1934 - 2023
The composer, writer and pianist Peter Dickinson was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on 15 November 1934. After Cambridge he spent three formative years in New York, initially as a graduate student at the Juilliard School, then as a critic on Musical Courier, and as a lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Since then, Dickinson’s music has been regularly performed and recorded by many leading musicians. His most ambitious works are three concertos – for organ, piano and violin – but there are other orchestral pieces, many chamber works, song cycles, keyboard music and choral pieces. Dickinson’s music is well represented on CD (three Naxos and six Heritage), including two orchestra CDs, his complete organ music and the composer performing his own piano music.
As a pianist, Dickinson had a twenty-five-year partnership with his sister, the mezzo Meriel Dickinson, their recordings including American Song, and British Song. Dickinson’s literary interests are reflected in settings of poets such as W. H. Auden, E. E. Cummings and Dylan Thomas as well as Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin and Stevie Smith.
His three concertos were released together on CD in 2014, including the first recording of the Violin Concerto with Chloe Hanslip and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Clark Rundell. They recorded six further orchestral works in 2015.
Peter Dickinson’s books include studies of Lennox Berkeley (two), Billy Mayerl, Aaron Copland, John Cage, Lord Berners, and Samuel Barber. Peter Dickinson: Words and Music (Boydell, 2016) brings together over fifty years of his writings and studies of his own music. For over thirty years he was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and he was also a critic on Gramophone. He was an Emeritus Professor of the Universities of Keele and London and chair of the Bernarr Rainbow Trust, for which he edited several books on music education.
“….a composer who has escaped the confines of the predictable without ever ceasing to communicate.” Arnold Whittall, Gramophone
“Conflicts, juxtapositions, attempted syntheses – Peter Dickinson’s work is full of them, all shook-up, all mixed-up, all jazzed up (Schubert and Edward MacDowell are among his victims!), yet always keenly imagined and meticulously reasoned and realised.” Christopher Palmer
Peter Dickinson was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on 15 November 1934 and lived in Suffolk. He went to Cambridge as Organ Scholar of Queens’ College and then spent three formative years in New York, initially at the Juilliard School. From this time onwards Dickinson’s music has been regularly performed and recorded by some of the leading musicians and in 1988 the leading British TV arts programme, Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show, made a one-hour documentary about him.
His music has been written for some of the leading international performers and is well represented on CD. There are four CDs on Albany: Piano Concerto/Outcry/Organ Concerto; Songcycles; Rags, Blues & Parodies; and Pianos, Voices and Brass. Three CDs on Naxos: Complete Solo Organ Works and Mass of the Apocalypse/Larkin’s Jazz/Five Forgeries etc. These were followed by Piano Music performed by the composer; reissues of American Song and British Song, both on Heritage with Meriel Dickinson, the composer's sister; a recital with Ralph Holmes; Blue Clavichord; and a historic recording of his musical drama with Thomas Blackburn, The Judas Tree, released in 2014 - all on Heritage. Three Concertos and Merseyside Echoes followed and then seven Orchestral Works in 2016, launched in London along with the book of over fifty years of writings, Peter Dickinson: Words and Music, with an Introduction by Stephen Banfield and a memoir by Meriel Dickinson. Translations, early chamber music, was released on Prima Facie in 2018: a further CD of Chamber and Instrumental Music, again mostly first recordings, appeared on Toccata in 2020. Lockdown Blues, solo piano music, came out on Somm in 2021.
Dickinson's 75th birthday in 2009 was marked by performances including the Blue Rose Variations for organ in the BBC Proms, played by David Titterington; Tiananmen 1989 for double choir and tubular bells, sung by Commotio under Matthew Berry in Oxford; the American Trio played by the Zalas Trio at the Wigmore Hall; Jennifer Bate played several organ pieces at the Fourth Annual Festival of New Organ Music and she has recorded his complete solo organ works - see her article about Dickinson's organ music in The Organ (Spring 2018).
Dickinson's 80th birthday was recognised with first recordings of his Violin Concerto (Chloe Hanslip) and Merseyside Echoes with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Clark Rundell - released on Heritage in 2014 along with the two keyboard concertos. There were performances in London, Manchester and Southwold; the Mass of the Apocalypse was in the Aldeburgh Festival; and several periodical articles and interviews appeared - Musical Opinion (October 2014) by Richard Leigh Harris; John France in Music Web International; International Record Review (November 2014) by Nigel Simeone; Stephen Banfield in Tempo (April 2015 - also in Words and Music). The Suite for the Centenary of Lord Berners was performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth at Snape Maltings and later broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
In April 2018 there was an all-Dickinson programme at Michigan State University, including American Trio, London Rags, songs and the premiere of Lochinvar (Walter Scott) for speaker, violin and piano, commissioned by Walter Verdehr. Nathan Williamson performed Paraphrase II in London and Surrey and has recorded it for Somm.
Peter Dickinson’s books include studies of Lennox Berkeley (two), Billy Mayerl, Aaron Copland, John Cage, Lord Berners, and Samuel Barber. For over thirty years Dickinson was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and widely read as a critic in Gramophone magazine. He was an Emeritus Professor of the Universities of Keele and London and chair of the Bernarr Rainbow Trust, for which he edited several books. A volume of Dickinson’s writings, Words and Music: Peter Dickinson, was published by Boydell in 2016.
His music is published by Novello & Company Ltd, part of Wise Music Group.