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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lithgow, Alexander Frame (1870–1929)

by J. F. Firth and Margaret Glover

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Alexander Frame Lithgow (1870-1929), composer and bandmaster, was born on 1 December 1870 in Glasgow, Scotland, son of Samuel Lithgow, master tinsmith and his wife Agnes Alison, née Shanks. The family migrated to Invercargill, New Zealand, when Alexander was 6. He was educated at Invercargill Grammar School. His family was musical, performing as the six-member Lithgow Concert Company. Alexander, an acknowledged prodigy, was accepted by the Invercargill Garrison Band at 11 and by 16 was its principal cornet-soloist, and at 20 its bandmaster, playing also with the Theatre Royal orchestra as first violin. He won cornet-solo championships at Dunedin in 1890 and 1891 and at Christchurch in 1893, touring New Zealand as a professional soloist before moving to Tasmania. In 1894-1906 he was conductor of the Launceston St Joseph's Band, except in 1901-02 when he conducted the Woolston Band at Christchurch. On 6 June 1900 at Launceston he married Elizabeth Hill Telfer with Presbyterian forms. He earned his living as a compositor at the Launceston Examiner and the Daily Telegraph until 1927.

His virtuosity helped to foster local musical life. The St Joseph's Band was successful in competitions and its city and country concerts were immensely popular. Lithgow was associated with the short-lived Launceston Orchestral Society (1897-98), the 12th Battalion Launceston Regiment (1904-10) and the Launceston Musical Association (1909-10). He was also conductor and spontaneous composer for the silent film orchestra at the Lyceum and Princess theatres. His enthusiasm led to the founding of the Launceston Concert Orchestra which he conducted in 1923-27, presenting innovative music including symphonic jazz and the latest Lithgow compositions.

When his jaunty, patriotic marches were published in America and Europe, he was acclaimed as 'the Sousa of the Antipodes'. His first composition, 'Wairoa', was published in 1892 and his work was soon familiar to colonial bands, the Woolston Brass Band presenting a complete programme of his music in October 1901. His celebrated quick march, 'Invercargill', composed in 1909, broke phonograph sales records, and with 'Parade of the Anzacs' was heard at Gallipoli and on the European front. Lithgow produced approximately two hundred marches, as well as numerous pieces for band, orchestra, piano and voice. Some were printed by his own Commonwealth Band Music Publications and later by W. H. Paling & Co., but he acquired no copyrights and many of his pieces, in his immaculate notation, were lost or unpublished.

Lithgow returned to St Joseph's in 1922 and remained until ill health forced his retirement in 1927. A fund-raising all-Lithgow concert in 1923 included two four-piece suites, 'In Sunny Australia', and 'At the Movies'. Music dominated his existence, but time for composing was scarce when after a long day's work he cycled home to change for an evening performance or a musical gathering.

Lithgow died on 12 July 1929 of cerebral haemorrhage at Launceston and was buried in Carr Villa cemetery to the sound of massed bands playing 'Invercargill' and 'Queen of the North'. His wife, son and two daughters survived him. Memorial plaques were unveiled in the Paterson Street Barracks and the rotunda in City Park, Launceston, in 1953.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • G. H. and T. G. Stancombe (compiler), A. F. Lithgow Memorial Plaques Erected Paterson Barracks and City Park (Launc, 1953)
  • R. A. Ferrall, Partly Personal (Hob, 1974)
  • S. P. Newcomb, Challenging Brass (priv print, Takapuna, NZ, 1980)
  • Australasian Bandsman, Sept-Oct 1960, Jan 1971
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 12 Oct 1901, 15 Mar 1902, 8 Apr, 4, 25 Nov 1909, 29 Dec 1910, 25 Nov 1920, 18 Oct 1923
  • Examiner (Launceston), 4 Nov 1909, 13 July 1929
  • Lithgow file (Northern Regional Library, Launceston, Tasmania).

Citation details

J. F. Firth and Margaret Glover, 'Lithgow, Alexander Frame (1870–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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