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Sir George Dyson

Sir George Dyson: His Life and Music

Paul Spicer
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Sir George Dyson
    Book Description:

    George Dyson (1883-1964) was a highly influential composer, educator and administrator, whose work touched the lives of millions. Yet today, apart from his Canterbury Pilgrims and two sets of canticles for Choral Evensong, his music is little known. In this comprehensive and detailed study, based not only on Dyson's own writings but on unpublished papers, personal correspondence, and interviews with his family and friends, Paul Spicer brings this remarkable man and his lyrical, passionate and engaging music to life once more. Born into a working class family in Halifax, West Yorkshire, he rose from humble beginnings to become the voice of public school music in Britain and Director of the RCM. As a scholarship student, he met and studied with some of the leading musicians of the day, including Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Hubert Parry. He went on to work in some of the country's greatest schools, where he established his reputation as a composer, particularly of choral and orchestral works, of which Quo Vadis was his most ambitious. A member of the BBC Brains Trust panel, Dyson was also the 'voice of music' on the radio for a number of years and helped to educate the nation through his regular broadcasts. A fascinating, controversial man, George Dyson touched almost every sphere of musical life in Britain and helped to change the face of music performance and education in this country. This seminal book, examining every aspect of his long, colourful career, re-establishes him as the towering figure he undoubtedly was in his time. PAUL SPICER was a composition student of Herbert Howells, whose biography he wrote in 1998. He is well-known as a choral conductor especially of British Music of the twentieth century onwards, a writer, composer, teacher, and producer.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-361-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Paul Spicer
  5. CHAPTER 1 ‘A Veritable Muck-Midden’
    (pp. 1-14)

    E. J. Moeran wrote these blistering words to his friend Lionel Hill on 16 January 1945. Dyson’s general dismissal as a composer has been a common cry over the last fifty or sixty years. Very little of his music has held its place in the repertory. Of all his output onlyThe Canterbury Pilgrimsand the two sets of evening canticles in D and F for the Anglican liturgy of Choral Evensong are performed with any regularity. Thus it is important not only to record what was by any standards a remarkable life, but to rehabilitate Dyson’s reputation and stir...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Royal College of Music and the Mendelssohn Scholarship, 1900–1907
    (pp. 15-39)

    Dyson entered the Royal College of Music on 7 May 1900 on an Open Foundation Scholarship to study organ with W. S. Hoyte and composition with Sir Charles Stanford. He was not quite seventeen years old. He was given a preliminary examination in Halifax on 31 January, and a final examination on 23 February. Organ was his first study and the subject for which the scholarship was awarded. Composition was his second study and was shared with lessons in analysis.

    How he came to organise the audition from his remote northern outpost is not known. What is certain though is...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Mendelssohn Scholarship, 1904–7
    (pp. 40-63)

    The Honorary Secretary of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Committee was J. Edward Street who lived in Caterham in Surrey. It was up to him to organise the trip with Dyson. A lively correspondence between them has been preserved, giving us a real insight into Dyson’s thoughts, influences and activities during the coming three years.

    The compositions which Dyson submitted to the judges were the Piano Trio and the Cello Sonata described above, together with a setting for chorus and orchestra of Tom Hood’s humorous poemFaithless Nelly Gray. This work has long since disappeared along with Dyson’s other juvenilia. Parry and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Earning a Living
    (pp. 64-86)

    Dyson had no private means and the decision of the Mendelssohn scholarship committee not to renew his tenure for a fourth year concentrated his mind on how he was going to earn a living. Dyson described what happened:

    It was Sir Hubert Parry … who sent me to the Royal Naval College at Osborne, and thus began nearly thirty years’ work in schools. Their Lordships of the Admiralty had concurred that young naval cadets might well be given a chance to develop any musical leanings they might have, for their lives would be spent under conditions in which they would...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Dyson’s War, 1914–16
    (pp. 87-110)

    Following Dyson’s quick move from Marlborough and timely transfer to Rugby the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, after he had been in the Midlands for only three months, caused another hiatus. Who knows quite why he volunteered so immediately when he might well have felt more concerned with trying to carve out a reliable reputation for himself in his new surroundings – at least for a time, unless Freeman Dyson’s assertions about an affair at Rugby are actually correct. Perhaps at the back of his mind was the feeling that the hothouse atmosphere of another public school might well...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Wellington College
    (pp. 111-138)

    In 1920 Dyson was thirty-seven years old. After his traumatic war experiences, his self-questioning about the direction of his future work, and his need to settle down and build a stability which had been so lacking throughout the past six years, his thoughts turned to teaching again. The need for stability was emphasised by the birth of his daughter Alice. The post of Director of Music at Wellington College in Berkshire became available and he decided to apply. He was appointed in 1920 by the headmaster, William Vaughan, who was looking for someone to breathe new life into what he...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Winchester College
    (pp. 139-159)

    In September 1924 Dyson moved from Wellington to be Master of Music (Director) at Winchester College, and so began his long association with the city that was to become his spiritual home and which would later acknowledge the distinguished part he had played in its life by giving him its Freedom, something he valued far more than many of the other honours which had been heaped upon him. Head-hunted by the retiring Headmaster, Dr Monty Rendell, Dyson had finally achieved the top rung of the public school ladder aged forty-one.

    Winchester was founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham (hence...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Winchester Works: The Canterbury Pilgrims, St Paul’s Voyage to Melita and The Blacksmiths
    (pp. 160-187)

    After the writing of another successful book, and buoyed up by the success ofIn Honour of the City, it wasn’t long before Dyson’s thoughts returned to composition and the possibility of another choral work. Given his great gift for orchestration, his sense of fun in music, and his sense of humour (hidden to many but often described as a defining characteristic by those who knew him well), it is not surprising that he should alight on one of the most famous pieces of mediaeval English literature, Chaucer’s (c. 1343–1400) Prologue toThe Canterbury Tales. The whole idea of...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Winchester towards London
    (pp. 188-210)

    Dyson was now on a roll. Success followed success with every new work during this incredibly fertile time. With the enthusiastic reception ofSt Paul’s Voyage to Melitaat Hereford, it is hardly surprising that Worcester wanted to have its own composition from him for their festival in 1935. This wasNebuchadnezzar, an epic work based on the story of the three Jews and the burning fiery furnace. Dyson turned to the third chapter of the Book of Daniel for the principal part of his libretto. He set the revised version of this chapter complete and uncut except for its...

  14. Plates
    (pp. None)
  15. CHAPTER 10 Major Works, 1937–43
    (pp. 211-228)

    In 1937 Dyson was on his way to the next stage of his career at the Royal College of Music in London. His appointment and the story of his new post will be told in subsequent chapters. But first, we are going to look at four major works written during his first six years at the College. These are the Symphony, Part I ofQuo Vadis?,the Violin Concerto, and the overture toThe Canterbury Pilgrims, At the Tabard Inn.

    Dyson, in common with many composers of his time, wrote music because he wanted to, or because he felt he...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Director of the Royal College of Music, 1938–52: The First Five Terms
    (pp. 229-243)

    Thus, the new appointment was signed and sealed with Dyson showing his habitual eye for detail. He was, of course, thrilled by this new challenge and felt the honour of the appointment very deeply. To be the first of the College’s alumni to be appointed as its Director gave him further pride and satisfaction. The introductory ‘tributes’ printed in theRCM Magazineon his arrival make interesting reading in seeking to give a flavour of the personality and musicianship of the new Director.

    Walford Davies (who had taught him) wrote of Dyson revelling in music ‘not only as a great...

  17. CHAPTER 12 The War Years, 1939–45, Seen through Dyson’s College Addresses
    (pp. 244-273)

    The return to College on 19 September 1939 saw Dyson in his element. His start-of-term address succinctly summed up the current situation, put things in their historical context and attended to the practicalities of life in wartime. But before he was able to stand up on the stage that day: ‘There had been deep and heart-searching discussion as to what course to pursue on the outbreak of war – to close, remove or struggle on.’² Mildred Dyson recalled that her husband was determined to keep the College open.³ The Royal Academy of Music and other institutions had already decided to close...

  18. CHAPTER 13 The Royal College of Music, 1945–7
    (pp. 274-290)

    One of the most damaging accusations levelled at Dyson in his time as Director of the Royal College of Music concerned his attitude towards its library and valuable collection of musical instruments and portraits. The College had amassed a nationally important research library beginning in 1883 with the purchase (by subscription) of the entire library of the Sacred Harmonic Society, including its cases and stacks. In addition, Queen Victoria gave the College the complete library of the Concerts of Ancient Musick, the first ‘early music’ series in the world of which Prince Albert was the last director (they ended in...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Royal College of Music, 1947–52: Rebuilding, Development and Endgames
    (pp. 291-321)

    The winter of 1947 was one of the most severe on record. The College suffered for a particularly bad fortnight in sub-zero temperatures. As in the war, life went on as normal. Nothing was cancelled, nothing changed. But the event was notable. ‘It was a fine triumph of will and devotion’, said Dyson. ‘Almost equally heroic were the concert audiences. I was one of the weak ones who sat swathed in rugs.’¹ He went on: ‘the effect of this blizzard was in some ways like the effect of the air-raids during the war. The challenge of danger and discomfort seems...

  20. CHAPTER 15 Major Works, 1948–52
    (pp. 322-340)

    Dyson composed steadily throughout his years at the RCM. He set aside time each morning to compose and, together with the vacation periods, managed to maintain a steady output throughout his busy years as Director. Even through the war years he wrote some of his largest-scale works. Having concentrated on the story of his RCM years in the last four chapters, we shall now survey the varied works written during this time marking the high point of his maturity. These are theConcerto da Camerafor string orchestra (1948), Part II ofQuo Vadis?(1948),Four Songs for Sailors(1948),Concerto...

  21. CHAPTER 16 Return to Winchester and Retirement
    (pp. 341-361)

    We have two interesting bits of news. First, the Council of the College has been very generous about my pension, and in spite of my urging them to be more circumspect, they have promised me £1500 a year in retirement, which is about 3/3 of my pay and more than I had my claim to for 15 years service.

    Secondly, we ran down to Winchester two days ago to look at a house that won’t do, and accidentally found one that well might. It is in St. James Terrace, which you may remember is just above the railway up the...

  22. CHAPTER 17 Carnegie Trust, Final Works And Endings
    (pp. 362-396)

    In 1955 Dyson became Chairman of the Carnegie UK Trust. In another letter to his son he wrote:

    … now that I have become Chairman of the Carnegie Trust, there are a whole lot of responsibilities and events which will keep me interested and occupied outside music and Winchester. I am going to Dublin to see the village halls we have built in rural areas in Eire, and to open a new one. And mummy and I have several pleasant Trust functions to attend this summer in widely varied and separated places.¹

    The Carnegie Trust was a source of real...

  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 397-401)
  24. Appendixes

    • APPENDIX 1 List of Dyson’s Works
      (pp. 402-412)
    • APPENDIX 2 Texts Set by Dyson
      (pp. 413-415)
    • APPENDIX 3 The Canterbury Pilgrims: 35 Performances Conducted by Dyson, 1931–60
      (pp. 416-416)
    • APPENDIX 4 Select Bibliography
      (pp. 417-418)
    • APPENDIX 5 Discography
      (pp. 419-429)
  25. Index of Dyson’s Works
    (pp. 430-431)
  26. General Index
    (pp. 432-450)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 451-451)