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As composer, performer and writer, Peter Dickinson has made significant contributions to British musical life. Appendices I and II – a composition list and a discography – run to three-and-a-half and seven pages respectively.

In Chapter II he recounts the unfolding of his three careers. These writings span more than 50 years, from New York concert reviews (1959-60) to being interviewed by James Jolly in 2014. The three years Dickinson spent in New York – on a fellowship at the Juilliard School – ‘changed the course of my life’. Dickinson’s deepest interests include Ives, Satie and Lord Berners. While in America he came to know Copland, Virgil Thomson and John Cage.

He has written books on Barber, Lennox Berkeley, Lord Berners, Copland and Cage, all of whom feature in this volume. As Stephen Banfield writes in his excellent Introduction (2015), Dickinson has ‘moved in and out of’ ... ‘salaried university posts, performance, scholarship and composition … engagement with the surrealists, the American experimentalists, English twentieth-century poets, and those popular forms dear to his heart: rags, blues and hymns.’

Section 5 – Literary Connections – accommodates pieces on Ruth Pitter, Emily Dickinson, Eliot, Auden and Larkin. David Munrow, Wilfred Mellers and pioneering historian of music education Bernarr Rainbow each receive tributes, while the memoir by Dickinson’s sister Meriel reminds us of their fruitful recital partnership.

Dickinson is authoritative, lucid, persuasive, lively and sharply witty. Of Philip Glass’s harpsichord concerto he writes ‘ … a weird mixture of baroque clichés [exemplifying] Glass’s personal apotheosis of the obvious.’ Of a 1961 Vivaldi performance under Charles Munch he writes ‘The orchestra was so large that the harpsichord – paying a feeble lip-service to authenticity in order, it seemed, to sanction the usual romantic licences – was inaudible and made its principal ... impact when being carried out.’

With fine illustrations and selected music examples, this is a richly satisfying book.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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