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CUP book

Douglas Lilburn: His life and music

20 November 2023

By Philip Norman 


(Out of print)

April 2006
484pp, jacketed hardback
270 x 200mm, B&W & colour photos throughout
ISBN: 978-1-877257-17-9

WINNER - Biography Section,Montana NZ Book Awards 2007Finalist - Best First Book (Non-fiction), Montana NZ Book Awards 2007

Douglas Lilburn His life and music

This salute to ‘the father of New Zealand composition’ offers fascinating insights into the world of New Zealand music, literature and fine art through the eyes and ears of one of our most creative sons, Douglas Lilburn.

Affectionately written by composer and musicologist Philip Norman, the book is a happy blend of meticulous research and human-interest revelations from Lilburn’s personal papers.

Lilburn was at the vortex 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, and associations with leading arts organisations, from the National Film Unit and the literary journal Landfall to the New Zealand Players and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

At Victoria University of Wellington, where he taught for 30 years, Lilburn helped found what has become the most influential music school in the country. 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. This biography is a lively and long-overdue account of an extraordinary man.

‘A great New Zealand life has been given its due in a great biography.’ Chris Bourke, Sunday Star-Times

‘… an important, entertaining and informative book … It will become a classic.’ John Button, Dominion Post

‘Philip Norman’s new biography is an essential read for anyone interested in New Zealand’s cultural development.’ Jack Body, New Zealand Listener

‘It’s a bloody good read and undoubtedly biography of the year.’ Warwick Roger, North and South

From organs to orchestras, car horns to choirs, ballads to ballet, Philip Norman's experience as a composer spans the breadth of the performing arts. One of a handful of New Zealand composers in full time practice, he has had works commissioned or performed by most of the leading music, theatre and ballet companies in New Zealand. His music includes Footrot Flats and Love off the Shelf (stage musicals), Peter Pan (ballet), Plumsong (choir), The Juggler (orchestra) and A Christmas Carol (opera), all numbering among the most performed works by a New Zealand composer in their fields.

Philip Norman’s PhD in music history, conferred in 1984, was on the music of Douglas Lilburn. He was principal music critic for The Press, Christchurch, through the 1980s and is a past president of the Composers' Association of New Zealand. He lives in Christchurch with his wife, Alison, their four children and an array of pets.

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