Ten Holt was born in Bergen, North Holland, the Netherlands, and studied with Jakob van Domselaer, eventually developing a highly personal style of minimal composition. Van Domselaer's influence on ten Holt's musical philosophy was considerable, with the younger composer picking up van Domselaer's interests in the links between music and visual art, in music's relationship with mathematics, and in the use of the piano as a principal instrument in his compositions.
Ten Holt generally used consonant, tonal materials and his works are organized in numerous cells, made up of a few measures each, which are repeated ad libitum according to the player's preference. Many of his works are for piano or ensembles of multiple pianos. His most famous work is Canto Ostinato, which he wrote in 1976 and is one of the most famous classical works in (modern) Dutch music history.
Ten Holt died 25 November 2012 in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, aged 89.