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Complete Piano Music Vol.7 (Preview)

Music by Douglas Lilburn | Piano

FOREWORD Douglas Lilburn

FOREWORD Douglas Lilburn occupies a pre-eminent position in New Zealand music, with a legacy extending well beyond his compositional output. As a composer, teacher and mentor he presided in innumerable ways over the artistic growth of New Zealand from 1940 onwards. From the early works redolent of the influence of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams, to the electro-acoustic pieces of his later years, his works have been instrumental in establishing a genuinely vernacular voice in New Zealand classical music. In 2005 Trust Records launched the first volume in the award-winning recording series showcasing all of Lilburn’s piano music, receiving ‘Best Classical Album’ in the 2005 Recording Industry of New Zealand Music Awards and in the same year, Gramophone acclaimed that ‘[These] performances and recordings are unobtrusively excellent.’ This edition is the seventh of eight companion volumes to accompany the recorded series and draws on the expertise of Dr Robert Hoskins, formerly an Associate Professor at Massey University and the New Zealand School of Music and Rod Biss, formerly of Schott London, Faber Music and Price Milburn Music, who was instrumental in first publishing Lilburn’s piano music in the 1970s. Having worked with Lilburn directly on these early publications, Biss has now revisited original source materials in the preparation for this series. Together, the editors have carefully considered and clarified Lilburn’s manuscripts and early publications in preparing these volumes as both scholarly and practical editions for performance, and presented with the exacting and elegant house style of Promethean Editions. This collection does not generally include juvenilia, trivia, incomplete or rejected pieces/movements. Exceptions are specified in the notes. Biography Douglas Lilburn (1915–2001) grew up on ‘Drysdale’, a hill–country farm bordering the mountainous region at the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. He often described his boyhood home as ‘paradise’ and his first major orchestral work, Drysdale Overture (1937), written while a student under the aegis of Ralph Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music in London, conjures up the hills, bush and stream as primal sites of imaginative wonder. Recalling the impression of Drysdale Overture, Lilburn wrote: ‘I’m left with that lovely Mark Twain image of Jim and Huckleberry drifting their barge down that great river, looking up at the stars and wondering “whether they was made, or only just happened.”’ At this time Lilburn wrote his Festival Overture and the Sonata 1939, together with other works that expressed national pride: a cantata entitled Prodigal Country (1939), and the Aotearoa Overture (1940), which has become a New Zealand classic. Although these works were written in his student years, their content, style and general confidence reveal Lilburn as an achieved artist. Returning to Christchurch, Lilburn banded together with an innovative group of painters, poets and publishers who were to prove influential. Settings of Allen Curnow and Denis Glover, for instance, resulted in two iconic works: Landfall in Unknown Seas (1942), a voyage of spiritual discovery for narrator and string orchestra, and the song cycle Sings Harry (1953), the musings of a middle-aged bachelor who, returning to the mountains where he grew up, begins to reassess and evaluate the course his life has taken. Two more works, an orchestral tone poem A Song of Islands (1946) and the Chaconne (1946), find their parallel in the regional paintings of Rita Angus. PEL07 – iv

In 1947 Lilburn joined the staff at Victoria University College in Wellington and completed several works that received high critical acclaim, including two symphonies, two piano sonatas, and the Alistair Campbell song cycle Elegy (1951) – a vision of the titanic indifference of nature. Lilburn composed the Symphony No.3 (1961), along with Sonatina No.2 (1962) and Nine Short Pieces for Piano (1965–66), in response to a stimulating period of sabbatical leave. Masterpieces of concentrated form, these works explore the boundaries of his instrumental writing. From this point until his retirement, Lilburn chose to take on the new territory of electroacoustic composition. Lilburn’s final years were spent quietly at home in Thorndon, Wellington, tending to his garden and, until the onset of arthritis, playing his beloved August Förster piano. He received the Order of New Zealand in 1988. Prelude (1951) This piece, which has a Bachian feel for harmonic movement, has aptly been described by the pianist Margaret Nielsen as ‘exuding a sort of rhapsodic nostalgia as each phrase struggles to escape from the pedal points that act as secure anchors to different tonal areas.’ A surge of sound in the middle releases the music into a new tonal centre of C sharp minor but shifting tonalities ensue until it finally resolves into D major. Lilburn is spare with performing instructions but, as a general rule in pieces like this, one aims for clearness and plasticity of sound. Five Bagatelles (1942) Allegro Largo Allegro con brio Tranquillo (‘From the Port Hills’) Allegro The musical structure as one moves through this set progressively reveals a larger unity. The fourth prelude is known independently as ‘From the Port Hills’, which is a topographical reference to the Christchurch landscape; the hushed chords and ambient modalities create a warming nimbus, and this special envelope of sound sustains from first to last. Noel Newson premiered Five Bagatelles on 12 December 1942 at a concert presented by the Royal Christchurch Musical Society (he gave a repeat performance at a concert devoted to Lilburn’s music held in the Canterbury University College Hall on 29 September 1943). A recording of Lilburn playing ‘From the Port Hills’ exists in the National Sound Archives. ‘Three Pieces’ (1965) These pieces reveal the erudition of Lilburn’s serial technique but, just as in his Third Symphony, this is not serialism for the sake of serialism but serialism to invite another dimension. The last piece is a marvel of sustained intensity and it is wonderfully instructive to see how Lilburn varies the limpid sonorities emanating from the opening bars to create an even more transfixing beauty. PEL07 – v

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