Curnow requested this work from Lilburn in 1952 for a poetry reading at Auckland University College. The event took place on the evening of 9 August that year, and involved a substantial amount of poetry (twenty-two poems in total) read by the poets involved. (Actually the works of eight poets were represented: Baxter read “Canto at Twenty-seven” by Louis Johnson).
Lilburn’s music was premiered by Antonia Braidwood (violin) and Donald Bowick (piano). One movement was supposed to precede each reading, providing the audience with the composer’s musical impressions of the work and personality of each poet. In the event, however, the order was reversed, which led to some confusion for the audience and some displeasure for the composer. Typical of New Zealand composition of the time, there was no fee to be had for the work. Lilburn even had to pay his way to Auckland for the rehearsals. On his return to Wellington, Lilburn shelved and forgot about the work. It was not until a chance meeting at his doctor’s surgery in 1988/89 that he was reminded of its existence by Lady Dorothea Turner, who had reviewed the first performance. At that point Lilburn contacted the violinist Dean Major to ask if he would be interested in performing it. After some negotiation the composer also determined that he would write a narration to go along with the music in lieu of the twenty-two poems, and (most surprisingly) volunteered to read this himself.
Salutes to Seven Poets was recorded by Concert FM on 5 September 1989, by Major (violin), with Rae de Lisle (piano). As if to make up for thirty-eight years of neglect of the work, this recording received a Mobil Award in 1990.