Amidst the plethora of centenary celebrations, let’s not forget an Australian who touched the lives of thousands.
Wagner. Britten. Verdi. In case anyone missed it, 2013 wins the musical trifecta for anniversaries. But while we are celebrating, there is another musical centenary that all Australian musicians should be aware of.
Dulcie Holland (1913-2000) is a unique voice on the Australian music landscape. She boasts no grand operas, no international premieres or best-selling recordings. She did, however, teach music theory to a generation of Australians and made a successful career as a composer, remaining a prolific, highly original and distinctly practical musician well into her eighties.
Dulcie Holland was born in Sydney on January 5, 1913. Her father, an engineer, was a keen singer, a cornerstone of the church choir, while her mother played hymns and took the family to hear The Messiah every year. Dulcie took up the piano at six and in her teens graduated to playing organ at the Congregational Church in Vaucluse and Rose Bay. She studied at the Conservatorium with Roy Agnew and Alfred Hill, then in 1936 headed to London to study with John Ireland.
While hers was a traditional pathway for an Australian musician of this generation, she was already aware of the need to find a unique voice, saying: “the next decade should be an interesting one for Australian composition as Australians are at last beginning to discover their own personality, instead of merely imitating the manners and idioms of other nations.” (Ceylon Observer 1937)
Dulcie showed great promise in London, winning the Blumenthal scholarship, entitling her to three years study, and the Cobbett Prize for chamber music. Her study at the Royal College of Music was, however, cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War. She married soon after her return home, and within a few years her music career was to be combined with raising a family.
She continued to perform for many years, and to play the organ. She took up the cello so that she could participate in the orchestra she and her husband founded, the North Sydney Symphony. In the 1950s she wrote over forty film scores for documentaries on life in Australia, commissioned by the Department of the Interior. In 1967 she joined the Australian Music Examinations Board as an examiner, and during her long association with them she produced countless studies and examination pieces. Then, in 1972, EMI approached her to develop a resource for covering the basics of music theory. Master Your Theory is still in print today, the cornerstone of music theory tuition in Australia for nearly half a century. Although she announced her retirement in 1983, she continued to compose well into her eighties, before her death in 2000.
The centenary of her birth has slipped quietly by, but next weekend North Sydney Symphony Orchestra will wish her a belated happy birthday with the performance of one of her last orchestral works. Summer’s End was written in 1993. It is an elegant and elegaic meditation for small orchestra.
“Comparisons are always made between her and Miriam Hyde”, says John Davis, General Manager of the Australian Music Centre. “If anything, she perhaps had extra clarity and sophistication, harmonically. Her sound was more French. A lot of the repertoire at the time was quite conservative but her twists of harmonic invention gave it a very different flavour.”
Steven Hillinger conducts the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Shore School at 8pm on June 1, 2013.
The concert also includes Piano Concerto No 1 by Franz Liszt, performed by Bo An Lu, winner of Fine Music 102.5 FM’s Young Performer Award, and Schubert’s Symphony No 9, “the Great”.