Happy Birthday Douglas!

The 2nd of November, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001). One of the first composers from New Zealand to gain international recognition, his achievement continues to be acknowledged today. Lilburn also holds much significance for the National Library of New Zealand. Read on to learn how we are celebrating his contributions to New Zealand music and the Library – plus, an intriguing recent discovery.

Born to a farming family near Whanganui, Lilburn went on to study at Canterbury University College and then to the Royal School of Music in London under the tutelage of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, a great influence on the young Lilburn.

Returning to New Zealand in 1940, Lilburn first settled in Christchurch as a freelance composer, conductor, teacher and music critic. He moved to Wellington in 1947 to take up various teaching positions in music at Victoria University of Wellington: first as a part-time tutor, becoming a full-time lecturer two years later, eventually made an associate professor, and finally appointed a professorial chair in 1970.

In 1966 at the university Music Department, he founded an electronic music studio – the first of its kind in Australasia.

Equipment inside the electronic music studio, Victoria University of Wellington, circa 1975. Photograph by Michael Desmond King. ATL Ref. no. PAColl-0675-11Equipment inside the electronic music studio, Victoria University of Wellington, circa 1975. Photograph by Michael Desmond King. Ref: PAColl-0675-11

Although quite changed from its modest beginnings, the electronic music and recording studios still bear his name today. They were re-launched in April of this year at the New Zealand School of Music.

Lilburn Studios, New Zealand School of Music at the Relaunch April 2015. Photograph by Robert Cross, Victoria University of WellingtonLilburn Studios, New Zealand School of Music at the Relaunch April 2015. Photograph by Robert Cross, Victoria University of Wellington.

Time to Celebrate

That a New Zealander should continue to be so highly regarded is well worth celebrating – especially on such an occasion as a centennial.

Events involving Lilburn’s works, past and present, can be found in this sample from the SOUNZ website, which also features events held specifically for the Lilburn 100 centenary.

Through forming a trust in 1984, Lilburn continues to inspire many young New Zealand composers via the Lilburn Trust Student Composition Competitions held at five universities annually.

Lilburn also instigated the Archive of New Zealand Music, established in 1974 as part of the Alexander Turnbull Library. Later he deposited his papers with the Archive (Ref: MS-Group-0009) and went on to encourage many other New Zealand composers to do the same. Lilburn also bequeathed the rights to his music to the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust.

New discoveries and a puzzle

Although Lilburn passed away in 2001, new material is still being deposited with the Library. This includes two works for harp (fMS-Papers-11798) that Lilburn wrote for harpist and fellow composer Dorothea Franchi. Dated 1948, these two pieces are from the time when Lilburn and Franchi were both at the Cambridge Summer Music School. Prior to being donated to the Library in 2015, these two works were not widely known and are not included in any listings of Lilburn’s works to date.

First page of Poco Lento for harp by Douglas Lilburn, written for Dorothea Franchi in 1948 and recently donated. Ref: fMS-Papers-11798First page of Poco Lento for harp by Douglas Lilburn, written for Dorothea Franchi in 1948 and recently donated. Ref: fMS-Papers-11798

The harp pieces were brought to light and donated by New Zealand harpist Helen Webby, one of Franchi’s pupils. They are the only works extant of Lilburn writing for solo harp. Helen informs me that they are both well-written for the pedal harp, with pedal shifts accurately placed, chords, harmonics and glissandi comfortably positioned, and fingering clearly indicated.

It surprises me a little that Lilburn, having clearly demonstrated here a good ability for writing for harp, did not compose more for this instrument. Even his orchestral works do not include a harp in their instrumentation – excepting his last two: A Birthday Offering (1956) and Symphony no. 3 (1961). Perhaps this was because there were few harpists to write music for in New Zealand at that time and therefore no demand. (Franchi left to study in London later in 1948, returning to New Zealand in 1952.)

Lilburn wrote many other pieces as gifts for friends – most notably as Christmas presents for Lawrence Baigent and Leo Bensemann, and three bars as payment to pianist Margaret Nielsen for delivering “blood and bone” for his garden. Were the two harp pieces a thank you from Lilburn to Franchi for her contribution to the Cambridge Summer Music School? Maybe Franchi had given tuition on writing for harp, and Lilburn demonstrated his appreciation by including all the techniques she has spoken of in these two pieces? A puzzle still to be solved.

Three Bars for the Blood and Bone for Margaret, Christmas 1968. Ref: fMS-Papers-2483-027Three Bars for the Blood and Bone for Margaret, Christmas 1968. Ref: fMS-Papers-2483-027

How to Celebrate Lilburn’s Birthday: The Digitisation Project

Many archives and collecting institutions celebrate significant anniversaries of people and events by digitising related items. The British Library has digitised many items from their collections to celebrate significant events, for instance, copies of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of its signing, holograph scores of both Benjamin Britten to commemorate his 100th anniversary, and Richard Wagner for his 200th anniversary. Bach Digital was launched to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death, while further digitisation projects around the globe have marked the centenary of World War One.

It therefore seems fitting to also have a digitisation project for Douglas Lilburn’s 100th anniversary. But with his collection being so very large – consisting of nearly 1,000 folders and much else – the question is where to start?

Audio Recordings Digitised

With there being a comparatively small number of recordings of Lilburn’s own works in the collection, this seemed a good starting point. They comprise 64 open-reel tapes and cassette tapes that include recorded performances of his music and many master tapes of his electro-acoustic works. As audio-visual recordings are susceptible to damage and deterioration, all such Turnbull material have to be copied for researchers to access them, thus making it another good reason to digitise these first.

Audiovisual Preservation Studio at the Alexander Turnbull Library, including the newly installed Quadriga system.Audiovisual Preservation Studio at the Alexander Turnbull Library, including the newly installed Quadriga system.

The recordings were all digitised by the Audiovisual Conservation Team’s Sound and Video Technician, Zach Webber, using the newly installed Cube-Tec Quadriga system. There were relatively few problems in digitising them, with the tapes being in good condition and clearly identified on the tape housing, mostly in Lilburn’s own hand.

Tape identification on housing of Open reel tape of Triptych, Ref: MST7-0162Tape identification on the housing of the open reel tape of Triptych. Ref: MST7-0162

And when Lilburn was sometimes uncertain of the details, he indicated as much. Two cassettes of Margaret Nielsen playing Lilburn piano pieces have written on the label, ‘Margaret Nielsen, but where?’

Digitising the Scores

As far as research use is concerned, the scores are the most often accessed component of Lilburn’s collection, so these are the obvious choice of all the papers to start digitising. Of the 953 folders in the collection, 282 contain scores of Lilburn works. Some are sketches or early drafts or works that were revised later, with other folders containing performance parts for the orchestral works. While these are interesting to researchers, we decided to focus first on the final versions of scores. This still comprises approximately 150 scores and 4,700 pages!

As a starting point in this still large and slightly daunting task, we turned to Philip Norman’s biography, Douglas Lilburn: His Life and Music (Canterbury University Press, 2006). In introducing his analysis of Lilburn’s compositions and composition styles, Philip asked contemporaries of Lilburn’s which works they thought were the most significant. This resulted in a ‘Top Ten’ list (which is actually thirteen titles but includes three electronic works that do not have scores). The ‘Top Ten’ are:

Overture: Aotearoa and the Image Digitisation Process

Overture: Aotearoa is possibly the most well-known work of Lilburn’s, the original score of which was entered on the New Zealand Register for the UNESCO Memory of the World in 2011. Having been so often performed since being composed in 1940 this score has had many a conductor wave his or her baton over it and consequently it is in need of some major conservation work. Because of its UNESCO status, however, it has been decided to digitise it both before and after treatment.

Generally, digitising for this project will be done using two cameras – the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III cameras – in Imaging Services’ studio on the Lower Ground floor of the National Library. Studio capture setup utilises lighting the image evenly with two Kaiser lights angled at 45 degrees to light the level baseboard/table. The camera is attached overhead to an adjustable stand.

A book stand or foam wedge block is used to allow capture of one page at a time, with the item only needing to be open at 90 degree angle. A PC is set up next to the capture stand for previewing using tethered instant capture available with Capture One software.

Imaging Technician Llewelyn Jones preparing the score of Symphony no. 2 for image captureImaging Technician Llewelyn Jones preparing the score of Symphony no. 2 for image capture.

Processing image files is either done in Capture One or Adobe Lightroom. Images are converted to the ICC (International Color Consortium) colour profile. Once colour and image adjustments are completed using Lightroom, the output parameters are set to 8 bit Tiff files in the Adobe98 RGB colour space.

Colour management is about getting colours to match from input to output. This means that true colours will be captured by the camera, displayed accurately by the monitor, and the output – whether digital or printed – will match the original physical item’s colours.

Once images are finalised with agreed file naming conventions assigned, the Tiff files are ready for export and loaded into the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA).

For Overture: Aotearoa, the Phase One IQ180 digital back camera has been used – an 80 megapixel camera with a large sensor – giving the highest possible resolution. Full frame capture output is a 10,328 x 7760 pixel image, which greatly exceeds the library’s digitisation standards, capturing a minimum of 5000px on the long edge for music scores between A4 and A3 size and a 4000px minimum on longest edge for scores smaller than A4.

Title page of Overture: Aotearoa, showing the many repairs it has had, and also the marks of various owners, including the publisher Hinrichsen and two different addresses of Lilburn’s. ATL Ref. no. fMS-Papers-2483-048Title page of Overture: Aotearoa, showing the many repairs it has had, and also the marks of various owners, including the publisher Hinrichsen and two different addresses of Lilburn’s. Ref: fMS-Papers-2483-048

Accessing the Digitised Scores

For the digitised versions of both the audio and the scores, it has been decided to keep them accessible only in the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room of the Turnbull Library, in accordance with the original conditions of the donation. This restriction is both to protect the intellectual rights of the works and to be able to offer professional support to researchers accessing them. Ways of making them accessible to researchers unable to visit the library, however, are being investigated.

What next?

And what are the next ten scores to be? We have some ideas of our own, but this is also where we would be interested in hearing what you think they should be! Please send us your suggestion and/or list of favourite Lilburn acoustic works, either in the comments below or in an email.

By Keith McEwing

Keith McEwing is the Assistant Music Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Paul Sutherland November 2nd at 12:18PM

And if your library subscribes to Naxos Music then you will be able to listen to over 10 CDs worth of Lilburn recordings, including the great collection Electro-acoustic Works.

Keith McEwing November 3rd at 4:18PM

Thanks Paul, yes Naxos have made many recordings of Lilburn works and with some of NZ's finest musicians. It should also be noted that there are about 120 recordings listed in the National Library catalogue of Lilburn works, many of which can be accessed through inter-library loan.

Anthony Ritchie November 4th at 11:35AM

Excellent blog Keith, and very interesting about the harp piece. Its a pity in a way that the digitised scores and recordings won't be available online for students but I understand the reasons for this. Maybe samples could be considered for wider viewing at some stage?