Douglas Lilburn

Short Biography

Douglas Gordon Lilburn (born Wanganui, 2 November 1915; died Wellington, 6 June 2001)

Douglas Lilburn was born in Wanganui, New Zealand, in 1915. He attended Waitaki Boys’ High School from 1930 to 1933, before moving to Christchurch to study at Canterbury University College (1934-6). In 1937 he began studying at the Royal College of Music, London. He was tutored in composition by Ralph Vaughan Williams and remained at the College until 1939.

He returned to New Zealand in 1940 and was guest conductor in Wellington for three months with the NBS String Orchestra. He shifted to Christchurch in 1941 and worked as a freelance composer and teacher until 1947. Between 1946 and 1949 and again in 1951, Lilburn was Composer-in-Residence at the Cambridge Summer Music Schools.

In 1947 Douglas Lilburn shifted to Wellington to take up a position at Victoria University as part-time tutor in music. He was appointed full-time Lecturer in 1949 and Senior Lecturer in 1955. In 1963 he was made Associate Professor of Music and was appointed Professor with a personal chair in Music in 1970. In 1966 Lilburn founded the Electronic Music Studio at the university and was its Director until 1979, a year before his retirement. Lilburn was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago in 1969 and in 1978 was presented with the Composers’ Association of New Zealand (CANZ) Citation for Services to New Zealand Music. In 1988 he was awarded the Order of New Zealand.

Prizes and Scholarships include: Percy Grainger Competition, 1936, for his tone poem ‘Forest’; Cobbett Prize, Royal College of Music, 1939 for ‘Phantasy for String Quartet’; Foli Scholarship and Hubert Parry Prize, Royal College of Music, 1939; three out of four of the prizes in the New Zealand National Centennial Music Celebrations Competitions, 1940; the Philip Neill Memorial Prize 1944. Douglas Lilburn was founder of Waiteata Press Music Editions in 1967 and founder of the Lilburn Trust of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, 1984. His writings include ‘A search for tradition’, a talk given at the first Cambridge Summer School of Music in January 1946 (Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington 1984) and ‘A search for language’, a University of Otago Open Lecture, March 1969 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1985).

Douglas Lilburn, described as "the elder statesman of New Zealand music" and the "grandfather of New Zealand music," died peacefully at his home in Wellington on 6 June 2001. (source: SOUNZ)