Sir George Dyson

Sir George Dyson

His Life and Music

Paul Spicer


Boydell Press



The story of a fascinating, controversial man who influenced almost every sphere of musical life in Britain and helped to change the face of music performance and education in this country.
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 In this comprehensive and detailed study, based not only on Dyson's own writings but on unpublished papers, personal correspondence, and interviews with his family and friends, Paul Spicer brings this remarkable man and his lyrical, passionate and engaging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.


May 2014
32 black and white, 170 line illustrations
480 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843839033
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
'A veritable muck midden'
The Royal College of Music and the Mendelssohn Scholarship 1900-7
The Mendelssohn Scholarship 1904-7
Earning a living
Dyson's War, 1914-16
Wellington College
Winchester College
Winchester works: The Canterbury Pilgrims, St.Paul's Voyage to Melita, The Blacksmiths
Winchester towards London
Major Works 1937-43
Director of the Royal College of Music (1938-52) The first five terms
The war years (1939-45) seen through Dyson's College addresses
The Royal College of Music 1945-47
The Royal College of Music 1947-52: Rebuilding, development and endgames
Major Works 1948-52
Return to Winchester and Retirement
Carnegie Trust, final works and endings
Select Bibliography
Appendix 1: List of Dyson's works
Appendix 2: List of texts used in Dyson's works
Appendix 3: List of performances of The Canterbury Pilgrims conducted by Dyson
Appendix 4: Select Bibliography of Works on Dyson
Appendix 5: Discography


Incisive, to the point, pithy, and observant. CHURCH TIMES

It is a remarkable effort of research and scholarship enhanced by the author being a distinguished composer and choral conductor in his own right: not surprisingly, he is particularly good on every aspect of Dyson's music. This (study of Dyson) is built to last. GRAMOPHONE

Dyson's musical output is discussed extensively by Spicer... (whose) scrupulous contextualising of (these works) undoubtedly makes you listen with fresh understanding and enhanced empathy. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

Compelling and valuable ... This material brings the book alive, and helps hold even the casual reader for page after page ... It is a great achievement and I marvel out how Paul Spicer found the time to research and write such a complete exposition, development and recapitulation of his subject. He is warmly to be congratulated and the book equally warmly to be welcomed.ORGANISTS REVIEW

It is a strength of this book that Spicer's discussion of the music is both approachable and readable, and in this regard falls very much in the 'life and works' treatment of traditional musicology ... Spicer gives us a very well documented trail that tells us a great deal about the events of (Dyson's) life. MUSICAL TIMES

First rate, thoroughly researched biography. It is the best kind of musical biography in that it not only gives a detailed insight into Dyson's life and music, but covers so many other related subjects. I cannot imagine any Dyson enthusiast or lover of British music wanting to be without this fine volume. THE CLASSICAL REVIEWER