Lilburn grew up on the farm of Drysdale on New Zealand's North Island. To study music in Christchurch (where he won a 1936 initiated by Percy Grainger Composition Award ) joined a study of composition at the Royal College, among others, Ralph Vaughan Williams, on. 1940 Lilburn returned back to New Zealand and settled in Christchurch. In 1947 he was a teacher at Victoria College, now the Victoria University of Wellington. There he had been a professor since 1970. Lilburn was much involved in the establishment of the New Zealand music scene.
Lilburn's compositional style was initially influenced by the European late romanticism. In the 1950s, he also touched on elements of twelve-tone music and serialism. After 1960 he wrote barely works for conventional occupations, but dealt almost exclusively with electronic music.
- Drysdale Overture (1937 )
- Cantata " Prodigal Country" (1939 )
- Festival Overture (1939 )
- Aotearoa Overture (1940 )
- 3 symphonies (1949, 1951, 1961)
- Numerous works for string orchestra