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Remembering Professor Peter Dickinson, 1934 – 2023

Wed 8 November 2023

Composer, pianist, academic, author and broadcaster Professor Peter Dickinson (1934 – 2023) has died at age 88. Professor Dickinson was a former Governor and Honorary Fellow of Trinity College of Music, and a valued member of our musical community.

Professor 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.

Professor Dickinson was known for introducing music lovers in Britain to new sounds from America from ragtime and jazz to the most experimental pieces. He inspired interest in unfamiliar works and was a pioneer in the teaching of jazz and popular music in UK degree courses.

An authority on American and British composers from Aaron Copland and John Cage to Sir Lennox Berkeley and Lord Berners, he wrote books including The Music of Lennox Berkeley (1988) and CageTalk: Dialogues With and About John Cage (2006).

These composers in turn inspired Dickinson to write concertos for organ (1971), piano (1984) and violin (1986). Other major works included his Blue Rose Variations for organ, which was performed at the BBC Proms by David Titterington in 2009, and his Mass of the Apocalypse, played by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Aldeburgh festival in 2015.

In addition to his other work, Professor Dickinson was a philanthropist and co-founder of the music education charity, Rainbow Dickinson Trust, alongside another former TCM student Dr. Bernarr Rainbow. The Trust has a continuous record for supporting musical projects involving training for young people, performance and research, spending over £300,000 since it was established. It has supported the publication or republication of writings by Rainbow, often brought up to date by specially commissioned further material, and has completed his series of thirty-five Classic Texts in Music Education. The running of the Trust will now be taken over by Professor Dickinson’s son Francis.

He is survived by his wife, his sons and his sister.