Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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"Moonlight and Roses", and other things they played: Organ Recitals in New Zealand, 1870-1920

posted on 2024-05-30, 23:23 authored by Halliday, Dianne

The early history of pipe organs in New Zealand, and the music which was played on them, has long been of interest to organists and domestic organ builders alike. The primary focus of this exegesis is the performers themselves and the repertoire they chose to present to the public through the medium of the organ recital during a fifty-year period from 1870–1920. A case study approach is adopted, where two centres, one metropolitan and one provincial, have been selected from each of the two main island of New Zealand. Using primary source materials, including contemporary newspapers and concert programmes, details of a significant selection of organ recitals held in Wellington, Christchurch, Southland, and Hawke’s Bay can be tabulated. This allows for some discernment of trends in musical preferences.  New Zealand was no exception to the world wide practice by organists of utilising in their performances works not originally written for their instrument. In a wider Australasian context, organ recitals were conduits for the dissemination of symphonic, operatic and chamber music, particularly on larger instruments. The balance between transcriptions and works for the organ in these recitals is one of the study’s areas of investigation. This also requires some discussion of the instruments themselves. Another is the extent to which music was considered a formative social influence, particularly since most nineteenth-century recitals were played in churches, rather than civic (secular) auditoria, and were considered to take on the character of the venue.  The research also uncovers details about the origins and career paths of the performers. Some were private teachers, choral and/or instrumental conductors or accompanists. Still others had regular employment as schoolteachers or purveyors of instruments and sheet music, and a third group found primary employment outside the musical sphere either as civil servants or in private enterprise.  Analysis of the wealth of surviving information (concerning organists and their performances) demonstrates that the organ recital was a ubiquitous and popular event in New Zealand prior to World War I. Alongside other musical activities these programmes play a role in the development of society’s musical life, both in its own right and as the accompanying instrument for various choral societies (before the development of fully-fledged orchestral groups). Society was changed with the advent of hostilities; after they ended, there were new norms and expectations.  Outside the main text, the collations of raw data are provided on an accompanying CD, along with biographical details of those who made small contributions to the recital scene, or were present in New Zealand for only a limited time.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Musical Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Owens, Samantha; Mews, Douglas