George Dyson (composer)

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Painting by Anthony Devas, 1952

Sir George Dyson KCVO (28 May 1883 – 28 September 1964) was a well-known English musician and composer.


George Dyson was born in Halifax, Yorkshire, on 28 May 1883. He attended the Royal College of Music and was a winner of the Mendelssohn Scholarship in 1905, which enabled him to spend some years in Italy and Germany. In 1914, he joined the Royal Fusiliers, and during this time wrote a widely used training pamphlet on the use of grenades. After being invalided home with shell-shock in 1916 and recovering, he joined the Royal Air Force where he completed the RAF March Past drafted by Walford Davies.[1] In 1921, he took up posts as music master at Wellington College and as professor of composition at the Royal College of Music.[2] He worked as a school music teacher (at Rugby, Wellington and Winchester), before being appointed as Director of the Royal College of Music in 1937. Notably, he granted classical guitarist Julian Bream a full scholarship in his role as the Director, a pivotal moment in the young guitarist's path to greatness.

On 23 February 1935, primarily to support amateur music groups in the wake of the Great Depression, George Dyson founded the National Federation of Music Societies,[3] which rebranded in 2000 to become Making Music.

He received a knighthood in 1941 and was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in 1953. He died in Winchester on 28 September 1964, aged 81.

His son is the physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson and among his grandchildren are the science historian George Dyson and Esther Dyson.

Musical works[edit]

His compositions include a symphony in G major (1937), a violin concerto, and a number of other works, many of them for choir. Ernest John Moeran's Symphony in G minor, of the same decade (and completed the same year), has some similarities of style and ambition with Dyson's. Both are among the longest works of each at about 45 minutes, and both show some influence, harmonically and in instrumental use, from Jean Sibelius. Another pair of major works by Dyson, each lasting about ninety minutes, are two choral works: the poem cycle Quo vadis for solo quartet, semi-chorus, chorus and orchestra; and The Canterbury Pilgrims, for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra. In 1935 he wrote "Nebuchadnezzar", in the shadow of William Walton's "Belshazzar's Feast" from 1931.[4]

Dyson composed some fifty works for the liturgy of the Church of England, including two complete morning and evening canticles in D major and F major, as well as a setting of the evening service in C minor for trebles. The evening services remain popular in English churches and cathedrals, and are certainly part of the core repertoire. The F major service is particularly noted for its solos: about half of the Magnificat is written for a solo treble, and half of the Nunc dimittis for a solo bass. By popular request, Dyson was featured as BBC Radio 3's 'Composer of the Week' in October 2014.[5]

In the Oxford Companion to Music, Percy Scholes described his compositions as "skilful, sometimes deeply felt, but never forward-looking in idiom".

Military publication[edit]

  • Grenade Warfare: notes on the training & organization of grenadiers., pp. 16. Sifton, Praed & Co.: London, 1915.[6]

Sir George Dyson Trust[edit]

The Sir George Dyson Trust was established in 1998, with the composer's daughter, Alice Dyson, as chairman. The Trust's declared purpose is to advance the education of the public in the understanding and appreciation of music of the late Sir George Dyson and by making available his manuscripts, writings, scores, drafts and memoranda for the encouragement of the study of his work. The Trust is working to bring about republication of a number of works long out of print and encouraging the re-issue of recordings currently unavailable. The Trust is sometimes able to give grants towards the cost of performing and recording major Dyson works.


  • George Dyson, The New Music (1924)
  • George Dyson, The Progress of Music (1932)
  • George Dyson, Fiddling While Rome Burns (1954)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Foreman, Lewis (2004). "Dyson, Sir George (1883–1964)" (available online to subscribers, also in print). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Stephen Lloyd, William Walton: Muse of Fire
  5. ^
  6. ^ "British Library catalogue record". Retrieved 2015-04-16. 

External links[edit]