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First book a successful juggle for music researcher

Completing her first book was a challenging but rewarding achievement for the University of Tasmania's Dr Carolyn Philpott, who will launch Composing Australia: Nostalgia and National Identity in the Music of Malcolm Williamson in Hobart, on 17 December.

And the fact that she did so following the completion of her PhD thesis and in addition to juggling the birth of twins, makes the achievement even more impressive.

A Senior Lecturer in Musicology at the University's Conservatorium of Music, Dr Philpott was inspired to write her PhD thesis and first book on the work of Malcolm Williamson, an Australian composer she described as often misunderstood and underrecognised.

Dr Philpott said very little had been written on Williamson, despite him being one of Australia's most internationally successfully 20th century composers.

"While other composers are probably better known in Australia, Williamson moved overseas in the early 50s and within a decade became the most commissioned composer in Britain," she said.

"In the mid-1970s he was appointed to the post of Master of the Queen's music which was the most distinguished music post at that time in England."

"The fact that he could achieve such success abroad, but then had to stay abroad to maintain that status, combined with his outspoken character, led Australians to view him as a tall poppy and not really embrace him the way that he should have been."

Williamson, who died in in 2003, had more than 250 compositions to his name in a diverse range of styles from serious operas and orchestral music through to miniature operas for children which were also workshopped for people with disabilities – making early inroads into music therapy.

"At the time he was criticised by some for writing for children and wasn't viewed as a serious composer for that part of his work," Dr Philpott said.

Dr Philpott's book looks closely at the drive behind several of Williamson's compositions.

"My book is an academic book as I look at the music in quite a bit of depth, but I have also tried to tell a story about his inspiration for composing the works – all of the works I've chosen to focus on are ones he composed about Australian places or occasions."

Closer to home there is also a nice local connection to Williamson, with Conservatorium of Music lecturer and Tasmanian composer Don Kay, a former student of Williamson's.

Dr Philpott said she hoped the book would broaden people's understanding and strengthen the Australian connection to Williamson and the work he produced.

"I'm very happy with the way it has come together, and I hope it does serve to raise more awareness of Williamson's music and his contribution to Australian music and music more broadly," she said.

And she is already looking towards her next book.

"There have been a lot of compositions about Antarctica which I may focus on for my next book – although that will be a very long-term project," Dr Philpott said.

Launch details

What: Launch of Nostalgia and National Identity in the Music of Malcolm Williamson.

When: Monday, 17 December 2018, 5.30pm-7.00pm.

Where: Conservatorium of Music, Sandy Bay Rd, Hobart.

RSVP / Contact Information:  or 03 6226 4300.

Published on: 14 Dec 2018 11:10am