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Alfred Hollins

(b. Hull, Sept. 11, 1865), organist, is a remarkable example of the attainment of great proficiency in spite of total blindness. At the age of 9 he went to the Wilberforce Institution for the Blind at York, studying under the eldest brother of Sir Joseph Barnby. In Jan. 1878 he entered the Royal Normal College for the Blind at Upper Norwood, where he studied the pianoforte under Frits Hartvigson, and the organ under Dr. E. J. Hopkins, and it is remarkable that throughout his career he has maintained his skill equally on both instruments. He was quite a boy when he played Beethoven’s E flat concerto at the Crystal Palace, under Manns’s direction, and only 16 when he played to Queen Victoria at Windsor. He went to Berlin to study with Hans von Bülow, played before the King and Queen of the Belgians at Brussels, and the Empress Frederick at Berlin. He was appointed to the post of organist at St. John’s Church, Redhill, in 1884. In the Music and Inventions Exhibition of 1885 he appeared with great success as an organist, and in 1886 was taken by the principal of the Royal Normal College, Dr. F. J. Campbell, to America, with a quartet party of blind performers. A second visit to the United States was made independently in 1888 when he played concertos with the chief orchestras of New York and Boston; but before that Hollins had studied again in Germany at the Raff Conservatorium at Frankfort; in 1886 he had appeared at one of the Popular Concerts, and in 1888 at the Philharmonic Concert, in Beethoven’s E flat concerto. In 1888 he was appointed the first organist of the People’s Palace, and organist of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Upper Norwood. During his tenure of the latter post he was a professor of pianoforte and organ in the Royal Normal College. In 1897 he was appointed organist of Free St. George’s Church, Edinburgh, when the organ was first introduced into that church. In Aug. and Sept. 1904 he gave a number of organ recitals in Australia, creating great enthusiasm by his wonderful skill. Subsequent recital tours have included three in South Africa (1907, 1909 and 1916). On the last of these he opened the organ at the Town Hall, Johannesburg, the specification for which he had drawn up. An extensive recital tour in the U.S.A. took place in l925. Hollins’s compositions are marked by sound musicianship, and no little originality. They include songs, church music and solos for various instruments, among the last-named being many organ pieces which have attained wide and deserved popularity, notably a couple of brilliant concert overtures. He is hon. Fellow of the R.C.O., and received in 1922 the degree of Mus.D., honoris causa, at Edinburgh University. In 1936 Hollins published his autobiography, A Blind Musician looks back, and in the next year celebrated the 40th anniversary of his appointment to St. George’s Church.

It is often the case that the performances and works of blind musicians are felt to be wanting in what may be called vitality ; in many notable instances a certain dryness of style has undoubtedly been noticed; but if a practical argument against the assumption that it is universally the case were wanted, none better could be given than both the playing and the compositions of Hollins, both of which are eloquent and vividly full of vigour and feeling. (J.A.Fuller-Maitland; rev. by Harvey Grace)

From the 4th edn. of Grove, 1940.

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