Composer George Dyson

Our Evensong on Saturday 13 November at 5pm will feature Dyson’s Mag & Nunc in D.

As director of the Royal College of Music (pictured) from 1938 to 1952, George Dyson (1883-1964) had a major influence on music performance and composition in the UK.

Twentieth century British composers have often been criticized for their conservatism. While everyone else was experimenting with serialism, chance, and other forms of rule-breaking, the British were still trotting out nice tunes and conventional harmonies (according to their critics).

Dyson had no illusions that his style was cutting edge or exceptional. Writing almost 100 years ago about the new music, however, he makes an important point about the need for composers to connect with their audiences:

To say … that a new scale, derived from an intellectual or arbitrary source, offers a field for musical expansion, is to state a hypothesis rather than a truth … The hearer must have the same sense of values, or a capacity for experience that will enable him to evolve them, or the new dialect is meaningless … Even the profoundest thinker must write in a language that a reader can read … Beethoven was not classic either to himself or to his contemporaries. It was the unnumbered music-lovers who magnified his art by comprehending it, and who, from among many prophets, declared him to be true. So will posterity deal with us, seeing clearly where we have failed and where succeeded in the cultivation of new and fertile means of expression …

Dyson would no doubt be amused to learn that while his Mag & Nunc in D is a favourite at Pilgrim, we don’t schedule much Schoenberg, Webern or Stockhausen!

Source: Dyson, G. (1923). The Texture of Modern Music. III. Music & Letters, 4(4), 293-312.

Photo by Diliff, distributed under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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