ANTILL, JOHN HENRY (1904-1986), musician, composer and broadcaster, was born on
8 April 1904 at Ashfield, Sydney, second child of English-born parents John Henry
Antill, boilermaker, and his wife Marianne Elizabeth, née Baker. John was educated
at St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir School, Sydney, where his musical training began,
then at Trinity Grammar School, Summer Hill. At the age of 16, he was apprenticed
to the New South Wales Government Railways as a mechanical draftsman. One of his
tasks was to help design a multi-toned steam whistle for the C-36 class
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Australian Dictionary of Biography
John Antill 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.
John Antill's compositions were mainly for the theatre (ballet and opera), orchestra, voice and choir. He 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. In 1972 he was invited to Suva by the Government of Fiji to prepare performances for the first South Pacific Festival of Arts.
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 - an Aboriginal ritual dance ceremony - 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.