• Peter Dickinson at Novello HERE

• 2020 Biography HERE

• 2020 Short Biography HERE


Peter Dickinson was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England, on 15 November 1934 and in later life 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, then working as a critic and freelance performer. After a spell as a pianist at the New York City Ballet, where he played for Balanchine to choreograph, he became a Lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey. 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.

Many of Peter Dickinson’s compositions responded to popular music or jazz. His Piano Concerto, which contains a ragtime ensemble, made a strong impact at the BBC Proms in London and on CD (Albany TROY 360; Heritage HTGCD 276) with Howard Shelley as soloist, coupled with the earlier Organ Concerto, written for Simon Preston but recorded by Jennifer Bate. The subsequent Violin Concerto was a BBC commission written in memory of the fine British violinist Ralph Holmes (1937-84), premiered by Ernst Kovacic, and recorded by Chloe Hanslip (Heritage HTGCD 276).

Dickinson was active as a pianist, notably in recitals, broadcasts and recordings through a twenty-five-year partnership with his sister, the mezzo Meriel Dickinson, who studied at the Royal Northern College in Manchester and with Hans Karg in Vienna. Her repertoire in opera ranged from Handel to Kurt Weill and Ivor Novello; the Dickinsons commissioned a number of British composers including Lennox Berkeley, Andrzej Panufnik, Gordon Crosse and Jonathan Harvey; and they became well-known at festivals and in broadcasts for presented recitals devoted to single composers such as Erik Satie, Charles Ives and Lord Berners as well as programmes based on settings of poets such as Auden, Joyce, E. E. Cummings and Stevie Smith. One of their most characteristic records is Rags, Blues and Parodies (Albany TROY 369) and Dickinson’s literary interests are reflected in settings of poets such as Auden, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas and John Heath-Stubbs (all on Albany TROY 365) as well as Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin (Naxos 8.572287) and Stevie Smith. Dickinson is heard as a pianist, along with Eric Parkin, on Albany TROY 760 which also includes the famous Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström in The Unicorns. His recordings with Meriel Dickinson have been reissued: American Song (Heritage HTGCD 231); British Song (Heritage HTGCD 240). [see discography]

Peter Dickinson’s writings included the first book on Sir Lennox Berkeley (Thames 1989, much enlarged 2nd ed. Boydell 2003); a study of the popular pianist-composer Billy Mayerl (OUP 1999); Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews (Ed. Boydell 2002); CageTalk: Dialogues with and about John Cage (University of Rochester Press 2006/enlarged paperback 2014); Lord Berners: Composer – Writer – Painter (Boydell 2008, paperback followed) and Lennox Berkeley and Friends: Writings, Letters and Interviews (Boydell, 2012). Peter Dickinson: Words and Music (Boydell 2016). Dickinson wrote chapters for various books, dictionaries and periodicals; for over thirty years he was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and was a critic on the Gramophone. He was a Patron of the Lennox Berkeley Society and a trustee of the Berners Trust.

His academic appointments included first Professor at Keele University (1974-84: later Emeritus) where he started the Department with its Centre for American Music; the Chair at Goldsmiths College, University of London (1991-97: later Emeritus); he was Head of Music at the Institute of United States Studies, University of London (1997-2004); and lectured at many American universities. He was chair of the Rainbow Dickinson Trust and edited and contributed to several Rainbow publications.

Dickinson’s music is published by Novello/Music Sales, London/G. Schirmer, New York – full details are available on this site. Also Good Music.

Peter Dickinson died on 16 June 2023.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson