Rita Crews & Jeanell Carrigan


In these days of COVID-19 monotony one occasionally gets a surprise to brighten up one’s day. Recently I received a delightful package in my letter box – a newly written biography of Dulcie Holland.

Like many people in Australia (I imagine) my knowledge of Dulcie Holland was entirely related to AMEB. As a child I used her Master Your Theory books to undertake my annual AMEB theory exam and, as I proceeded through the grades of AMEB on piano, I would occasionally come across her name in the manual lists.

But on receipt of this book I realised that I knew remarkably little about such an important composer – perhaps the only composer in Australia who could have claimed to be a household name. However this has now been rectified.

The authors have done an excellent job of outlining her life. Largely spent in Australia but, importantly for her development as a composer, some significant periods in England. They were fortunate that Holland herself documented much of her life thoroughly through diary and journal entries and these provided a fascinating insight into her life and her views. Holland was not one of these composers who went largely unrecognised in her time. She won many awards and was a frequently commissioned composer and her works were played regularly on ABC. 

In addition to being a composer Holland was a children’s book author, a highly regarded pedagogue and was perhaps most widely known for her theory work books and text books. The thing that surprised me most to discover was Holland’s contribution to film music, specialising in documentary films. She provided scores for forty documentaries depicting life in Australia from the 1940s through to the 1960s.

The book is illustrated throughout with photos depicting Holland’s life and travels and musical excerpts demonstrating her musical journey. However the greatest achievement of this book is to catalogue the entire works of Holland and to provide thoughtful and insightful introductions and analysis to many of Holland’s more significant works. These were so well written that I felt I must find some of the piano pieces and play through them and, with some of the chamber, choral and orchestral pieces, to go back and listen to existing recordings. 

It is not my place to determine whether Dulcie Holland is sufficiently well regarded in Australia for her contribution as a composer but this book will be an important step in ensuring her legacy continues to live well into the future and no doubt will become an essential tome for all collections dedicated to composition in Australia.

Review by Bernard Depasquale 
Reproduced with permission from The Studio, Vol.26 No.3, August 2020