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Complete Piano Music Vol.8 (Preview)

Music by Douglas Lilburn | Piano The Douglas Lilburn Complete Piano Edition was established to accompany Trust Records’ award-winning recorded collection of the same name. The final volume in a series of eight, it comprises Andante Sostenuto (1964), ‘Piece in E major’ (c. 1942), Prelude (1950), ‘A Christmas Offering’ (1944), and Sonatina No.2 (1962).

In a radio talk given to

In a radio talk given to celebrate Lilburn’s seventy-fifth birthday on 2 November 1990, pianist Margaret Nielsen recalled ‘it was my pleasure and privilege to walk into my university study one day to find the manuscript of Sonatina No.2 with a simple inscription sitting on my piano. As always, Douglas was sympathetic to my interpretation but also offered perceptive comments and suggestions which could only enhance my understanding and subsequent performance.’ This work, dedicated to Nielsen, testifies the depth of Lilburn’s regard for her as an interpreter of his music. She in turn, has commented on Lilburn’s perfect grasp of the piano in relation to ‘its lyrical strength, range of articulation and colour, and the way in which pedalling-effects can enhance sound.’ 1 The work, premiered by Nielsen on 22 July 1962 in the Music Room at the University of Victoria in a concert organised by the Wellington Society for Contemporary Music, is cast in three movements of which the third, linked to the second, is an epilogue that recalls earlier material. In an overview of the sonatina, Margaret Nielsen notices that the significance of Lilburn’s writing is that it never loses its elegance: From the outset it was apparent that Douglas’s musical language had taken a new direction, though a number of familiar features could be identified, such as the antecedent/consequent pattern of the opening phases, with its play on contrasting registers; the mercurial gestures; the underlying energy propelling the various motives to their destinations; the economical textures with every note so meaningfully placed – even the structure of the first movement falls neatly into a category of sonata form. What seemed new to my ears at the time were the actual sounds, based on a different harmonic system. Their poignant dissonances imbue the work (especially in the first and third movements) with a bitter-sweet nostalgia; even the second movement with its playful, provocative gestures and glowing sonorities retains the pervading reflective atmosphere. 2 And on Lilburn’s pedalling, Nielsen has this to say: Over the years, D and I frequently discussed pedalling – especially the versatility of the sustaining pedal and I quickly realised he really liked what that pedal could contribute toward colour, character, and sheer quality of piano sound, providing the pianist listened absolutely attentively to what sounds were emerging from the musical context. D frequently liked the aural picture of sound coming through a haze, or featuring a weighty resonance warmed by the pedal rather than a Germanic percussiveness. 3 In private conversation Lilburn often spoke nostalgically of ‘paradise’ as belonging to childhood. He once said to me, ‘growing up in the back country – that was real happiness, a child’s happiness.’ Memories of Edenic joys countered by an acknowledgement of their inevitable passing appear to underlie this sonatina. The bellbird-like idea opening the first movement, for instance, seems tuned to the memory of prelapsarian bliss but the tone of repining that we hear manifest in the epilogue comes from the fact that we are beyond Eden, at a distance of space and time. A great solitude was Lilburn’s constant companion – solitude that seems embedded on the shores of the second sonatina – also Sings Harry and the third symphony, works that might be regarded as companion pieces: but 1 Margaret Nielsen, ‘The Piano Music of Douglas Lilburn’ in Finding Language: The Massey University Composer Addresses, ed. Michael Brown and Norman Meehan with Robert Hoskins (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2017), 123. 2 Margaret Nielsen, ‘The Piano Music of Douglas Lilburn: Reflections on my On-going Appreciation of a Unique Treasury of Music’, Music in New Zealand 31 (1995-96), 24-25. 3 Email, Margaret Nielsen to Robert Hoskins, 22 May 2018. PEL08 – vi

The first page of the composer’s manuscript of Sonatina No.2. (Reproduced by permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Douglas Gordon Lilburn Papers fMS-Papers-5885-11) PEL08 – vii

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