About this Recording
8.572185 - Guitar Recital: Herbig, Gunter - FARQUHAR, D. / LILBURN, D. (Prospero Dreaming - New Zealand Guitar Music, Vol. 1)

Douglas Lilburn (1915–2001) • David Farquhar (1928–2007)
New Zealand Guitar Music


New Zealand’s flourishing interest in the classical guitar has its roots from the late 1950s onwards when Ronald Burt (1928–2007), painter and guitarist, emigrated from England and began to teach the guitar in Wellington. Such was his influence that several New Zealand composers, including Douglas Lilburn and David Farquhar dedicated works to him. The growing guitar tradition was invigorated when in the 1960s, Emile Bibobi (1917–1993), a player and teacher of international status, settled in Auckland. Some years later the British virtuoso, John Mills (b. 1947) taught for three years at the Nelson School of Music and similarly enhanced the instrument’s popularity throughout the whole country. Other leading concert performers such as Julian Bream included New Zealand in their itinerary during these years. In the late 1980s, the guitarist Gunter Herbig also emigrated to New Zealand and it is appropriate that he should be the first artist to record in depth the guitar music of Lilburn and Farquhar, the two pre-eminent composers who enriched New Zealand’s musical culture in the modern era.

Douglas Lilburn, considered by many the founding father of New Zealand music, studied with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music, London (1937–40) and subsequently took up a post at Victoria University of Wellington, being appointed professor in 1970. He became an admired mentor to generations of younger composers and received many honours, among them the Order of New Zealand (1983). His output includes three symphonies and other orchestral pieces, a considerable amount of vocal music, chamber works, and compositions for piano. Lilburn also wrote a quantity of electro-acoustic music for television, ballet and theatre, and established an electronic music studio at the university.

Lilburn wrote a number of works for the guitar from the late 1960s onwards at a time when his creative energies were concentrated on writing electro-acoustic music, but Ronald Burt persuaded him to contribute to the guitar repertoire and over several months throughout 1969 and 1970 he presented Burt with the collection which would be published in 1975 as Seventeen Pieces for guitar. The order of performance here follows the initial numbering by Lilburn himself in his handwritten manuscripts held by the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. Within these notes, however, the original numbering of the pieces is also indicated.

Seventeen Pieces represents a comprehensive exploration of guitaristic possibilities in a contemporary setting. Only two movements have titles, the rest being identifiable only by numbers. Usually the composer dispenses with a key signature, except in the two Canzonas, and several works are without a time signature, implying a desire for interpretative freedom.

The first piece [1] (No. 1 in the published score) begins with melodies accompanied by open bass strings and a few moments of Spanish images. [2] (No. 6) is a short improvisation marked Rather slow, with freedom, contrasting with [3] (No. 7), a study in broken chords. [4] (No. 2), Canzona—The Flower of the Sea, presents an arrangement of Song 5 from Lilburn’s song cycle Sings Harry (1953). [5] (No. 4), Allegro, a further exercise in arpeggiated patterns, consists of single notes in the manner of a Bach cello movement until the final two note chord. [6] (No. 5), moderato, with freedom, is very different, a work of four beats to a bar with unexpectedly diverse rhythmic patterns. [7] (No. 3) offers a compact enigmatic mood in six/eight time, characterised by dissonant chords punctuating the melodic line.

On [8] (No. 8), con moto, the composer delights in monodic textures, with occasional assistance from open basses. [9] (No. 9) complements its predecessor by deploying single notes without a time signature. [10] (No. 12), in two-four time, synthesizes textures previously heard such as arpeggio patterns, rhythmic chords, and melodic aspects. [11] (No. 10), con moto, offers a developing atonal melody where periodic chords stimulate both tension and balance. [12] (No. 13), Allegro comodo in three-eight time, in single notes, is a fine example of Lilburn’s Bach-like fluency in the context of a twentieth century musical vocabulary. The shifting time signatures of [13] (No. 14), Canzona, express a lyrical but unpredictable atmosphere. [14] (No. 11) is a miniature dance in three-eight, the accent tending to fall on the middle beat of the bar. [15] (No. 15), another Allegro comodo in three-eight time, reminiscent of No. 13 in its headlong momentum, brings to mind the contours of the baroque Courante. Finally on [16] (No. 17), an angular treble melody is answered by contrasting runs in the bass before [17] (No. 16) concludes the sequence in four-four, characterized by dotted rhythms, arpeggiated patterns and subtle repetitions.

The other pieces by Lilburn are taken from his unpublished music. The composer tried his hand at arranging his own work for guitar but Gunter Herbig discovered various unpublished pieces for the instrument including Lilburn’s arrangement of Canzona 1 from Four Canzonas.

Canzonas 1 and 2, originally composed as incidental music for Shakespearian productions, were intended respectively for the mime of the Players in Hamlet (1943) and the Willow Song in Othello (1944). Canzonas 3 and 4 (1950) were written to accompany a reading of The Lay of Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke.

David Farquhar, a student of Douglas Lilburn before going to study at Cambridge University and the Guildhall School of Music, London, took up a post as lecturer at Victoria University in 1953 and was appointed professor there in 1976. His compositions, comprising over one hundred works, include several operas, symphonies and other orchestral works, choral and chamber music, song cycles, and instrumental pieces.

Three movements of Suite(1966), dedicated to Ronald Burt, were published by Bèrben, edited by Angelo Gilardino, in 1974. The composition begins with a poignant, meditative and questioning Prelude, which sets the gently introspective mood of the pieces to come. Capriccio, marked Vivo, in six-eight time, opens with two bar phrases in a kind of question and answer until this gives way to scalic semiquaver passages. A few intermediate bars, meno mosso, reiterate one of the melodic fragments over an open string chord. The coda includes slow harmonics and a brief reprise of the opening motif. Ostinato, written on two staves, polyrhythmically presents two time signatures, three-four and six-eight, the lower line at first being chordal. After an animato episode, the ending deploys a pedal bass, the chords now being placed in the treble and played in bell-like harmonics. Rondino, a lively dance movement features percussive effects and rhythmic chords. Finally, Epilogue provides a dialogue between a bass pattern and treble chords, leading to a chordal bass part mainly in thirds, responded to in the treble. After harmonics in a central section, a reprise lowers the chords of the opening to the middle register before a pedal bass takes over for the serene ending.

Prospero Dreaming (1995) evokes the lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep’. Throughout this work the guitar’s entire range is explored. The piece is rarely heard as it remains so far unpublished. The equation of the imaginative empathy of New Zealanders with Prospero’s Enchanted Island (the name of one of Farquhar’s operas) is implicit throughout this composition.

Graham Wade

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