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Town Hall plaque marks site of composer’s home

Town Hall plaque marks site of composer’s Christchurch home

It is a little known fact that Douglas Lilburn, one of New Zealand’s best known composers, once lived on the Christchurch Town Hall site.

That is soon to change, when a Christchurch City Council funded plaque, marking where he lived, will be officially installed on Tuesday 2 March.

Councillor Anna Crighton, chair of the Council’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee, who will speak at the ceremony said, “Douglas Lilburn enriched lives and brought pleasure to many. This recognition of his extraordinary talent is not only warranted but overdue.”

The idea for the plaque came from Christchurch composer Philip Norman, who approached Councillor Barbara Stewart for help in bringing it to fruition. Dr Norman said he had always thought it was a “fantastic coincidence” that Lilburn had lived and worked in the area that is now part of the concourse near the Town Hall’s Ferrier Fountain.

“Lilburn is New Zealand’s premier composer and the Town Hall Auditorium Christchurch’s premier concert venue. It adds historical interest and colour to the site knowing that an internationally recognised composer wrote some of his best-known music there.”

Dr Norman said Lilburn was the first concert composer to try to capture the New Zealand environment in sound. “Most of his works, now regarded as successful in this, were either written in Christchurch or drew inspiration from the South Island,” he said.

Compositions written on the Town Hall site include the landmark Landfall in Unknown Seas set in 1942 to a poem by Allen Curnow and commemorating Abel Tasman’s 1642 sighting of New Zealand.

Dr Norman said the room, where Lilburn lodged during the late 1930s and through the 1940s, was at 175 Cambridge Terrace in a block of eight brick terraced houses. These were demolished and that stretch of CambridgeTerrace stopped, when construction of the Town Hall began in about 1970. Between 1934 and 1936, Lilburn studied for a Diploma in Music at the Canterbury University College; he spent three years at the Royal College of Music in London; and returned to Christchurch to work as a freelance composer through the 1940s.

From 1950 he lived in Wellington, where he lectured at Victoria University until his retirement in 1980. Douglas Lilburn NZOM died in 2001.

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