peter dickinson photo: Lucy Carlier/Gramophone


The official website of Peter Dickinson

It is with great sadness that we announce that Professor Peter Dickinson died at the age of 88 on 16 June, 2023, after a short period of serious illness in hospital.

Novello & Company, his publisher, has posted a tribute on its website HERE

Gramophone tribute HERE

Guardian obituary HERE

Daily Telegraph obituary HERE

The Times obituary HERE

Trinity Laban Conservatoire appreciation HERE

A personal recollection by John Turner for the British Music Society HERE

Lennox Berkeley Society appreciation HERE

Queens’ College Cambridge obituary HERE

The Leys School, Cambridge obituary HERE

Britten Pears Arts dedicated a concert on 23 August 2023 to Peter Dickinson’s memory. The programme featured The Unicorns Orchestral Suite, as well as works by Elgar and Lord Berners: "This concert is dedicated to the memory of Professor Peter Dickinson - composer, writer, pianist, and dear friend of Britten Pears Arts."
Details HERE

Peter Dickinson was a British composer, writer and pianist. His music was 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.

On 10 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. 

As a performer Dickinson had a long career with his sister, the mezzo Meriel Dickinson. Apart from their advocacy of American and British repertoire - see American Song and British Song on Heritage - they pioneered programmes based on composers such as Erik Satie, Lord Berners and Charles Ives in festivals here and abroad and in broadcasts and recordings.

Dickinson’s books include The Music of Lennox Berkeley (enlarged second edition later); Marigold: the Music of Billy MayerlCopland Connotations: Studies and InterviewsCageTalk: Dialogues with and about John Cage (enlarged paperback later); Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter (paperback followed); Samuel Barber Remembered: a Centenary Tribute; Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews; and Peter Dickinson: Words and Music.

Dickinson was an Emeritus Professor of the University of Keele, where he set up the Music Department with its Centre for American Music from 1974-84, and of the University of London, where he was Professor at Goldsmiths from 1991-97. He was Head of Music at the Institute of United States Studies, University of London, until 2004.

Dickinson was chair of the Rainbow Dickinson Trust, a charity set up in 1997 for the benefit of music education. He edited and contributed to three major books of Rainbow's - Music in Educational Thought and Practice (2006); Four Centuries of Music Teaching Manuals 1518-1932 (2009); Bernarr Rainbow on Music: Memoirs and Selected Writings (2010); and Music Education in Crisis: the Bernarr Rainbow Lectures and other Assessments (2013).

'Conflicts, juxtapositions, attempted syntheses – Peter Dickinson’s work is full of them, all shook-up, all mixed-up, all jazzed up…yet always keenly imagined and meticulously reasoned and realised.'
Christopher Palmer – BBC Proms profile

'These works [three concertos] display Dickinson’s ability to write music that is at the same time approachable and challenging. His ability to fuse diverse musical styles is masterly. This is a fitting eightieth birthday tribute to a fine composer, performer, teacher and writer.'
John France - Musicwebinternational

'As he celebrates his 80th birthday Dickinson can justly and proudly look back upon an oeuvre that no-one else has achieved - few composers can truthfully claim that.'
Richard Leigh Harris - Musical Opinion

'He met Cage, Carter and Varese, studied alongside Glass and PDQ Bach, and with an extensive body of work he deserves his place among music's elder statesmen'
Classical Music

‘Sibelius wrote to his friend, Rosa Newmarch, in 1911, “My Symphony IV is finished. It has twice been heard in concerts in Helsingfors. Although the work is by no means a concert item, it has brought me many friends.”
   This neatly sums up the Piano Concerto by Peter Dickinson, if not the other two concertos on this enterprising CD, which I hope will bring him many friends. Certainly it won’t be for lack of solo prowess in these three works in which everyone, soloists and orchestras, work tirelessly to overcome the manifold difficulties set by the composer.
   If Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto has conquered the world then this modern piano concerto deserves to do as well. Time will tell. True to this composer’s inclinations we hear his familiar disparity in style in each work from modernist outpourings to jazz inflected moments...I think Dickinson just seems to be at home with writing in different styles in the same work and without blushing too!
   The Violin Concerto has a more personable profile than the austere Piano Concerto, though there is not that much virtuosic writing to entice violinists to take up this work. The Organ Concerto is a mixture of low key stasis and high powered voltage. Dickinson again ploughs his own field with fertile invention.
Edward Clark, British Music Society, September e-News, 2015

'If the Walton/Sitwell Facade was an early demonstration of how the formidable Schoenbergian template of Pierrot Lunaire could be moved awoay from expressionist melodrama towards cabaret-style entertainment without losing all contact with 'serious' musical content, Larkin's Jazz made a no less imaginative advance in generic thinking decades later. And there are plenty of other Dickinson works that merit serious attention...With its direct, unfussy manner and positive embrace of diversity and even instability, this music epitomises crucial aspects of contemporary sensibility'.
Arnold Whittall, Gramophone, October 2018.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson