full of lively good spirits and playfulness.
Here is a fine work with many original and fresh ideas which would merit inclusion in the concert hall as well as a position on the music stands of amateurs. Long