Peter Dickinson was born in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England, on 15 November 1934 and now lives 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 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 are involved with 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) 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 in memory of the fine British violinist Ralph Holmes (1937-84).
Dickinson has been 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 and E. E. Cummings. 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 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.
Peter Dickinson’s writings include the first book on Sir Lennox Berkeley (Thames1989, enlarged 2nd ed. Boydell 2003); a study of the popular pianist-composer Billy Mayerl (OUP 1999); Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews (Boydell 2002); CageTalk: Dialogues with and about John Cage (University of Rochester Press 2006); and Lord Berners: Composer – Writer – Painter (Boydell 2008). Dickinson has written chapters for various books, dictionaries and periodicals; for over thirty years he was a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3; and is a critic on the Gramophone.
His academic appointments have included the first Chair at Keele University (1974-84: now Emeritus) where he started the Department with its Centre for American Music; the first Chair at Goldsmiths College, University of London (1991-97: now Emeritus); he was Head of Music at the Institute of United States Studies, University of London from 1997-2004; and has lectured at many American universities.
Dickinson’s music is published by Novello & Co. Ltd.
1934 - Born 15 November, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire.
1948 - Scholarship to The Leys School, Cambridge.
1953 - ARCM and LRAM (piano performer’s) diplomas. Goes up to Cambridge as Organ Scholar of Queens’ College: becomes a pupil of Philip Radcliffe.
1955 - FRCO diploma
1956 - Awarded BA/MA degree in music. Shows compositions to Lennox Berkeley.
1957 - Four W. H. Auden Songs (1956) performed for the poet. Broadcasts as an organist for BBC Radio 3.
1958 - Awarded Rotary Foundation Fellowship to study at the Juilliard School, New York. Pupil of Bernard Wagenaar: courses in English and American literature at Columbia.
1959 - Freelance work in New York, including pianist for New York City Ballet with Balanchine. Reviewing for Musical Courier and the Musical Times. Variations for piano (1957) made into ballet Vitalitas by Gloria Contreras (1960) regularly performed in Mexico City and elsewhere. String Quartet No 1 and A Dylan Thomas Song Cycle performed in Composers Forum series, New York. Four Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems for choir and organ commissioned by St. Matthews, Northampton. Lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey.
1961 - Premiere of Sonata for violin and piano given by Dinos Constantinides and the composer at Carnegie Recital Hall.
1962 - Returns to England to lectureship at the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea. Active in new music for schools.
1963 - Monologue premiered by London String Players under Roger Norrington.
1964 - Marries Bridget Jane Tomkinson
1965 - Musical drama, The Judas Tree (Thomas Blackburn), produced at the College and for a week in the fringe of the Edinburgh Festival. Later at Liverpool and Southwark cathedrals and for three nights in Holy Week in Washington DC (1967). Composes An e.e.cummings Song Cycle, premiered at Cheltenham by Meriel Dickinson and John McCabe (1966). First article on Peter Dickinson for The Musical Times – by Roger Norrington.
1966 - Moves to Birmingham University as Staff Tutor in Music in the Extramural Department. Regular BBC performances increase.
1969 - Outcry, a cycle of nature poems commissioned by Coventry Philharmonic Society, is premiered with Meriel Dickinson (mezzo) and the Coventry Philharmonic Choir under the composer.
1970 - Moves back to London. Performing career as accompanist to Meriel Dickinson develops internationally. Transformations, commissioned by the Feeney Trust, premiered at the Cheltenham Festival by the CBSO under Meredith Davies. Winter Afternoons (Emily Dickinson) premiered by the King’s Singers at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
1971 - Premiere of Translations by David Munrow, Christopher Hogwood and Oliver Brooks. Organ Concerto premiered by Simon Preston and the CBSO under Louis Fremaux at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral.
1973 - Recorder Music, with tape playback, premiered at the Wigmore Hall by David Munrow. Surrealist Landscape (Lord Berners), with tape playback, premiered at the Purcell Room by David Ross and Ingrid Surgenor.
1974-84 - Moves to Keele, as first Professor of Music, founds one of the most important centres for American music outside the USA. Visits USA for Charles Ives centenary: devises BBC 2 TV film on Ives. Lust (in series of Seven Deadly Sins) premiered by The King’s Singers at Cheltenham.
1975 - String Quartet No. 2 (with tape playback) premiered by Alberni Quartet. Late Afternoon in November (Dickinson) a BBC commission for BBC Northern Singers premiered under Stephen Wilkinson. Starts to make recordings with Meriel Dickinson.
1977 - Schubert in Blue, jazz parodies of Schubert’s Shakespeare settings, premiered by Meriel Dickinson and Christine Croshaw at the Wigmore Hall (in collection Songs in Blue). 1980 - Recitals with violinist Ralph Holmes.
1982 - Visits Stockholm for premiere of The Unicorns (John Heath Stubbs), for voice and brass, with Elisabeth Söderström and Solna Brass under Lars-Gunnar Bjorklund.
1984 - Moves back to London. Premieres: Mass of the Apocalypse at St. James’, Piccadilly, for the 300th anniversary of the church; Piano Concerto with Howard Shelley and the BBC PO under Edward Downes at Cheltenham Festival. Recitals with oboist Sarah Francis.
1985 - Premieres: Stevie’s Tunes (Stevie Smith) by Meriel Dickinson and the composer, Purcell Room, London; American Trio [originally Hymns, Rags & Blues] by the Verdehr Trio, Michigan State University.
1986 - American and Mexican lecture-recital tour: premiere in New York of Blue Rose Variations (organ) by Jennifer Bate; invited by British Council for 25th season of ballet Vitalitas in Mexico City. Piano Concerto at the Proms. Premiere of Violin Concerto, BBC commission, by Ernst Kovacic and BBC PO under Bryden Thomson, Leeds Town Hall. EMI records Piano Concerto and Organ Concerto (now on Albany). Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show makes 50-minute TV documentary about Dickinson and his work, screened on 13 March 1987.
1988 - Merseyside Echoes premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Barry Wordsworth. Auden Studies for oboe and piano premiered with Sarah Francis. 1989 - Premiere of Larkin’s Jazz (Philip Larkin) with Henry Herford (speaker/baritone) and the Nash Ensemble under Lionel Friend at Keele University. The Music of Lennox Berkeley published (1st ed. Thames).
1990 - Tiananmen 1989 premiered by the London Concert Choir under Gregory Rose at St John’s, Smith Square.
1991-97 - Appointed to first chair at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
1992 - Awarded DMus (London University).
1994 - Peter Dickinson at 60: recital in the Purcell Room with Meriel Dickinson, Sarah Francis, Jack Brymer, Eric Parkin, including premieres of Summoned by Mother (Betjeman) (1990) with Meriel Dickinson and Lucy Wakeford (harp), and Swansongs (1992) with Penelope Lynex (cello) and Alexander Wells (piano).
1997-2004 - Head of Music, Institute of United States Studies, University of London.
1999 - Awarded: Hon DMus (Keele); Hon Fellowship, Trinity College of Music. 2000 - Three CDs of Dickinson’s music released on Albany Records. Marigold: the Music of Billy Mayerl published (OUP).
2001 - Invited to give 2nd T. S. Eliot Lecture at Washington University, St Louis – ‘From St Louis to Europe: the International Influence of Scott Joplin’s Ragtime Rhythms’. Also given at University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; and the Institute of United States Studies, University of London.
2002 - Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews published (ed. Boydell).
2003 - Invited to give lecture on Larkin’s Jazz to the Philip Larkin Society at Hull; also at Senate House, London University, jointly for the Institute of English Studies and United States Studies. Lecture to the British Music Society on Lennox Berkeley for his centenary. The Music of Lennox Berkeley (new, much enlarged edition, Boydell).
2005 - Bach in Blue premiered at Cheltenham Festival by Llyr Williams & BBC R3. Featured composer at Dartington Summer School with works based on W. H. Auden. Invited to Michigan State University for lectures, master-classes and performances including Larkin’s Jazz, London Rags and American Trio. Invited by the Samuel Barber Foundation to give lecture ‘In Quest of Samuel Barber’ at 1st Presbyterian Church, West Chester: played Canzonetta as solo piano piece. Fourth CD on Albany Records: Pianos, Voices & Brass.
2006 - CageTalk: Dialogues with and about John Cage published (ed. University of Rochester Press)
2008 - Gave Eccles Centre Lecture at BAAS Conference, Edinburgh: ‘John Cage was all the Rage’ – repeated at the British Library. Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter published (Boydell). Lectures or lecture-recitals on Berners at the Cheltenham Festival, Dartington Summer School, Cheltenham Literary Festival, the British Library.
2009 – 75th birthday year marked by the release of two CDs on Naxos (Complete Solo Organ Works performed by Jennifer Bate; Mass of the Apocalypse, Larkin’s Jazz et al performed by the Nash Ensmeble et al released November 09). Performances include Tiananmen 1989 by Oxford chamber choir Commotio, Blue Rose Variations performed by David Titterington at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and American Trio at the Wigmore Hall, London, in November.