George William Louis Marshall-Hall was an English-born musician, composer, conductor, poet and controversialist who lived and worked in Australia from 1891 till his death in 1915. According to his birth certificate, his surname was ‘Hall’ and ‘Marshall’ was his fourth given name, which commemorated his physiologist grandfather, Marshall Hall (1790–1857) well-known for his pioneering studies of reflex nervous action and the resuscitation of apparently drowned persons. George’s father, a barrister—who, however, never practised that profession —appears to have been the first to hyphenate the name and his sons followed suit.
Adventure, it seems, played an important role in George Marshall-Hall’s youth. His father owned a 65 ton iron ocean-going yacht which, he said, was kept ‘in great measure to give my family fresh air, the opportunity of seeing foreign ports, of leading a healthy life such as cannot be led on shore’. He was, he declared, a ‘family yachtsman who likes to see his youngsters’ skin tanned’. As a child, George probably participated in family trips on this vessel when it explored Norwegian fjords and grappled for broken telegraph cable in the Atlantic Ocean.
He began his schooling in Brighton. But then his family moved to Blackheath in London’s southeast where in 1873 he enrolled in the Blackheath Proprietary School and at much the same time began taking private music lessons. His interest in music, according to his brother, had first been aroused by his paternal grandmother and his great-uncle. The latter, it seems, was himself an organist and composer. In 1878 the family moved again, this time to Montreux on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland where George formed a choral society which met to practise in the family dining room.
By 1880, having become proficient in both French and German, he was back in England teaching languages and music—first at the Oxford Military College, Cowley and afterwards at Newton College, South Devon Then late in 1886, bent now on devoting himself to a career in music, he returned briefly to Switzerland to take up a position as organist in Lausanne before becoming musical director of Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire.In 1888 he was appointed orchestral and choral conductor and composition and singing teacher at the London Organ School and Instrumental College of Music. At the same time, articles written by him on musical subjects began appearing in English newspapers and magazines.
He was later to claim that his father disapproved of his choice of career, declaring that ‘he wouldn’t want any damn fiddler in his family’ and when thwarted in this regard, cut his son off without a shilling.So, George apparently received no paternal assistance when, unable to get enough work in his chosen profession on occasions in the 1880s, he was compelled, he recalled, to sleep in the snow in Trafalgar Square and to button his jacket up to the neck when in polite society in order to conceal his lack of a shirt collar and waistcoat.
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