Madame Mallalieu by Peter Roennfeldt. 2015. A review by John Cook

Mme Mallalieu

There were a number of things about this book that I found particularly engaging while at other times I found myself skimming at some speed.

The central character Henrietta Percival reminded me of my great grandmother Emily Percival who arrived in Queensland with a young husband who died and then had to make her own way with a successful second marriage and long life. She was a very strong character in my family history with an enduring impact on later generations. I found myself musing on how some early settling women seemed to have found (and created) opportunities they might have lacked in their birthplace. As a consequence, the passing insights into the fast-growing Brisbane away from its colonial centre into a city with districts and suburbs were always interesting.

I am a now-lapsed long-term attendee of QSO concerts from Youth Concert days onward and was always interested in the programming. I therefore found the detailed descriptions of what was being played in a variety of settings of interest especially as much of it seemed to still have been on offer 100 years later. I was particularly interested in Gottschalk being played locally and this had me considering how important public and private music and its transmission must have been at that time with scores finding their way around the world with their champions taking them wherever instrumentation was available.

I paid close attention to what was detailed about the building of so many of the churches I have visited and in which I have heard music played especially that requiring the organ. I have visited all that were listed for music performance with the obvious exception of those demolished before my time.

As my family historian, and having studied my fair share in the past, I was full of admiration for the resources utilised to background the book. I assume that much of the detail regarding performances and comments comes from the Trove coverage of newspapers, a wonderful and continually growing resource for anyone with interests in the relatively recent past.

I have to admit that as a solidly historical and music oriented biography, some might find only limited interest in some portions of the book, but even the most generalist reader with find enough with a little skimming to gain interesting insights.


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