Lili Kraus – honoured guest of New Zealand

Lili Kraus was possibly the greatest pianist ever to live in this country, and made a big impact on the musical world in New Zealand in the years after World War Two.

She was born in Budapest in 1903 in impoverished circumstances, but her mother was musical and she taught her piano from the age of 6. By the age of 8 she had entered the Royal Academy of Music there “creating a sensation with her audition”. Her tutors included three renowned  musicians – Kodaly, Bartok and Schnabel. She became a teacher at the Vienna Academy by the age of 20 and embarked on a successful playing career.

Unfortunately her luck changed when she decided on a world tour at the beginning of the World War Two,  and was caught by the Japanese invasion of Java. In 1943 she and her husband were arrested and sent to separate prison camps. Lili was sentenced to hard labour and lived in dreadful conditions. Nevertheless according to the LA Times she spent her time in the Japanese camp “studying piano masterpieces in her head, seeking new insights”. A Japanese conductor who had heard her play in Tokyo rescued her and she and her husband were transferred to a privileged camp in 1944, where she presumably received more than the two cups of rice per day that had she subsisted on previously. In 1945 they were freed and travelled to Australia and then New Zealand to recover.

Spencer Digby Studios. Pianist Lili Kraus - Photograph taken by Spencer Digby Studios. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-8602-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Spencer Digby Studios. Pianist Lili Kraus – Photograph taken by Spencer Digby Studios. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-8602-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

A music teacher who was a student in Nelson at the time tells me that she spent her first six months in New Zealand in Queenstown regaining her strength, then settled in Nelson where a family of emigres from Vienna gave her and her family a home. Her son and daughter were settled into local schools and Lili concentrated on developing her repertoire, giving local and regional concerts. She also became patron of the Nelson School of Music with which she maintained a connection for the next 30 years.  She apparently cut a flamboyant figure and my friend remembers that her favourite music was Schubert and Bartok – the latter a composer she was instrumental in introducing Nelson audiences.

Her concerts here were greatly treasured by the New Zealand musical community. An attendee at a recital in Christchurch told me how wonderful her interpretations of Schubert were – both her strength and charm shining through. He was delighted when a particularly strong finish to an impromptu was criticised by a local music critic, and she was able to point out that she had seen the original manuscript and the way she played it was the way it was written. I have a recording of her playing these impromptus and it is one of my treasured possessions.

Her tremendous strength reasserted itself and she was able to recover enough to begin touring again within a few years, starting with 120 concerts in 18 months! During the course of a successful career, she became known for her interpretations of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven.

She eventually settled in America, where in the 60s the LA Times reports a critic as saying, the crowds ” applauded like baseball fans who had just shared in winning the first game of the World Series”

Luckily for you I don’t have to lend you my old LP, you can find her recordings on both Naxos Music Online and Music Online.

In an interesting aside, it is Lili’s piano that was carved by Michael Parekowhai as part of On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.


Electronic Newspapers: Press Display increase their titles

Press Display is one of our most popular electronic resources. In March, The Press was read 7,125 times. Press Display contains not just local newspapers but over a thousand other newspapers in 48 different languages. All newspapers are fully scanned, so you can see all the details you would in print.

Recently 300 more titles were added and included in the catalogue. They include:

Most newspapers now include up to 90 days coverage. Some may contain only 14 or 30 days depending on the publisher.

Press Display Tip: Aim to use this resource after 9am as it seems many people get up early to read the paper and you may be turned away due to too many people wanting to use it! The rest of the day is fine. Access this resource with your libray card number and PIN at the Source and through library catalogue.

Christchurch music videos: Piece of my heart – The Electric Confectionaires

“We designed our own rooms. Mine is essentially my room in Auckland recreated in a small cube in an old warehouse somewhere in Christchurch!” Haddon Smith, band member.

Piece of My Heart


Search our catalogue for music by The Electric Confectionaires.

Find out more about  NZ Music Month at Christchurch City Libraries.

Christchurch music videos: Inside and Out – The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

The video was directed and edited by John Chrisstoffels, who shot the stained glass windows and tile mosaics in Christchurch’s Anglican Cathedral.

Inside and Out


Search our catalogue for music by The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience.

Find out more about  NZ Music Month at Christchurch City Libraries.

The Aotea Ladies’ Dish-Can Band: Picturing Canterbury

The Aotea Ladies' Dish-Can Band

The Aotea Ladies’ Dish-Can Band, 1919.

Back in black – Dying and dyeing

Doris de PontBlack in fashion with Doris de Pont was a wonderful session, illustrated with a show of images from the book she curated.

Doris is a well-known designer and founder of the New Zealand Fashion Museum.

Journalist Josie McNaught chaired the session.

The big problem with black is it’s an ambiguous colour.

Doris talked about post-Treaty New Zealand, Queen Victoria in mourning, and the “interplay between dying and dyeing”. She showed an image of Victoria and her young family, six of the nine children dressed in black. But Prince Albert is in the photo too, so this puts paid to the idea that Victorian black was all about mourning her lost husband.

The Dyeing story is a fascinating one. When dyes were natural, a good dark black was difficult to achieve – and very expensive. Black was a “colour only affordable for the well-to-do”. It indicated status and wealth. Mauve was the first colour achieved with the new artificial dyes – it was years later that a good black was achieved.

CoverDoris had great historical images to illustrate her point that black was “the colour of loss, also the colour of gain”. This applied to Maori as well as Pakeha. She showed how the traditional funeral practice of wearing garlands of leaves met the practice of wearing black.

Airini Tonore (Donnelly) was used as an example – Doris showed a photo of her in stunning, highly decorative black clothing.

In the 20th century, black was also seen as sensible or daring. It was a popular choice for the flappers of the 1920s, but also for hard working housewives.

After the late 40s and 50s though, it virtually disappeared. Hollywood and Elizabeth II both promoted a more optimistic colour palette. Easy care synthetic fabrics and washing machines helped too. Black retained its role as a colour of formal occasions and uniform. Doris pointed out how it is the colour of both traditional authority and its antithesis:

law, church, politics, business, beatnik, biker, rocker, punk, gang, the school uniform …

Doris looked at the black singlet as “shorthand for Kiwi blokeness” – Fred Dagg – but also the colour of our villains – Bruno Lawrence in Wild Horses, Jake the Muss, fetish wear in Angel Mine.

And the All Blacks? Doris says the New Zealand Natives rugby team who went on tour in 1888-9 were the first to wear black.

In the fashion arena, commentators on NZ designers have touted: “New Zealanders have a darker outlook, less showy offy and more intellectual”, and “edgy gothic sartorial wit”.

The session finished with a 2011 design by Shona Taiwhiao that brings together so many elements of black – loss, status, authority, haute couture, a sense of belonging, the fashionable and the sensible.

Some image of black in fashion from the Christchurch City Libraries collection:

Photo  Photo

Contemporary World Music

Maori Music album15,945 albums, over 200,000 tracks, constantly growing –  the Contemporary World Music is a fantastic source of musical inspiration from around the world.

Featured is a selection of Maori  music including haka, poetry and traditional  songs.

Alongside this the site features sounds  from every continent, showcasing important genres such as reggae, Bollywood, Arab swing jazz, neo-traditional and much more. You can find traditional genres like flamenco, klezmer, zydeco and fado,

I particularly enjoyed the search feature which gives options of instrument category or genre. Each categorey is divided into a huge number of sub-categories which contain something as regular as a drum, or something unexpected like a bowl, to more obscure items such as a mirliton.

The home page has a Featured section displays a view of sliding titles giving you the change to stumble upon something new. As well there is an advanced search feature and playlists created by users.

This site is a great addition to the library Source collection of databases. Its has an amazing variety of music if you are looking for something with a unique cultural sound. Browse and enjoy!

Christopher Reid

Thrillers and Suspense: picks from our latest newsletter

Some picks from our latest Thrillers and Suspense newsletter:

Book cover: BlowoutCover: The Accident ManCover: AccidentCover: The Blind SpyCover: A Foreign CountryCover: Death in High PlacesCover: GenesisCover: The TechnologistsCover: Waiting for Sunrise

Subscribe to our newsletters and get our latest titles and best picks straight from your inbox.

Bicycle band – Cool stuff for NZ Music Month #6

The Bicycle Band

Christchurch’s Bicycle Band claimed to be the only one of its kind in the world. Joshua W. Painter (d. 1944), a well-known distance and trick cyclist, and his brother Fred started the bicycle band in 1895. It was really an offshoot of the already established Christchurch Professional Brass Band. The men held instruments in one hand and steered their cycles with the other, and they rehearsed in the open ground of Barracks Square, Hereford Street. Left to right, front row: H. Woods, T. Dalton, A.J. Watts; second row: G.H. Gordon, W. Crawford, F. Hopkins, F. Painter; third row: F. Taylor, A.W. Gordon.

Circa 1900

Bicycle Band at the Ellerslie International Flower Show

Bicycle Band inaugural performance at Ellerslie International Flower Show, 9th March, 2010.

Bret Painter, great grandson of Fred, had the idea to reform the band and drew together an intrepid bunch of bandsmen and women from Canterbury Brass and the New Zealand Army Band

My “find” of the “fest”

Photo: Charlotte Wood
Charlotte Wood at AWRF 2012

You learn a lot at a festival – and not just about the authors either. For starters you learn which of your colleagues can pack away two Eggs Benedict at breakfast and who is the really fleet-of-foot team mate who gets lost in a crowded room if you take your eyes off her for even a second. But it is also true that you discover a whole slew of writers you’d never even heard of  before. My reading “find” of this Auckland Writers and Readers Festival has to be Charlotte Wood.

Charlotte Wood is a rising star of Australian fiction. I attended the festival event “An Hour with Charlotte Wood” having read only one of her books: Animal People. Suffice it to say that I will now be reading all her novels. She is one very observant, highly intelligent lady. What I noticed in particular is that she thinks carefully before answering any question put to her. She does not do glib.

Animal People takes one of the characters (Stephen) from her previous novel The Children and follows him over a single day in his life. Wood found using this twenty-four hour time span a useful device which she likened to a  “mini ticking bomb”. Stephen is like a 39 year old adolescent. You know the type, you will have dated them, you may even have married one. He has family issues – it’s not that he is estranged from his family, but he is evasive. The big question for Stephen is:

How do you remain an adult with your family? The problem in families is that we all remember events differently and your memory can be what you become but it can also be completely wrong.Cover: Animal People

Stephen has an awful day in which he sets out to break-up with his lovely girlfriend. His whole day degenerates into a series of  “trapped and escaping” events. He seems to be in some kind of crisis:

He’s having a meltdown – an internal collapse that no-one else can see.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like fun to you, but in Wood’s hands it is. She is so perceptive and so humourous. I left the event and quickly bought The Children, stood in the long signing queue and gushed when I got to her: “You are my find of the fest. I loved Animal People and I want to love this book too!”

“No pressure then” she said, signing with a flourish and a smile.