String Quartet No.2 in g minor "A Maori Legend"
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's musical language often brings Dvorak and Tchaikovsky to mind but he blends it the native melodies of New Zealand and Australia to achieve a fresh and appealing effect that reveals a wealth of original ideas.
String Quartet No.2 was composed during the years 1907-11. He gave it the title "A Maori Legend in Four Scenes," and it is definitely intended as a programmatic work. The first movement, Allegro agitato is entitled The Forest. The listener is taken deep within the forest with its mysterious sounds to witness a deadly struggle between a monster and a magical crane. In the second movement, Adagio, subtitled The Dream the hero hears the crane call out for help. The crane then transformed into a beautiful maiden tells him that if he slays the monster, she will help him find the mythical tree from which he can carve a canoe to take him across the waters. The sad cries of the crane can be heard as it is beset upon by the monster. The third movement is a Scherzo entitled The Karakia (the magical tree) The hero has slain the monster, and with the help of the forest birds fashions a canoe from the Karakia. In the finale, entitled The Dedicattion, the canoe is solemnly dedicated (Adagio) and a gay celebration follows.
The sound-bites show that this is very beautiful, highly evocative music. It is unquestionably a first rate work with many original and fresh ideas. It will be equally at home in the concert hall as in the music rooms of amateur groups. Unavailable for long periods, we are pleased to reintroduce it.