Kōrero: Lilburn, Douglas Gordon

Whārangi 4: Promoting New Zealand music

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Lilburn, Douglas Gordon


Composer, professor of music, philanthropist

I tuhia tēnei haurongo e Philip Norman, ā, i tāngia tuatahitia ki Ngā Tāngata Taumata Rau i te 2010.

Though Lilburn ceased writing for conventional instruments in the mid-1960s, he remained interested in promoting all forms of New Zealand concert music. One of his first and most significant initiatives was the founding of Wai-te-ata Press Music Editions in 1967. This not-for-profit publishing venture was the first devoted to the works of New Zealand composers.


Lilburn also helped establish the Archive of New Zealand Music at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, in 1974. A decade later, he set up the Lilburn Trust with his own savings, under the umbrella of the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust, to further the development of New Zealand composition.

Awards and honours

In the latter part of his career and in retirement, Lilburn received many honours and awards for his accomplishments as a composer and for his work in promoting and encouraging the work of others. Awards included an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Otago in 1969, a Personal Chair in Music at Victoria University of Wellington in 1970, a Citation for Services to New Zealand Music from the Composers’ Association of New Zealand in 1978, and, in 1988, the rare honour of the Order of New Zealand.

Reclusive retirement

Lilburn reduced his hours because of personality conflicts in Victoria University’s music department, and became increasingly reclusive, particularly after his retirement in 1980. A combination of tinnitus, alcohol dependency and a natural propensity for solitude curtailed his public appearances. At times, he retreated to his crib (holiday home) at Queensberry, Central Otago, to write and reflect. However, he remained keenly interested in the world around him, writing letters on behalf of various causes, supporting a range of charities and continuing to offer encouragement to composers through his work on the Lilburn Trust. He died in Wellington on 6 June 2001, aged 85. In 2005 his home at 22 Ascot Street, Wellington, was purchased for preservation as a composers’ residence.

In the 2000s Lilburn’s music, especially the smaller pieces, appeared in New Zealand concert and broadcast programmes, and a considerable number of recordings were available, including the complete symphonies, piano music and electronic compositions.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Philip Norman. 'Lilburn, Douglas Gordon - Promoting New Zealand music', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/mi/biographies/6l2/lilburn-douglas-gordon/page-4 (accessed 18 September 2020)