27 Jul 2019

LILBURN: Overture Aotearoa

From Music Alive, 8:00 pm on 27 July 2019
Hill and beach landscape at Mahia Peninsula

Photo: 123RF

Douglas Lilburn’s neo-classical 'Overture: Aotearoa' (1940) is rooted firmly in his nationalistic phase. Premièred in London, it made an immediate impression on the first listeners who discerned in its spacious musical ambience, correlations with the solitude and luminosity of New Zealand’s landscapes.

Opening with a short, lilting flute solo, it moves through a series of musical tableaux illuminating various features of this country’s natural environment. One writer likened its impact to viewing New Zealand for the first time, as early settlers might have done when approaching its coastline after several months at sea.

Sound Recorded in Christchurch Town Hall by Darryl Stack for RNZ Concert. Film by Chris Watson for SOUNZ.


Douglas Lilburn is generally recognised as New Zealand’s foremost composer. His early years were spent on the family sheep station in the Rangitikei district of the North Island: an idyllic setting for a young boy, which he later recalled as “a paradise to roam around in”. Following three years at Canterbury University College where he attended classes in journalism and music, he embarked on a further period of study at the Royal College of Music in London.

Douglas Lilburn

Douglas Lilburn Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: PAColl-7737-3-04

Returning to New Zealand in 1940, Lilburn took up residence initially in Christchurch, earning a living as a freelance composer, conductor, teacher and writer. The 1940s proved to be his most productive time as a composer, and many of his best-known works were written during this decade. With the establishment of a School of Music at Victoria University College in Wellington in 1946, Lilburn was soon offered a permanent, full-time position; and in 1949 he relocated to the capital, where he remained for the rest of his life. (Notes: Paul Goodson)

Recorded in Christchurch Town Hall by RNZ Concert

Sound engineer: Darryl Stack


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