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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hill, Mirrie Irma Jaffa (1889–1986)

by Meredith Lawn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Mirrie Irma Jaffa Hill (1889-1986), composer, was born on 1 December 1889 at Randwick, Sydney, third child of Jewish parents Levien Jaffa Solomon, merchant, and his wife Kate Caroline, née Marks, both born at Goulburn, New South Wales. Mirrie attended Shirley school, Edgecliff, and studied piano with Josef Kretschmann and Laurence Godfrey Smith, harmony with Ernest Truman and composition with Alfred Francis Hill. In 1914 her first orchestral work, Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, was performed at the Sydney Town Hall by Godfrey Smith with the Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society conducted by Alfred Hill. World War I forced her to cancel plans to study in Germany. Instead, she enrolled at the newly opened New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, receiving a composition scholarship for 1916-18 awarded by its first director, Henri Verbrugghen. She married Hill on 1 October 1921 at Mosman registry office. They built a home at Mosman where they resided for the rest of their lives. Mirrie had no children, but Alfred had three from his first marriage.

Immediately after completing her studies, Mirrie had been appointed to the conservatorium staff as assistant-professor of harmony, counterpoint and composition. Also teaching aural training from 1935, she wrote a textbook, Aural and Rhythmic Training (1935). She retired from the conservatorium in 1944. From 1959 to 1966 she was an examiner for the Australian Music Examinations Board.

Creating over five hundred works, with almost half of them published, Hill was one of the most prolific Australian composers of her time. A few of her compositions were published under male pseudonyms. She gained a reputation as a miniaturist, because most of her published or broadcast compositions were for voice and piano or short piano works for educational purposes, but she also wrote many larger pieces for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, choir and film. The conductor Henry Krips performed and recorded some of her orchestral works for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mirrie accurately described her music as `not [in] the very modern idiom but entirely individual as to style and content’. She drew inspiration from recordings of Aboriginal music made by the anthropologist Charles Mountford for Three Aboriginal Dances (1950), Aborigines of the Sea Coast (1951) and Symphony in A: Arnhem Land (1954); from traditional Hebrew melodies for Abinu Malkenu (1971); and from verses by Australian poets such as Dame Mary Gilmore, John Wheeler and Hugh McCrae.

The composer Dorothy Dodd observed: `With her innate sense of humour and serenity, she radiated such quiet happiness to those around her’. Shy and self-effacing, Hill found it difficult to promote her own work and willingly allowed Alfred’s composing career to come before her own. It was not until several years after her husband’s death in 1960 that she began to receive appropriate recognition: she was appointed an honorary life member of the Fellowship of Australian Composers in 1975 and OBE in 1980. Mirrie Hill died on 1 May 1986 at St Leonards and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Canon (Sydney), July 1960, p 277
  • Quarterly Magazine (Federation of Australian Music Teachers’ Associations), May 1980, p 27
  • APRA: Magazine of the Australasian Performing Right Association, Dec 1986, p 41
  • H. de Berg, interview with M. Hill (transcript, 1975, National Library of Australia)
  • Mirrie Hill (video, 1982, Australia Council)
  • R. Pearce, Rediscovering Mirrie Hill (1889-1986) (MMus thesis, University of Melbourne, 2003)
  • series SP827/2, item Mirrie Hill (National Archives of Australia)
  • Hill family papers and Olive Lawson papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Meredith Lawn, 'Hill, Mirrie Irma Jaffa (1889–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 7 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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