As a young man, Raymond Hanson had wished to devote his life to evangelical missionary work. The Great Depression, however, curtailed his formal education, and in the years that followed Hanson devoted most of his time to developing his natural gifts as a musician. Largely self-taught, it was only after World War II, in which he served for four and a half years, that Hanson was able to receive any formal training in composition.
Hanson studied at the NSW State Conservatorium of Music with Alex Burnard between 1945 and 1947, as the recipient of a Fellowship in Composition. He was invited to join the staff of the Conservatorium in 1948, where he became a teacher of Aural Training, and later Lecturer in Harmony and Composition, Counterpoint and Aesthetics of Music. Hanson taught at the Conservatorium until 1962 and his students included many who were to become prominent composers, such as Nigel Butterley, Richard Meale and Barry Conyngham, and leading figures of the jazz world, such as Don Burrows.
Even before attending the Conservatorium, Hanson had achieved a certain measure of success. He gave recitals of his own compositions while in his twenties, and had won prizes for his music during the war years. Unfortunately, he suffered from a lack of support during his lifetime, his music being considered too radical for performance in the 1940s and 1950s, and too conservative in the following two decades. He was fifty-four when he received his first commission (from APRA for a string quartet), and works such as his Violin Concerto lay unperformed for many years. His 1941 Piano Sonata was finally published in 1976, on the day of his death.
Raymond Hanson's music owes much to the influence of Hindemith. He first came in contact with the music and writings on musical theory of this composer in the early 1940s, and throughout his life applied Hindemith's ideas in his teaching, and in his own compositions, which number more than one hundred and include a symphony, a ballet, an opera, an oratorio, cantatas, concerti, chamber works, piano music and several film scores.