Douglas Lilburn

Percy Grainger Prize

While visiting New Zealand in 1935 the eminent composer-pianist Percy Grainger, announced a prize for an original New Zealand composition. Douglas won this prize with his tone poem for orchestra called Forest.

"The turning point I suppose was that Percy Grainger prize ... I was a third year student doing orchestration for the first time when I wrote this piece called Forest and put it in, and to my astonishment a few months later a reporter and a photographer turned up on the doorstep. After that it was fame. You know the sweet taste of fame, never had it so good since.

It gave me 25 pounds. What that was worth in those days I don't know, but it was enough to impress my family that there might be a bit of money in it you know. Not only that but my father had a letter from the President of the Farmers' Union congratulating him on his son's musical success. And I think it shook him a bit because he couldn't believe it. He used to say, if it had to be music couldn't it be the bagpipes!"

- Extract from Jack Body's interview with Douglas (ca 1980).

Opportunity for N.Z. Composers

N.Z. Radio Record - Friday April 17, 1936

At the suggestion of Mr. Percy Grainger, the eminent composer-pianist, who has donated the first prize of twenty-five pounds, the New Zealand Broadcasting Board is conducting a competition for a typical New Zealand musical composition. Second and third prizes of ten pounds and five pounds respectively, have been donated by the New Zealand Broadcasting Board, in addition to Mr. Grainger's first prize of twenty-five pounds, and entries are invited from all New Zealand-born musicians and others interested.

The following conditions have been laid down at the request of Percy Grainger:

  • The composer must be a born (not naturalised) New Zealander.
  • The composition to be between five minutes and thirty-five minutes in length.
  • The composition to be in any known or new musical style, and in any known or new musical form, and scored for any of the following combinations:
    • Six or more voices (vocal ensemble of solo voices or women's or children's chorus, or male chorus or mixed chorus, or solo voices with chorus), singing with or without words, with or without accompaniment by orchestral group (orchestra or chamber music or organ and instruments), or piano duet or two pianos. NB: Piano solo not permissible.
    • Chamber music for more than five, but not more than twenty-five instruments. Any combination of instruments may be employed, and a voice or voices (singing with or without words) may be used with the instruments if desired.
    • Orchestra of any size or combination of instruments (organ, piano, saxophones, etc, may be used as orchestral instruments).
  • The composition shall present typical New Zealand cultural and emotional characteristics. These may make themselves felt in a mood inspired by New Zealand nature in a patriotic background, in the use of Maori or other local traditional material in the development of "local colour", in the musical expression of the "national soul" in the celebration of a New Zealand city, in the celebration of a New Zealand rural mood, in the musical reflection of a New Zealand political point of view, or merely in the presentation of New Zealand moral and aesthetic ideals as applied to musical craftsmanship
  • The adjudicator appointed by the Board will be an eminent musician not resident in New Zealand.
  • It is desired that competitors, if selecting words for a song, give preference to sentiments of a distinctive New Zealand character.
  • Entries must be received by the General Manager not later than twelve noon on July 31.
  • The following prizes are offered:
    • 1st prize, 25 pounds (donated by Mr. Percy Grainger)
    • 2nd prize, 10 pounds (donated by N.Z. Broadcasting Board)
    • 3rd prize, 5 pounds (donated by N.Z. Broadcasting Board)

Click here to view the results for the Percy Grainger Prize.