27 January 2014
The Australian Symphony from Federation to 1960
In recent years composers have demonstrated a renewed interest in the symphony, not least in Australia - consider the significant, recent output of symphonies by Brenton Broadstock, Ross Edwards, Carl Vine, and many others. When music-lovers think of much older Australian symphonies that pre-date the 1960s, most would name Alfred Hill (1869-1960) as primary local composer with his 13 symphonies. However, with the exception of his early Symphony No.1 from the late 1890s, most of these works appeared during the 1950s and were predominantly transcriptions of pre-existing chamber works.
Although Hill's late-Romantic works are worthy of note, they are not altogether representative of the symphonic music composed in Australia in the years between 1893 and 1960. My book, The Australian Symphony From Federation to 1960 surveys some fifty symphonies composed by Australians - both those based here or overseas and by long-term resident British composers. These works include symphonies in late Romantic, post-impressionist, 1930s neo-romantic, neo-classical and strongly dissonant idioms. The composers represented include G.W.L. Marshall-Hall, Joshua Ives, Alfred Hill, George English (Snr), Fritz Hart, Hooper Brewster-Jones, Erich John, Edgar Bainton, Mirrie Hill, Hubert Clifford, Arthur Benjamin, Margaret Sutherland, Clive Douglas, Robert Hughes, James Penberthy, Dorian Le Gallienne, Raymond Hanson, Horace Perkins, John Antill, David Morgan, Felix Werder and Malcolm Williamson.
The interest in composing symphonies in Australia was a symptom of the wide-spread interest in the genre that emerged in northern Europe, Britain, Russia and United States during the period from the 1920s through to the end of the 1950s. It was further stimulated by the development of professional orchestras in the major cities of Australia and by the 1951 Commonwealth Jubilee Composers' Competition which generated 89 symphonies from Commonwealth countries, of which 36 were Australian entries. I have researched some 40 symphonies dating from the 1950s alone.
Of this substantial collection of works, most languish today without modern editions of score and parts or recordings. Some were never performed. The works that emerge as especially significant and worthy of attention include the two symphonies of Marshall-Hall, the still unperformed three-movement Symphony of 1934 by Fritz Hart, the Symphony No.2 by Bainton, the Four Symphonic Concepts of Margaret Sutherland (originally submitted as a symphony to the Jubilee Competition and approximately 26 minutes in duration - the movements have never been performed as an entire group), the symphonies by Clifford, Benjamin, Hughes, Hanson, Antill and Le Gallienne, the 2nd and 4th symphonies by David Morgan (the only living composer discussed in this book, possibly the most unjustly neglected major figure in Australian music and whose scores are ready for performance), the Namatjira Symphony of Clive Douglas and Williamson's Symphony No.1.
I believe that there is some urgency in producing an anthology of the best of this repertoire that would provide a counterpart to the extensive collections of 20th century symphonies by American, British, North European, Japanese and New Zealand composers (the very fine symphonies of Lilburn and Farquhar) and supplement the existing recordings of Hill, Bainton, Clifford, Benjamin and Williamson symphonies. It is my hope that my book will stimulate serious investigation of the works and their composers by researchers and follow-up explorations of the extensive concerto, symphonic poem, and string quartet genres within Australian concert music. Not least, the book provides a context against which we can listen to the newer batch of post-1980s symphonies and consider whether or not there are common threads or affinities.
McNeill: The Australian Symphony From Federation to
1960 (Ashgate) - all book details (AMC Online)
Publisher's website (Ashgate)
© Australian Music Centre (2014) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Rhoderick McNeill is Professor of Music and Head, School of Arts and Communication at the University of Southern Queensland. His book The Australian Symphony from Federation to 1960 represents the first stage of a planned survey of the symphony in Australia from the late colonial period to the present.
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My copy is still on route... But looking forward to its arrival.
(And to volume two!)