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John Antill (1904-1986) : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: An Outback overture : full orchestra by John Antill, from the CD Corroboree ; An outback overture


Photo of John Antill

John Antill's position in Australian music is assured through his most famous work, Corroboree, which has been widely performed, recorded and broadcast. It is a watershed work in Australian composition and marked the beginning of a new phase for Australian composition. Sir Eugene Goossens first conducted Corroboree in 1946 and it caused a sensation as a concert suite. Originally conceived as a ballet, it was finally produced by the National Ballet in 1950, with choreography by Rex Reid and decor by William Constable.

Antill was first stimulated by Aboriginal music when he attended in 1913 a real corroboree - the ritual dance ceremony of the Aboriginal - at La Perouse, an area traditionally settled by Aboriginals, on Botany Bay. In the following years he made continual research on the subject of Aboriginal music and collected many recordings, many on Edison cylinders. After having assimilated and gestated this material, Antill eventually produced a shimmering, evocative and propulsive score (published by Boosey and Hawkes). Another major orchestral score is Symphony on a city (1959), commissioned by the City of Newcastle in New South Wales.

John Antill was born in Sydney in 1904 and received his early musical training at St. Andrew's Cathedral Choir School.

In 1920 he joined the NSW Government Railways as an apprenticed mechanical draughtsman, but left there in 1925 to become a full-time student at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, where he studied with Alfred Hill. From 1932 to 1934 he toured with the J.C. Williamson Imperial Opera Company as a tenor and rehearsal conductor with a repertoire of 18 operas. In 1936 he became the assistant Music Editor with the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Sydney, becoming Supervisor of Music in 1947, and in 1949 the ABC's Federal Music Editor, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.

During his period with the ABC he was a valued Adjudicator for the ABC's annual Concerto and Vocal Competitions.

In 1972 he was invited to Suva by the Government of Fiji to prepare performances for the First South Pacific Festival of Arts.

John Antill's compositions are mainly for the theatre (ballet and opera), orchestra, voice and choir. He has also composed many scores for documentary films. His ballet Snowy was the first Australian ballet to be televised in Australia.

In 1971 he was awarded the OBE for services to music.

John Antill died in 1986.


Analysis & Media

Book: Gentle genius, a life of John Antill / Beth Dean and Victor Carell.

Article: Corroboree and after : John Antill as a 'one-work composer'? / David Symons.

Book: The Australian symphony from Federation to 1960 / Rhoderick McNeill.

- Article: Scored in black and white

- Article: Indigenous inspiration

- Article: Creating a musical mandala

- Article: Cry of the earth