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Margaret Nielsen

It was great sadness that we learned of the death on 20 April of pianist Margaret Nielsen, a few months short of her 90th birthday.

Margaret, from Hawera, attended Christchurch Teachers College where she studied piano with Ernest Empson. After completing a music degree at Canterbury University College, she undertook postgraduate studies in composition at Mills College, California, where Darius Milhaud was a faculty member. While at Mills, Margaret wrote to Douglas Lilburn asking him for some of his music that she might include in a recital. (Douglas, characteristically, also sent works by other New Zealand composers.) The two formed a strong bond.

In 1960, Margaret was appointed to the Music Department at Victoria University where she taught (mostly) analysis until her retirement in 1993 though she coached chamber music and was an inspiration to students and colleagues. She served several times as Head of School. In the 1980s and 90s she was adviser to the Music Federation (now Chamber Music New Zealand) and was a member of the steering group that led to the formation in 1987 of the New Zealand String Quartet. Margaret was a founding member of the Music Advisory Committee of the Lilburn Trust (established in 1994).

It is as a pianist (and collaborative pianist) that Margaret is best remembered. Her playing of the classics was distinguished by beautiful clarity, a finely-produced tone and outstanding musicianship. Margaret championed music by New Zealand composers. The list of dedications to her, and of first performances and recordings by her abounds with works by her colleagues at Victoria (Lilburn, David Farquhar, Ross Harris, Jack Body, Jenny McLeod) but includes, among others, Gillian Whitehead, Anthony Ritchie, and David Hamilton.

Margaret was interviewed as a friend and colleague of Douglas Lilburn on the SOUNZ podcast series 'The Magpie House'.

Margaret was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005. A memorial service will be held at the Lychgate Chapel, 306 Willis St, Wellington at 3 pm on Saturday 6 May.

Peter Walls