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A salute to the father of New Zealand composition

27 March 2006

The biography of a pioneering Kiwi composer who was instrumental in establishing a genuinely New Zealand voice in music will be launched by Canterbury University Press next month.

Christchurch composer and musicologist Philip Norman with his book Douglas Lilburn: His Life and Music.

Douglas Lilburn: His Life and Music is a 21-chapter salute to the man regarded as "the father of New Zealand composition" and offers fascinating insights into the world of New Zealand music, literature and fine art through the eyes and ears of one of the country's most creative sons.

Written by Christchurch composer and musicologist Philip Norman, the book blends meticulous research with human-interest revelations from Lilburn's personal papers. It is elegantly written for a popular audience, with appendices for music historians.

In researching and writing the biography, Dr Norman says he couldn't help but be inspired by the story of Douglas Lilburn.

"Out of nowhere, and against considerable opposition he forged a composing career in which he made few artistic compromises. His very successes have served to show others that it could be done, that concert music of quality and distinctiveness could be written in these Antipodean Islands, half a world away from the well-springs of European culture."

Dr Norman was encouraged to write Lilburn's biography following the premier composer's death in 2001 and his PhD on Lilburn's music, conferred by the University of Canterbury in 1984, basically formed the first draft of the book.

"What wasn't included in that was the personal material, but after his death all his papers were deposited in the Turnbull Library. He was a closet diarist and kept copies of all his correspondence which helped fill in the gaps about the private life of this complex and extraordinary man."

Readers will also get a glimpse into the lives of many other big-name artists of the day as Lilburn was at the centre of arts activity in New Zealand from the 1940s, forging friendships with cultural luminaries such as Allen Curnow, Denis Glover, Rita Angus and Alistair Campbell.

Lilburn, who studied for a Diploma in Music at Canterbury University College between 1934 and 1936, spent his most prolific decade as a composer in Christchurch in the 1940s and is commemorated with a plaque outside the Christchurch Town Hall, the site where the composer's lodgings used to stand.

He taught at Victoria University of Wellington for 30 years and a number of his former students are now leading composers and teachers. His work was recognised with many honours, including a personal chair in composition and the rare Order of New Zealand, New Zealand's highest award.

The "musician with the farmer's hands", as Lilburn once described himself, touched and enriched many lives and continues to do so through the Lilburn Trust, which works to foster and promote New Zealand music. This biography is a lively and long-overdue account of New Zealand 's most significant composer.

Douglas Lilburn: His Life and Music will be launched at the University of Canterbury's University Bookshop (UBS) on Thursday 20 April. There will also be a Wellington launch function on Thursday 27 April at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Click here to view more photos in the launch gallery

  • Douglas Lilburn: His Life and Music, by Philip Norman, published by Canterbury University Press, April 2006, RRP NZ$55.00, Hardback with jacket, 206 x 190 mm 484 pp, b/w & colour illustrations. ISBN 1-877257-17-6. Link to more new title information for this book

For further information please contact:
Maria De Cort
Canterbury University Press
Tel: +64 3 364 2072
Fax: +64 3 364 2679
Mob: 027 224 5104