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Dyson, Sir Georgelocked

  • Lewis Foreman

(b Halifax, May 28, 1883; d Winchester, Sept 28, 1964). English composer and educationist. An FRCO at 16, he became an open scholar at the RCM in 1900 and a composition student of Stanford. His travels after winning the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1904 centred on Florence and Rome. Working particularly with Sgambati, he became a protégé of Clara Gigliucci, daughter of Vincent Novello. Later, in Vienna and Berlin, he was acquainted with leading musicians of the day and visited Strauss. A symphonic poem Siena, now lost, but said to be Straussian, was conducted by Nikisch. Dyson’s Evening Service in D of 1907 is still sung, but otherwise little of his early music survives. He returned to England in 1907, when Parry recommended him to be director of music at the Royal Naval College at Osborne. From there he moved to Marlborough College in 1911, but enlisted in 1914. In 1915 he published a training pamphlet on grenade warfare for which he became celebrated. In 1918 he achieved the Oxford MusDoc, and in 1921 became a professor at the RCM.

After the war Dyson lectured on new music, soon publishing a series of four articles on ‘The Texture of Modern Music’ (Music & Letters, 1923), which were incorporated into his influential book The New Music, published in 1924. He became director of music at Wellington College in 1921, and in 1924 moved to Winchester, where the various strands of his mature career as a composer developed. His published music includes many unison songs for educational use, dating from 1919 to the 1950s, when his Hymn for a Musician was written for Eton College. Its Parryesque command of the wide-spanning single line informs much of his choral music, and he achieved his most characteristic voice with choral music of a tuneful, vigorous cast. In 1928 In Honour of the City established him as an approachable musical personality in the tradition of Parry and Elgar. This was followed by his most celebrated work, The Canterbury Pilgrims, first performed at Winchester in 1931 with leading soloists (Isobel Baillie, Steuart Wilson and Roy Henderson), conducted by the composer. It was popular for over 30 years, but was then neglected until its recording in 1996.

In the 1930s Dyson became associated with the Three Choirs Festival. For Hereford he wrote St Paul’s Voyage to Melita (1933) and for Worcester Nebuchadnezzar (1935), which ends with a blazing setting of the Benedicite (‘Praise Ye the Lord’); another extended score, Quo Vadis?, a suite of nine extended choral movements, was intended for the cancelled 1939 festival in Hereford. While its first part was first performed in London in 1945, the complete work was not given until 1949 in Hereford. In 1936 Hereford had also been the venue for the first performance of the Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne for cello and orchestra.

His reputation as a composer quickly grew with two big orchestral works, the Symphony in G and the Violin Concerto, the latter championed by Albert Sammons. Dyson contributed music to the Coronations of 1937 and 1953. In 1938 he became director of the RCM, the first director to have been trained there. Knighted in 1942, he retired in 1952, and in a late compositional outpouring wrote a group of fine choral works. The sweetly nostalgic cantata Sweet Thames Run Softly, for baritone, chorus and orchestra, was in an idiom which in the mid-1950s seemed to suggest a pastoral imitator of Delius and Vaughan Williams, but is now seen as a vivid and timeless evocation, perfectly caught. A Christmas Garland and A Spring Garden are typical chains of lyrical settings, while in one of his last extended works, Agincourt (1955), he looks back to In Honour of the City in a Shakespearean choral setting of undimmed vigour and appeal.


(selective list)

Choral with orch

In Honour of the City (W. Dunbar), chorus, orch, 1928

The Canterbury Pilgrims (G. Chaucer), S, T, Bar, chorus, orch, 1931

St Paul’s Voyage to Melita (Bible: Acts), T, chorus, orch, 1933

The Blacksmiths (anon., 14th-century), pf, chorus, orch, 1934

Nebuchadnezzar (Bible: Daniel, Apocrypha), T, B, chorus, org, orch, 1935

3 Songs of Praise, SATB/unison vv, str (1935)

3 Songs of Courage, 1935

O Praise God in his Holiness (Ps cl), coronation anthem, SATB, orch/org, 1937

Quo Vadis?: a Cycle of Poems, 2 pts, SATB soli, chorus, orch, 1939

Motherland (W. Watson), SATB, orch, 1940

4 Songs for Sailors, 1948

Invocation to Science (W. Wordsworth), 1949

3 Choral Hymns, SATB, str, 1951

Confortare (Be Strong and of a Good Courage), coronation anthem, SATB, orch, 1953

Sweet Thames Run Softly (E. Spenser), Bar, chorus, orch, 1954

Agincourt (W. Shakespeare), chorus, orch, 1955

Hierusalem (St Augustine), S, chorus, str qt, str, hp, org, 1956

Let’s Go A-Maying (R. Herrick), SSA, str, 1957

A Christmas Garland, Mez, SSA, str, 1959

Choral (SATB unless otherwise stated)

c50 works incl. Mag and Nunc in D, 1907

TeD laudamus, 1914

To Music, 1919

Benedicite in D, 1923

Jubilate, 1924

Mag and Nunc in D, 1924

TeD and Benedictus in C (1924)

Song on a May Morning (J. Milton), SA, ob, hp, 1933

A Prayer for the King, 1937

O Praise God in his Holiness, 1937

The Rising Day, unison, 1938

God Made Us All (J. Keble), 2-pt, 1939

Vespers, 1939

Mag and Nunc in F, 1945

Song for a Festival (C.D. Lewis), B, SATB, 1951

Live for Ever Glorious Lord (J. Austin), tr vv, SATB, 1952

Ye Choir Above, unison, 1953

I Will Worship (Ps lxxxviii), unison, 1954

Ye That Do Your Master’s Will, 1954

TeD and Benedictus in F (1955)

Benedicite in F, 1956

3 Rustic Songs (Herrick), male vv, 2 pf, 1957

A Spring Garden (Herrick), SA, hp, 1957

Hail, Universal Lord (Milton), SATB, org, 1958

Nocturne, 1960

A Summer Day (A. Hume), suite, SA, pf, 1961

The Canterbury Pilgrims, choral suite, SSAA, pf, 1964


Children’s Suite (after W. de la Mare), 1920

Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne, vc/va, orch, 1936

Sym., G, 1937 (1940)

Vn Conc., 1941

At the Tabard Inn, ov., 1943

Conc. da camera, 1949

Conc. da chiesa, 1952

Conc. leggiero, pf, str, 1953


The Open Window, 8 pf pieces, op.12a; 6 Lyrics, pf, 1920

Epigrams: 10 short pieces, op.9, pf, 1920

Twilight: 4 preludes, op.14, pf, 1920

My Birthday: 3 Little Pieces, pf, 1924

Prelude and Ballet, pf, 1925

Primrose Mount, pf, 1928

Bach’s Birthday: 4 Fugal Sketches, pf, 1929

Revelry in D, pf, 1938

12 Easy Pieces, pf, 1952

Prelude and Postlude, org, 1956

Voluntary in D, org, 1958

Variations on Old Psalm Tunes, org, 3 books, 1959–61

Fantasia and Ground Bass, org, 1960


In Pixieland: 4 easy pieces, vn, pf 1918, reissued 1999 as Woodland Suite, also arr. str, wind ad lib; 3 Rhapsodies, str qt (1920)

Revery in D, vn, pf, 1924

Songs, educational music, easy vn pieces, children’s pf pieces

Principal publishers: Novello, Oxford, Stainer & Bell, Thames


  • The New Music (London, 1924, 2/1926)
  • The Progress of Music (London, 1932)
  • Fiddling while Rome Burns: a Musician’s Apology (London, 1954)
  • C. Palmer, ed.: Dyson’s Delight: an Anthology of Sir George Dyson’s Writing and Talks on Music (London, 1989)


  • W. McNaught: ‘Dr George Dyson’s Symphony’, MT, 79 (1938), 13–17
  • W.R. Anderson: ‘Dyson’s Violin Concerto: an Appreciation’, MR, 3 (1942), 115–24
  • D. Brook: ‘Sir George Dyson’, Composer’s Gallery (London, 1946), 61–3
  • A.O. Warburton: ‘Sir George Dyson and Practical Musicianship’, Music Teacher, 33 (1954), 236
  • A. Whittall: ‘Dyson the Contemporary’, ML, 46 (1965), 35–8
  • I. Copley: ‘Sir George Dyson’, Music Teacher, 56 (1977), 13
  • H. Brian: ‘Dyson’, Havergal Brian on Music, ed. M. MacDonald, 1 (London, 1986), 254–60
  • C. Palmer: George Dyson: Man and Music (London, 1996)
  • J. Bishop: ‘Repertoire 3 – Reassessing Dyson’, Choir & Organ, 5 (1997), 64–6
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