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Story: Composers

New Zealand composers enjoy a thriving professional scene. They work in diverse styles, influenced by the environment, history, politics and Māori and Pacific cultures.

Story by William Dart
Main image: Samuel Holloway

Story Summary

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Origins

European-style classical music was introduced by British settlers, and was gradually supplemented by the work of local composers, who experimented with new themes and styles.

Alfred Hill (1870–1960) was New Zealand’s first important professional composer and incorporated Māori elements into his music. Douglas Lilburn, who established his name in the 1940s, is seen as the father of New Zealand composition.

New influences

By the 1960s women composers were becoming more prominent. They included Annea Lockwood, Jenny McLeod and Gillian Whitehead.

Composers were influenced by environmental and cultural issues, and there was renewed enthusiasm for exploring traditional Māori music and instruments.

The Composers’ Association of New Zealand was set up in 1974 – a milestone.

Professionalism

In the 1980s it became more possible to build a professional career in music in New Zealand – including as a composer. Composers no longer always needed to study overseas to hone their craft.

Resounding reputations

In the 1990s two men in particular increased the profile of the New Zealand composer. Gareth Farr gained a reputation for orchestral extravaganzas, while John Psathas drew on jazz, funk and his Greek heritage, and was commissioned to provide music for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Young composers

In the 2000s a new generation of composers benefited from high-quality teaching in the country’s various universities. They were also encouraged by new prizes, scholarships and residencies.

Some composers, such as Jeremy Mayall, revitalised the composing community by incorporating modern styles such as rock and turntabling.

How to cite this page:

William Dart, 'Composers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/composers (accessed 19 November 2017)

Story by William Dart, published 22 Oct 2014