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 (Thames 1989, 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.
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