meriel dickinson


For more than a generation Meriel Dickinson was known internationally as one of the most versatile and enterprising British mezzo-sopranos. Like her brother Peter she was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, daughter of the contact lens pioneer Frank Dickinson and dramatic recitalist Muriel Dickinson. Over some thirty years Meriel and Peter Dickinson established a unique partnership in recitals, broadcasts and recordings. 

Meriel Dickinson GRSM, ARMCM, (b. 8 April 1940) studied singing and piano at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and was awarded a Countess of Munster scholarship to further her studies at the Vienna Academy, where she obtained a distinction in the Recital Diploma. Her London solo debut in 1964 was acclaimed by Andrew Porter in the Financial Times and from this stage she began to work with leading musicians in standard repertoire and contemporary music in Europe and America.

Highlights of her early career include the St Matthew Passion at Snape Maltings and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the opening concert of the 1969 Vienna Festival under George Szell. Her London opera debut was in 1970, with the first of several roles for the Handel Opera Society. Memories of Morning: Night, a major BBC commission from Gordon Crosse, was written for her and premiered at the Proms in 1972.

From the mid-1970s onwards Dickinson was closely associated with the Kurt Weill revival. Her roles in Mahagonny-Songspiel and Happy End were rapturously received in London and Berlin and the DGG recording won a Grand Prix du Disque. In 1989 her performances in Weill’s Street Scene for Scottish Opera and ENO, followed by the Decca recording and BBC TV transmission, were again acclaimed.

During the 1970s Meriel and Peter Dickinson began a series of recordings together reflecting their international recitals – An Erik Satie Entertainment; An American Anthology (first recordings of works by Copland, Carter, Cage and Thomson); A Portrait of Lord Berners; Dreamscapes (commissions for the Dickinsons by Lennox Berkeley, Gordon Crosse, Jonathan Harvey and Andrzej Panufnik) and Rags, Blues and Parodies (Dickinson). Meriel Dickinson also appears in recordings of her brother’s Outcry and Mass of the Apocalypse and on Songcycles.

Her expertise in a wide range of contemporary techniques has been much admired by composers. She has worked with Britten, Boulez, Cage, Copland and Berio and from 1988 was the mezzo in the internationally known vocal quartet Electric Phoenix.

This versatile approach to performance gave rise to the group Music Deco (voice, clarinet/saxophone and piano) that Meriel Dickinson founded, along with Christine Croshaw and Christopher Gradwell, in 1978 to present programmes bringing together classical and popular music of the 1920s and 30s. She also took her stage potential more seriously, working with companies such as the Old Vic and the Chichester Festival Theatre. This led to a series of successes including Sondheim’s A Funny Thing, Novello’s Perchance to Dream, Ellis’ Bless the Bride and operatic roles in Eugene Onegin (Welsh National), Silverlake (Camden Festival), Maskarade (Opera North), Noyes Fludde (Welsh National) and in 1993 Lakmé (Dublin Grand Opera).

Her TV appearances have included Vanity Fair (BBC), Poirot (ITV) and in 1994 the video of Bernstein’s On the Town (BBC 2). In 1995 she sang Marzellina in The Marriage of Figaro (Craig-y-Nos) and in 1996 the Mother Abess in The Sound of Music (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

In 1997 Meriel Dickinson decided to leave the performing world and concentrate on teaching. Her final concerts were with Electric Phoenix and the CBSO under Simon Rattle – four performances of Berio’s Sinfonia in Birmingham, London, Vienna and Cologne – and her final recordings were with Electric Phoenix. Benefiting from her ability as a linguist and pianist, she has taught singing privately and taken part in workshops with the London Sinfonietta and Electric Phoenix. She has been an adjudicator for prizes and competitions and has served on committees for Equity and the Incorporated Society of Musicians, where she was chair of the Oxford Centre. She and her husband now live in Northamptonshire.

[including recordings with Peter Dickinson]

1. Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music/London Philharmonic/Boult ASD 2538 (EMI 1970); CDM 7640222 (EMI 1991)

2. Schumann: Scenes from Faust/English Chamber Orchestra/Britten 567-8 (Decca 1973); 4257052 (Decca 1990)

3. Gordon Crosse: The New World [reissued on Dreamscapes, DKP(CD)9093, Unicorn-Kanchana 1990]; Lennox Berkeley: Chinese Songs, D’un vanneur de blé, Tant que mes yeux, Automne; Peter Dickinson: Extravaganzas With Peter Dickinson (piano), ZRG 788 (Argo 1975) [mostly included on Heritage reissie, item 21, 2012]

4. An Erik Satie Entertainment (songs and piano music) with Peter Dickinson (piano), RHS 338 (Unicorn 1976)

5. Bernard Herrmann: A Musical Garland/National Philharmonic/Herrmann, RHS 340 (Unicorn 1976); UKCD 2063 (Unicorn-Kanchana 1993)

6. An American Anthology - Copland: Poet’s Song; In Evening Air and Night Thoughts (piano); Carter: Three Poems of Robert Frost, Voyage; Cage: Five Songs (E. E. Cummings); Thomson: Two by Marianne Moore, Portrait of F. B.; Gershwin: I got Rhythm, A Foggy Day, They all laughed. With Peter Dickinson (piano), RHS 355 (Unicorn 1978) [CD reissue on Heritage, item 21]

7. Weill: Mahagonny Songspiel, Happy End/London Sinfonietta/Atherton, 2740153 (Polydor/DG 1976); 423 255-6 (DG nd)

8. Eugene Goossens: Six Songs from Chamber Music (James Joyce) with Peter Dickinson (piano), RHS 348 (Unicorn 1977)

9. A Portrait of Lord Berners: A Lieder Album, Three Songs, Trois Chansons, Red Roses and Red Noses, Come on Algernon, Fragments psychologiques (piano). With Peter Dickinson (piano), RHS 355 (Unicorn 1977); Symposium 1278 (Symposium 2000); reissued on Heritage HTGCD 199/200

10. Respighi: Lauda per la Nativita/Argo Chamber Orchestra/Heltay, ZRG 904 (Argo 1979); 4448422 (Decca 1995)

11. Dreamscapes: Jonathan Harvey, Correspondances; Andrjez Panufnik: Dreamscapes; Elisabeth Lutyens, Stevie Smith Songs; Peter Dickinson: Surrealist Landscape [reissued on TROY365 Albany 2000]. With Peter Dickinson (piano), UNS 268 (Unicorn 1979); DKP(CD)9093 (Unicorn-Kanchana 1990) [CD reissue on Heritage, item 21, 2012] 

12. Rags, Blues and Parodies: Peter Dickinson: Stevie’s Tunes, Extravaganzas, A Red, Red Rose, So we’ll go no more a-roving; Concerto Rag, Quartet Rag, Blue Rose, Wild Rose Rag, Three Satie Transformations, Hymn-Tune Rag, Patriotic Rag, Four Blues (all piano). With Peter Dickinson (piano), CFRA 134 (Conifer 1988), TROY369 (Albany 2000)

13. Songcycles: Peter Dickinson: Four W. H. Auden Songs; An E. E. Cummings Song Cycle. With Peter Dickinson (piano), CDFC 154 (Conifer 1988); TROY365 (Albany 2000)

14. Peter Dickinson: Outcry, Mass of the Apocalypse/City of London Sinfonia/Cleobury; St James’ Singers/Bolton, CDFC 167 (Conifer 1989); TROY 360 (Albany 1999) [Outcry only]

15. Trevor Wishart: Vox/Electric Phoenix, VC7 911082 (Virgin Classics 1990)

16. Weill: Street Scene/Scottish Opera Orchestra/Mauceri, BIEM/STEMPA 4333712 (Decca 1991)

17. Weill: Street Scene/English National Opera/Carl Davis, TER 21185 (Ter 1991)

18. The Voice Theatre of Daryl Runswick/Electric Phoenix, BML 015 (British Music Label, 1994)

19. Bernstein: On the Town/London Symphony Orchestra/Tilson Thomas, 3375162 (DG 1993)

20. Berio Sinfonia/Orchestre de Paris/Bychkov, 446094-2 (Philips 1997)

21. American Song [reissue of item 6 plus nine of Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson] Heritage HTGCD 231, 2012

22. British Song [reissue of item 11, without Panufnik but plus Berkeley: Chinese Songs and Dickinson: Extravaganzas, both from item 3] Heritage HTGCD 240, 2012

23. The Joyce Book [songs by 13 composers from BBC R3 1982] Heritage HTGCD 175, 2020

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson