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Australian Composers

The Leipzig Diary - Alfred Hill [ed. Donald Maurice] 

ISBN 978 876829 14 8


Experience Classicsonline



Alfred Hill - there is no music teacher in Australia or New Zealand who would not recognise the name. Although born in Melbourne, the family moved to NZ in 1871. After overseas study and a further period of residency in NZ, Hill finally returned to Australia and settled in Sydney in 1910 until his death in 1960. He is well-remembered as a prominent and influential part of the Sydney music scene, as a prolific composer and teacher and as the first Professor of Composition at the [then] NSW Conservatorium of Music

Writing a personal diary can be fraught with danger, laying one’s soul out for view as it were, but nevertheless, such documents provide the best way of understanding the day to day activities, the thoughts and aspirations of the diarist, whether those entries seem important or mundane to a later reader.

The Leipzig Diary covers the period from March 1887 to November 1891, the period of Hill’s study at the Royal Conservatorium of Music in Leipzig. As such, it is a fascinating first-hand account of late 19th century musical life at the very hub of its existence and a detailed, readable and absorbing look at the emergence of a fine composer and musician through his personal diary. Who Hill saw, what he did, where he went, the works he played, how many hours a day he practised, the music productions, orchestras and theatre events that he attended are all described in the diary. Some entries are long, some short but all are interesting, many with a degree of sophistication and insight surprising in such a young man.

I found that such legendary names as Joachim, Bruch, Brahms, Tchaikowsky [whom he saw conducting with Brahms sitting in the audience] and so many others, came to life via Hill’s diary. And I chuckled in agreement at the 10th December, 1887 entry: “We saw the composer of the well known Greig Sonata but I don’t like his last Sonata like I do the first one.”

Was Hill a feminist? viz, this description of a Leipzig street scene which clearly shows his outrage:

I must say that the lower classes of women are treated shamefully here, and what is more, they seem to do all the work.....It is a custom (or a habit) for a “man” (they’re not worthy of the name of gentleman) always to walk on the inside of a path, and if a lot of young students should meet a young lady and not have room to pass her, they would quietly push her into the gutter”

Then again perhaps not; he describes violinist Fanny Davis as “...a fine player but she (like most ladies) lacks power, tone, etc.” And it is clear in the Diary that Hill plainly revered Wagner ... [hopefully, it was the music not the politics that he admired] much so, that in later life he named two of his children Tristan and Isolde.

Apart from some necessary but minor editorial changes, the diary entries are true to their original form. The editor has added useful footnotes [as an example, the first footnote gives details of the SS Hauroto, the ship of the first leg - Wellington to Sydney - of Hill’s outward voyage] which provide explanations of some of the diary content but do not detract from the entries themselves.

The book is beautifully illustrated with facsimiles of concert programmes, manuscripts, Hill family photographs and newspaper clippings.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can highly recommend it for both teachers and students as a ‘must’ addition to your collection of Australian music. It brings to life the personages and events surrounding the European late-Romantic musical scene from the point of view of a young Australian, in the place where it all happened.

Published by Wirripang, - who are to be congratulated on a splendid presentation - The Leipzig Diary - Alfred Hill is available from Publications by Wirripang: [phone 61 4228 9388] at $AU66 plus postage.

Dr Rita Crews

Dr Rita Crews is Vice-President of the Music Teacher’s Association of NSW, Deputy Chair of the Australian Music Examinations Board [NSW] and editor of The Studio

Acknowledgement to The Studio where it was first published: Vol.15, No.2, May 2009

Review of Hill on Marco Polo

Hill’s string quartets vol. 1 Naxos


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