Sunday, 10 February 2013

Landfall In Unknown Seas - Lindsay String Orchestra of Wellington (1960)

I’m very interested in the ways that Australasian musicians and composers attempt to recreate their natural surroundings with music. In some cases, as in last post’s Rainforest or John Sangster’s work, this is done in a literal sense with field recordings, bird calls and occasionally abstract evocations of ‘otherness’. These are old continents, but new to the Europeans whose musical traditions we inherited. This lovely recording by the Lindsay String Orchestra of Wellington takes a very different approach; this is the discovery of New Zealand by white men interpreted in modern verse and orchestral strings.

The A side is taken up entirely by the titular track - a combination of original poetry and music by Allen Curnow and Douglass Lilburn respectively. Curnow was commissioned to write a poem for the 300th anniversary of Abel Tasman’s discovery of New Zealand. Lilburn, one of New Zealand’s most prominent composers of the time and a student of Vaughan Williams, was approached to create music to accompany the verse. The poem, read by the author, is interspersed by three movements of a pastoral, modern classical feel. The second movement is my favourite, ‘a dramatic lyric, in rapid short metre and strict pattern recounting the Landfall in New Zealand, the bloody clash with the islanders, and Tasman’s departure.’

Landfall In Unknown Seas is followed up with three pieces by other New Zealand composers. All three are modern classical interpretations of folk music. Cindy: A Square Dance For Strings and Turkey In The Straw are both from the American folk tradition, while Dances Of Brittany was inspired by ‘a suite of Breton popular tunes.’

I have no idea when this recording was produced, but I’d say it was sometime in the early sixties, based on the dates mentioned in the various composers’ bios*. Also, this record is the first I’ve seen on the Kiwi label. According to a blurb on the sleeve, this label used to release ‘New Zealand composers, New Zealand bird song, leading Maori concert groups, records for children and for educational purposes, folk song, language instruction’ - it all sounds very appealing! If you have any interesting records on this label please let me know in the comments.

*EDIT 4/05/2016: I have found a review of this record in the December 1960 edition of Te Ao Hou, from the National Library of New Zealand: 
Te Ao Hou was published from 1952 to 1976 by the Māori Affairs Department in New Zealand Aotearoa. According to its first editorial, Te Ao Hou aimed "to provide interesting and informative reading for Maori homes … like a marae on paper, where all questions of interest to the Maori can be discussed."
Although the release date of this LP was originally unknown to me, I can now assume it was 1960. 

Label: Kiwi
Released: 1960
Players: Alex Lindsay - conductor
Allen Curnow - poet
Douglas Lilburn - composer (Landfall In Unknown Seas)
Ashley Heenan - composer (Cindy: A Square Dance For Strings)
Larry Prudent - composer (Dances Of Brittany)
John Ritchie - composer (Turkey In The Straw)


  1. Many thanks for sharing this. It's been a favorite ever since cassette-copying days - but it's different from the "original" version I have with sir Edmund Hillary as Narrator. He might have been one of the last proper explorers, but a proper narrator he was not... at least in this version I can follow what is said without hard copy. NB: maybe this version is a re-issue of a 40ties recording, with Alan Curnow reading his won work? (see this Kiwi blurb:

  2. Interesting... it could be a reissue - it is described as the 'New Zealand Composer Edition' - perhaps that is fancy talk for a repackaged version of an old LP. And there is no date on the LP anywhere, so there's some uncertainty there, certainly. I'd be quite interested to hear Sir Edmund having a crack at the poem! Glad you enjoyed this unique piece.