The British composer, writer and pianist Peter Dickinson was born at Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on 15 November 1934. After attending The Leys School, Cambridge, he became Organ Scholar of Queens’ College and then spent three formative years in New York. Initially he was a graduate student at The Juilliard School of Music, on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, where he studied with Bernard Wagenaar. In this period many of his compositions were performed both at Juilliard and in New York itself. Freelance work as a critic and pianist followed, with a final year on the faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey. After returning to England he taught at the College of St Mark and St John, Chelsea, and at the University of Birmingham. In 1974 he started the Music Department at Keele University, where he set up a Centre for American Music. His involvement with American music continued through regular recitals, broadcasts and recordings with his sister, the mezzo Meriel Dickinson, as well as BBC Radio 3 features, articles and reviews. Many of his compositions appeared prominently in the 1980s and in 1986 Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show made a programme about him. From 1991 to 1997 Dickinson held the chair at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and then he was Head of Music at the Institute of United States Studies, University of London, until 2004.
As a composer Peter Dickinson has been commissioned to write works for some of the leading international performers, including Simon Preston (Organ Concerto); Howard Shelley (Piano Concerto); Ernst Kovacic (Violin Concerto, a BBC commission); Elisabeth Söderström (The Unicorns); The King’s Singers (Winter Afternoons); David Munrow (Translations and Recorder Music); The Verdehr Trio (American Trio and A Celebration Trio); and Jennifer Bate (Blue Rose Variations). Much of his music has been on CD for some years and in 2008 Jennifer Bate recorded his Complete Solo Organ Works (Naxos 8.572169). This was followed by another CD Apocalypse - Larkin - Forgeries containing Larkin’s Jazz for baritone-speaker, five instruments, piano and percussion with the Nash Ensemble, the Mass of the Apocalypse as well as piano duets and solo piano and flute pieces (Naxos 8.572287). This new recording of piano music complements the one of organ music and similarly provides another panoramic view of Dickinson’s varied keyboard output. As a pianist his partnership with his sister lasted some thirty years in recitals, broadcasts and recordings. He is an Emeritus Professor of the Universities of Keele and London, has doctorates from both, and his writings include books on Lennox Berkeley, Billy Mayerl, Aaron Copland, John Cage, Lord Berners and Samuel Barber.