b. Hartford, Connecticut, 1802
d. Paterson, New Jersey, September 2, 1875
Urelli Corelli Hill came from an artistic family. Born a third-generation American, his grandfather, Frederick Hill, was a fifer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, while his father, Uri Keeler Hill, was a music teacher, composer, and Urelli’s first violin teacher. By the age of nine, Hill had begun making money playing at concerts and in theaters. In addition, Hill’s only sibling, George Handel “Yankee” Hill, was a writer and actor noted for his depiction of Yankee characters.
Hill first appeared on the New York music scene as a violinist in one of the New York Philharmonic’s predecessor organizations (between 1824 and 1827) and as conductor of the Sacred Music Society, where he gave the New York premiere of Handel’s Messiah. In 1835, Hill and his fiancée, Lucinda, embarked on a two-year voyage to Germany, studying with the composer, conductor, and violinist Louis Spohr. After returning to New York, Hill organized the meeting on April 2, 1842, at which the New York Philharmonic Society was founded, and he was named the first President. Hill helped establish the constitution, which documented the Philharmonic as a cooperative whose musicians shared in all work, decision-making, and profits.
On December 7, 1842, Hill opened the Society’s inaugural concert by conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in its entirety, only the second time the complete work had been heard in the United States. The program, a mixture typical of concerts at that time, also featured several vocal solos and duets, chamber music by Hummel, the Oberon Overture by Weber, and a new overture by Kalliwoda. Hill was an avid champion of Beethoven’s symphonies, leading the Philharmonic in five American premieres including the Ninth Symphony on May 20, 1846; he also arranged for the text of that symphony to be translated, the first time that the Ode to Joy was sung in English. Hill maintained a relationship with both Spohr and Mendelssohn, both of whom he invited to conduct the Philharmonic. Neither would accept, but they sent letters of acknowledgement and were made Honorary Members of the Philharmonic.
The 1846 performance was one of Hill’s greatest musical successes. Over the course of the next decade, Hill moved around, to Cincinnati and later to Boston, involving himself with the Boston Jubilee concerts. He ended his travels back in New York, where he joined the Philharmonic as a violinist as well as an officer of its board. In this capacity, he embroiled himself in a discussion of the nature of American orchestral music and American composers in Musical World, one of the preeminent journals of the day. While in the city, Hill also intended to make his fortune through his own inventions of instruments. However, by 1873, all business ventures brought him only financial disaster, and in 1875, Hill, unable to play violin or support his family, committed suicide at his home in Paterson, New Jersey. The Philharmonic Archives acquired his papers in 2002.