Introduction to HHR’s Music For Voice and Piano at Betty Caldwell Hall, PLC

Rachel Solomon

Welcome again to PLC for today’s performance of Henry Handel Richardson’s music. PLC occupies an important place in HHR’s life story, her novel The Getting of Wisdom and, most relevantly for this afternoon, her music.

PLC provided the foundation of HHR’s formal music education, training and performance. And nearly 150 years later, her alma mater continues to provide platforms to support and celebrate her original compositions.

In 1883, 13-year-old Ettie Richardson arrived from Maldon at the Ladie’s College (as it was then called) in Albert Street, East Melbourne, with great confidence in her musical talents. As she later recalled: ‘I had hummed tunes before I could speak, learned my notes along with my letters, had a good ear, absolute pitch, and so on’ (‘Some Notes on My Books’,  Southerly 8).

Despite her precocious ability, it did not take long for her to have the wind knocked out of her sails. Home tuition by her ‘unmusical’ mother (her own description) failed to provide her with the requisite fundamentals of music knowledge and application.

And so it was to her an enormous benefit that she arrived at the College in the same year that the school’s principal, Andrew Harper, established the Department of Music with the English composer and conductor Alfred Plumpton as the inaugural director.

Music was elevated to the very high standard of the school’s academic studies through the teaching of theory, piano, singing and harmony;  and the awarding of annual scholarships for pianoforte and singing. HHR seized the opportunity to hone her musical talents.

She progressed rapidly, rising to the senior level in only her first year. In her second year (1884) and aged 14, her talent was reflected in her coming runner-up for the Senior Pianoforte Scholarship to a student four and a half years her senior. Two years later, in 1886, she was awarded this much-longed-for scholarship.

HHR’s achievements in performance and composition were on public display at the school concerts that were staged at the campus in East Melbourne and the Melbourne Atheneum and she was highly commended in Melbourne newspapers and the student run magazine, Patchwork.

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