George Dyson (1883-1964)

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
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01Dyson Hears A Hurdy-gurdy20140929

Donald Macleod on Dyson's early life, including study at the Royal College of Music.

Celebrated composer, broadcaster, teacher, and author of the first manual on hand grenade use, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Sir George Dyson. Born in Halifax, Yorkshire, Dyson's musical talents soon materialised as he became a notable organist. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music where he would later become a composition teacher, and then director, insisting that the RCM remain open during WWII. During his distinguished career he taught at a succession of public schools including Wellington and Winchester, he became a regular BBC broadcaster and also worked tirelessly for the Carnegie UK Trust. The Canterbury Pilgrims, a set of colourful Chaucerian portraits, along with his Service in D has become Dyson's calling card, but he also composed a Symphony in G and a Violin Concerto, along with many choral and chamber works.

Donald Macleod, in the company of biographer, Paul Spicer, visits the Royal College of Music, an institution that played a significant part in the life of Sir George Dyson. Very little survives of Dyson's early works, although there is a Cello Sonata he composed whilst studying composition at the RCM under Stanford.

It was Stanford who suggested Dyson travelled to Italy to study, courtesy of a Mendelssohn scholarship, and his music composed during that period includes the Rhapsody No 1. Upon his return to the UK, Dyson took up teaching, including organising musical activities at the Royal Naval College at Osborne where two royal princes were cadets. Dyson never forgot his Yorkshire roots though, keeping his noticeable Halifax accent. Later he'd compose a work that related to his early years and his father's trade, The Blacksmiths.

02Dyson In The Trenches20140930

Donald Macleod focuses on the work Dyson composed during World War I.

Celebrated composer, broadcaster, teacher, and author of the first manual on hand grenade use, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Sir George Dyson.

Donald Macleod, in the company of biographer, Paul Spicer, visits the Royal College of Music, where in the 1920s George Dyson returned as professor of composition, harmony and counterpoint. Later on in that decade Dyson was also headhunted for a job at Winchester, and through his work there he became more involved with choirs, inspiring him to compose In Honour of the City.

Prior to this distinguished career, Dyson served in the trenches during the First World War. He was appointed grenade officer and, with no training in this area available, Dyson wrote his own manual on how to use grenades. Hundreds of thousands of these little books were published. Many were also printed in the USA when America joined the war. There was a piano in the Battalion headquarters where he'd play some evenings. His Epigrams for piano was composed during this period.

03The Canterbury Pilgrims20141001

Celebrated composer, broadcaster, teacher, and author of the first manual on hand grenade use, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Sir George Dyson.

Donald Macleod, in the company of biographer, Paul Spicer, visits the Royal College of Music, where George Dyson was appointed Director during the 1930s. Dyson's star during this period was in the ascent. He'd previously been teaching at both Winchester and the RCM, and it was in the Guildhall at Winchester where his work The Canterbury Pilgrims was premiered to much acclaim.

Dyson's reputation as a composer was now growing and commissions started to come in from various festivals including the Three Choirs Festival and the Leeds Festival. This provided Dyson with an opportunity to compose new works such as his Prelude, Fantasy and Chaconne for cello and small orchestra, and his large-scale choral work Nebuchadnezzar. Composition didn't fall by the wayside once Dyson was appointed to the post as Director of the RCM. During his first few years there he completed a number of large orchestral works, including his Symphony in G.

04Dyson The Fire Watcher20141002

Donald Macleod focuses on Dyson's activities during World War II.

Celebrated composer, broadcaster, teacher, and author of the first manual on hand grenade use, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Sir George Dyson.

Donald Macleod, in the company of biographer, Paul Spicer, visits the Royal College of Music, an institution George Dyson as then Director, insisted remained open during World War II. Dyson had been appointed to the post in the late 1930s and had instigated a number of immediate changes to raise the profile and standard of the RCM. One of the compositions he was working on during this productive period was his Violin Concerto, which was completed in 1941, the same year Dyson received his Knighthood.

During WWII life continued at the Royal College of Music, although on a reduced scale. There were now fewer students which impacted upon the colleges finances, but Dyson repeatedly applied for grants from the government and was successful. Dyson also lived at the college during the war, taking his turn with staff and students to man the nightly fire watch on the roof of the college. In February 1941, the college took a direct hit by a bomb which badly damaged the opera school, destroying many valuable historic costumes. Despite all these concerns Dyson was still composing, including his large-scale work for four soloists, choir and orchestra, Quo Vadis.

05 LASTDyson Retires20141003

Donald Macleod discusses Dyson's work in retirement.

Celebrated composer, broadcaster, teacher, and author of the first manual on hand grenade use, this week Donald Macleod explores the life and music of Sir George Dyson.

Donald Macleod, in the company of biographer, Paul Spicer, visits the Royal College of Music, an institution that played a significant part in the life of Sir George Dyson. Dyson had taken his responsibilities as Director of the RCM very seriously but, with the added pressures caused by the the Second World War and its aftermath, he announced his retirement from the post in 1952. Dyson had made a significant impact upon the profile and standard of the college, but had also amazingly found time to compose as well, including the second part of Quo Vadis and his Concerto leggiero.

In retirement, Dyson was still exceptionally busy, including positions as President of the Royal College of Organists and Chairman of the Carnegie UK Trust. He also had something of an Indian summer, composing a number of large choral works, including Sweet Thames Run Softly, Agincourt, and Hierusalem. He died in 1964 but his presence is still felt at the Royal College, not least because of the large portrait of Sir George Dyson hanging near the director's office.