Douglas Gordon Lilburn

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Born: 2 November 1915 — Wanganui — New Zealand
Died: 6 June 2001New Zealand
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  • 1932: Opus 1, a sonata for piano in 3 movements.
  • 1936: Forest tone poem for ochestra. Winner of Percy Grainger Competition in 1936.
  • 1937: Choral Sketches for baritone, male chorus and SATB.
  • 1937: Drysdale Overature for Orchestra. Winner in orchestra class of NZ Centennial Celebrations Music Competition in 1940.
  • 1939: Phantasy for String Quartet ("Westron Wynde"). Winner of the Cobbett Prize in 1939
  • 1939: Harvestmen a-singing: for unaccompanied chorus.
  • 1939: Festival Overture for orchestra. Awarded second prize in orchestral class of NZ Centennial Celebrations Music Competition in 1940.
  • 1939: Prodigal Country for baritone, chorus and orchestra.Winner in choral class of NZ Centennial Celebrations Music Competition in 1940.
  • 1939: Sonata for Pianoforte No. II in F# minor, in two movements.
  • 1939: A sonata for piano in three movements.
  • 1940: Summer’s Sadness for baritone and piano.
  • 1940: Aotearoa Overture for orchestra. Written for the NZ Centennial Matinee in London.
  • 1941: Suite for strings.
  • 1941: Short piano pieces: a collection of manuscripts and sketches.
  • 1942: Allegro for strings.
  • 1942: Two Concert Overtures for String Orchestra. No. 1 in D, No. II in B flat.
  • 1942: Landfall in Unknown Seas for strings and narrator. Test by Allen Curnow. Written to commemorate tercentenary of discovery of New Zealand by Tasman.
  • 1942: Canzonetta for violin and viola No. 1.
  • 1942: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for a cappella choir. For use by the Christchurch Cathedral choir.
  • 1942: Five Bagatelles for Piano.
  • 1943: Hamlet: incidental music for string orchestra.
  • 1943: Sinfonia in D for strings.
  • 1943: Sonata in C for violin and piano.
  • 1943: Sonata in Eflat for violin and piano.
  • 1943: Canzonetta for violin and viola No. 2.
  • 1943: Hamlet incidental music for three violins and tubular bell.
  • 1944: Diversions for piano.
  • 1944: Evening Service for SATB chorus. 1944: Music for Waitaki Boys’ High School Song. Words by Frank Milner, revised by Walter Brookes.
  • 1944: Prelude and Fugue in G minor for organ. Winner of the Philip Neill Memorial Prize in 1944.
  • 1944: Othello incidental music (violin and piano) for University of Canterbury Drama Society.
  • 1944: Willow song: for mezzo-soprano and piano.
  • 1944: Willow song: for mezzo-soprano and string quartet arrangement by Lilburn.
  • 1944: Distant Point incidental music for Canterbury Repertory Society production.
  • 1944: Allegro Concertante for violin and piano in A Phrygian Mode in one movement.
  • 1944: Four Preludes for piano.
  • 1945: String Trio.
  • 1945: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; incidental music for flute, cornet, two french horns.
  • 1945: King Henry V; incidental music for two trumpets.
  • 1945: Elegy for soprano, contralto, and strings.
  • 1945: A song for Otago University. Poetry by J.K. Baxter.
  • 1946: Sonatina for piano.
  • 1946: String Quartet in E minor.
  • 1946: A Song of Islands; originally titled Song of the Antipodes for orchestra.
  • 1946: Chaconne for piano.
  • 1946: Cambridge Overture for strings. Commissioned for the first Cambridge Summer School of Music.
  • 1946: Macbeth incidental music for Univ. of Canterbury Drama Society.
  • 1946: O Fons Bandusiae for voice and piano.
  • 1946: Song Thinking of her Dead for tenor and piano.
  • 1947: Diversions for String Orchestra.
  • 1947: Backblocks Hospital incidental music for National Film documentary.
  • 1947: The Infernal Machine incidental music for play by Cocteau.
  • 1947: Li Po in Spring; Voice and piano.
  • 1947: Canon for 2 clarinets.
  • 1947: Diversion for two clarinets in B flat and two trumpets in B flat.
  • 1947: Summer Afternoon for mezzo-soprano and piano.
  • 1948: Sonatina for clarinet and piano.
  • 1948: Prelude for piano.
  • 1948: Rhythm and Movement; incidental music for National Film documentary.
  • 1948: Variations on a Theme by Douglas Lilburn; written at Cambridge Summer Music School. Variation (1) Farquhar, (2) Dellow, (3) Carr, (4) Franchi, (5) Tremain.
  • 1948: Infant Schools incidental music for National Film documentary.
  • 1948: Moths and Candles: a dance for children. From Infant Schools documentary.
  • 1948: Journey for Three; incidental music for National Film feature film.
  • 1948: Two Diversions for piano.
  • 1948: The Islands settings for voice and piano of two poems.
  • 1949: Symphony No. 1 for orchestra.
  • 1949: Sonata for piano in 3 movements.
  • 1949: This is New Zealand; orchestral music for a BBC documentary.
  • 1949: The Trojan Women incidental music for play,
  • 1950: Sonata for violin and piano.
  • 1950: Prelude for piano from Three Sea Changes
  • 1950: Cornet Rilke; incidental music for string quartet to a reading produced by NZBS.
  • 1950: Lines in Autumn; songs for mezzo-soprano and piano.
  • 1951: Elegy song cycle for baritone and piano.
  • 1951: Prelude for piano.
  • 1951: Symphony No. 2 for orchestra; revised 1974.
  • 1952: Sonata for Piano (revised 1956).
  • 1952: Four Hand work: for piano four hands.
  • 1952: Hamlet; incidental music to Wellington Rep production.
  • 1952: Incidental music for a reading of poetry in Auckland Univ. College for violin and piano.
  • 1953: Dandy Dick incidental music for New Zealand Players’ production.
  • 1953: Sings Harry; song cycle for tenor and piano.
  • 1954: Sings Harry; arranged for baritone and piano.
  • 1954: Sings Harry; arranged for tenor and guitar.
  • 1954: Duos for two violins.
  • 1954: Clear Sky and The Picnic; two songs for soprano and piano.
  • 1954: Piano Piece for four hands. Allegro non troppo.
  • 1955: Suite for solo viola (performance MS missing).
  • 1955: Pieces in serial technique for various string combinations. Done at Tanglewood for Roger Sessions.
  • 1955: Pardongoddess of the night: for SATB chorus.
  • 1955: Suite for Orchestra.
  • 1955: St Joan; incidental music for NZ Players production.
  • 1956: A Birthday Offering for orchestra Commissioned by the National Symph. Orch. for its 10th birthday.
  • 1957: Wind Quintet.
  • 1957: Quartet for Brass Instruments.
  • 1957: Merchant of Venice; incidental music for NZ Players production.
  • 1958: Two duos for violin and viola.
  • 1958: Three Songs for Baritone and Viola.
  • 1958: Three Poems of the Sea for string orchesta and narrator.
  • 1959: Suite for Brass Band in 4 movements.
  • 1960s: Hommage à D.A.F.: for piano (for David Farquhar’s composition class).
  • 1961: Symphony No. 3 for orchestra.
  • 1961: Grand Canyon Uprun for wind quartet; music for private film.
  • 1961: The Axe; incidental music to radio play by Curnow.
  • 1961: Processional Fanfare for the final congregation of the University of New Zealand.
  • 1962: Sonatina No. 2 for piano.
  • 1962: Canzoa - The Flowers of the Sea. Arrrangement of the 5th song of Sings Harry.
  • 1962: Henry IV parts I and II. Incidental music for NZBC play.
  • 1962: Piano pieces and sketches.
  • 1964: The Pitcher and the Well; incidental music for NZBC play. Uses sound images of electronic derivation.
  • 1965: Canon for 6 hands for piano.
  • 1965: Gamelan for 6 hands for piano.
  • 1965: Canonic studies for piano Homage to J.S. Bach.
  • 1965: Fred’s Birthday for piano.
  • 1965: The Return Electronic Sound Image to poetry by Alistair Campbell.
  • 1966: Nine Short Pieces for Piano.
  • 1966: The Spiral Tatoo; incidental music for NZBC production.
  • 1966: Fragments of a Poem.
  • 1967: Poem in Time of War.
  • 1967: Study from One Note.
  • 1967: Cicadas, Oscillators and Tree Frogs.
  • 1967: The Golden Lover incidental music for Downstage Theatre. Play by Douglas Stewart.
  • 1967: He Mana Toa Maori Theatre Trust production.
  • 1967: Hot Spring; incidental music for Downstage production of play by Adele Schafer.
  • 1968: Three bars for the blood and bone for piano.
  • 1968: Three Studies for Gustav Ciamaga.
  • 1969: He Tohu O Waharoa; incidental music to a play by James Ritchie.
  • 1969: Summer Voices.
  • 1969: Five Toronto Pieces.
  • 1969: 16 pieces for guitar Published with Canzona.
  • 1970: Expo 70 Dance Sequence.
  • 1971: Lilburn versus Putney, Staircase Music and Glass Music (an end-of-term entertainment in the music room).
  • 1972: Three Inscapes.
  • 1972: One movement of 3 for viola.
  • 1973: Occasional Pieces for Piano.
  • 1973: Wide Open Cage; incidental music for play by J.K. Baxter.
  • 1974: Two pieces for guitar.
  • 1974: Welcome Stranger a ballet commissioned by the NZ Ballet Company.
  • 1975: Sounds and Distances.
  • 1975: Lines and Distances.
  • 1976: Carousel.
  • 1976: Winterset.
  • 1977: Tryptych.
  • 1977: Of Time and Nostalgia.
  • 1979: Soundscape with Lake and River.
  • 1980: Four Canzonas for strings written for solo violin and string quartet; arrangement of incidental music for plays between 1943 and 1950.
  • 1985: Processional Fanfare arranged for 3 trumpets and small orchestra from 1961; original composed for 3 trumpets with organ.
  • 1987: Grand Canyon Uprun: a suite for woodwind quartet. Arragement of original 1961 composition.

Douglas Lilburn compositions now on CD

  • The Three Symphonies - Continuum 1069 or Kiwi-Pacific CD-SLD-90
  • Drysdale Overature
    A Song of Islands
    Suite for Orchestra
    A Birthday Offering
    Prodigal Country (Not included on Continuum CD)
    Kiwi-Pacific CD-SLD-100 or Continuum CCD-1076
  • Allegro for Strings
    Landfall in Unknown Seas (Sir Edmund Hillary-Narrator)
    Diversions for String Orchestra
    Koch International #3-7260-2H1
  • Piano Music - Margaret Nielson, Pianist
    Three Sea Changes
    Sonatina #2
    1951 Prelude
    From the Port Hills
    Sonata 1956
    Nine Short Pieces
    Adagio sostenuto (from Occational Pieces-1975)
    Two Preludes 1951
    Sonata 1949
    Ode Record Co., Manu CD 1511
  • Aotearoa Overture (One selection of nine different New Zealand composers within a two CD set)
    Continuum CCD-1073-2
  • Prelude & Fugue in G minor - John Wells, organist
    Two of 13 organ selections on Ribbonwood RCD-1005
  • There are a number of other Douglas Lilburn selections on audio cassette format only with most of them obtainable from Kiwi-Pacific, PO Box 826, Wellington; fax: 64 April 3896394
  • Note that the Ribbonwood, Ode and Kiwi-Pacific recordings will be very had to find outside of New Zealand. One excellent single source option exists in contacting: Russell Finnemore, Recherche Recordings, Timatanga Road, Whenuapai, Auckland, New Zealand. E-mail: r.finnemore(at) or fax: 64 September 373-7446
  • Mr. Finnemore will locate most any New Zealand classical recording and provide it at a resonable cost. You can pay with Visa or Mastercard. In any case, details will be provided regarding how to contact the respective recording company to those that e-mail Charles Eggen such a request.


Douglas Gordon Lilburn was born November 2, 1915 in Wanganui, New Zealand. His first years, until 1930, were mostly spent at the family station (farm) they called "Drysdale", at which time he was sent to the Waitaki Boys’ High School in Oamaru, where he received his first formal piano lessons (his first piano Sonata in C minor was composed in 1932). He enrolled in Canterbury University College in 1934, where he obtained a Diploma in Music by 1936. That same year he won a Percy Grainger prize for his first tone poem "Forest". This led his father to send him to the Royal College of Music in London, where from 1937 to 1940 he studied composition from Vaughan Williams. While there he won the colleges’ Cobbett Prize for his "Phantasy for String Quartet" and his "Aotearoa Overture" was first performed during the New Zealand Centenary celebration at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1940. Later that year he returned to New Zealand to find that his "Drysdale Overture", "Prodigal Country", and "Festival Overture" had won prizes in the New Zealand National Centennial Music Competitions. Most of the time from 1941 to 1947 was spent in Christchurch, where compositions such as his "Prelude and Fugue in G minor" for organ, his "Four Preludes for piano", his "Landfall in Unknown Seas" and the "Chaconne for Piano" were completed. Lilburn moved back to Wellington in 1947 to take a position at Victoria University, where he stayed until his retirement in 1980.

During the ‘50s and early ‘60s he composed many more abstract styles of compositions finally resulting in his Symphony #3 in 1961. Shortly thereafter he established the Electronic Music Studio at Victoria University and devoted most of the ‘60s and ‘70s to experimenting within the electronic form. In 1967 he established the Waiteata Press as a music publishing forum, which still exists to date. Most of his scores, manuscripts, writings, recordings and others personal papers and ephemera are archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

Further information can be found in "The Oxford History of New Zealand Music" by John Mansfield Thomson. The most extensive collection of his music for sale can be obtained from: Kiwi Pacific Records Ltd., PO Box 826, Wellington, New Zealand (unfortunately not available in the US). Currently (Sept. 1995) there are two CDs available in the US of his music. The Three Symphonies - Continuum 1069 (via Allegro Imports) and his Allegro for Strings, Landfall in Unknown Seas, and Diversions for String Orchestra are on Koch International 3-7260-2 H1.

Although Mr. Lilburn acquired an early love of Sibelius and had sincere regard for Vaughan Williams, he did not follow a nationalistic path, but developed a "naturistic" avenue that reflected his love of the landscapes of New Zealand. Being an avid tramper, he walked many of the treks and byways of the South Island and to this day, refers to his over-grown home lot in central Wellington as "My Jungle". His collaberation with New Zealand poets and other writers resulted in a distinct New Zealand musical art. He took seriously Vaughan Williams’ advice: "Don’t be clever, don’t be silly, don’t try to impress - search for what is valid in your intuition, your understanding, and go from that". This undoubtedly was a factor in his leaving instrumental composition for electronic. His belief in the development of a New Zealand musical tradition apart from the Victorian one that was all too common until the mid-twentieth century, was well expressed in his talk given January 1946 at the Cambridge, NZ, Summer School of Music.

The two primary sources for purchasing Lilburn scores are:

The Centre for New Zealand Music Ltd, PO Box 10042, Wellington
Phone: 64 April 495-2520
Fax: 64 April 495-2522

Waiteata Press Music, School of Music
Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
Wellington, New Zealand
Phone: 64 April 471-5369
Fax: 64 April 495-5157

Additional Publications:

"The Collection of Douglas Lilburn Manuscripts" in the Alexander Turnbull Library
National Library of New Zealand
PO Box 12349

Douglas Lilburn - A Festschrift
Edited by Valerie Harris and Philip Norman
Composers’ Association of New Zealand
PO Box 4065

Bibliography of New Zealand Compositions
Philip Norman
Nota Bene Music Publishing
PO Box 29125

Biographical Dictionary of New Zealand Composers
John Mansfield Thomson
Victoria University Press PO Box 600

Note: The Oct./Dec. 1995 (Vol.7) issue of The New Zealand Symphony’ "Symphony Quarterly" has a write-up on Mr. Lilburns’ 80th birthday. Copies can be obtained by writing: PO Box 6640, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Dying days:
(1910) Maurice Ravel: Premiere of Ma Mère l'Oye for two pianos, in Paris, France.
(1958) Heitor Villa-Lobos: Premiere of Symphony no. 12, in Washington D.C., USA.
(1985) Alfred Schnittke: Premiere of Concerto Grosso no. 3, in Moscow, Russia.

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