I know Douglas Lilburn is supposed to be one of the greatest composers New Zealand has produced, but for the life of me I can’t enjoy his music. Almost without exception it seems to have nothing I can call a melody, or even a melodic line. Okay this might not be considered any big deal, except that he seems to rely on little rhythmic phrases or small movements repeated again and again, and in the end there’s nothing you can hang your hat on.
His early music almost gets melodic, and then it’s as if he eschewed (word of the day) the idea of melody and decided as time went on he’d go for nothing that struck anyone in the nature of a melody. Now there are plenty of composers who can’t be considered melodic in the first instance, but none of them seem quite to throw melody out the window, the way Lilburn does. By the time he’s in the middle of his career he’s writing stuff that floats around the piano but doesn’t seem to have any beginning, middle or end, and in his later works he’s even tossed that stuff aside and gone for electronic music – which of course makes him very modern and therefore the darling of all those who chase modernism as an idol to be adored at all costs. Even their musical commonsense.
I struggle to like his music, as I mostly struggle to like Colin McCahon’s paintings. I hear the crowd saying both are very good, but I struggle to hear or see it. More on this anon, no doubt!
Just remembered that I have performed Sings Harry with a singer, Brent Read, in the last few years, and yes, there is some music there, but.....
What am I trying to say about it? That it's an exception to my criticism above. Maybe. It certainly has a melancholic quality, but it's also fairly early in his canon.
You can hear some of his music by clicking here.