Obituary: Ruth Dyson

Ruth Dyson was one of the few pianists of her generation who turned to the harpsichord at a time when, despite the efforts of pioneers like Arnold Dolmetsch, it was still regarded as "quaint" by the establishment. She was not only a fine performer on piano, harpsichord, clavichord and virginals, but also a distinguished professor, adjudicator, lecturer and author.

Dyson studied piano with the legendary Kathleen Long at the Royal College of Music and it was on hearing her teacher play baroque music on the piano that she became interested in the music of that period. She then discovered the fine collection of early keyboard instruments at the RCM which further inspired her interest. Eventually she bought her own Goble harpsichord and gave her first Wigmore recital on that instrument in 1941.

During the Second World War, she did auxiliary nursing under the Red Cross, taught music to evacuee children and made endless tours giving concerts in factories, military camps and hospitals.

After the war she continued her career as both pianist and harpsichordist. She played piano concertos with most of the main orchestras in the UK and gave frequent solo recitals on both instruments. She also undertook many European tours sponsored by the British Council and made regular broadcasts from the BBC for over 30 years, many of which were first performances of works by contemporary composers for the early keyboard instruments. She also made numerous recordings for the BBC Archives on instruments from famous collections which included the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Colt Clavier Collection.

In the late Forties Dyson was involved for some time with the Leith Hill Festival and valued the friendship of its founder, Ralph Vaughan Williams. For some time she served as the festival's librarian and would recall the occasion when Vaughan Williams telephoned her to ask about some of the Haydn oratorios, adding: "Don't forget we're meeting at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning when we're going to rub out the Creation!"

Dyson returned to the RCM in 1964 to take up professorships in both harpsichord and piano and a lectureship in the history of early keyboard instruments. It was during this time that she took her students to visit the famous collections of early keyboard instruments and so inspired them to take up the study of baroque music for themselves; among those who are now firmly established in the field are Melvyn Tan, Sophie Yates, Robert Woolley and many others. She was awarded a Fellowship in 1980 and retired in 1987 after 23 years of service. Her students adored her and many kept in touch right up to the present.

Dyson's lecturing activities also extended abroad where she lectured in French at the World Forum of Harpsichord in Paris and in German to the Telemann Society in Hamburg. She also represented the UK as adjudicator at the International Fortnight at Bruges. She contributed articles to a number of learned journals and to the 1979 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music.

As a soloist she made a number of recordings which included Herbert Howells works for the clavichord to celebrate the composer's 90th birthday. She also made recordings with the bass singer and harpsichordist Peter Medhurst with whom she shared a happy musical partnership for the last 20 years; these included an album of Schubert songs recorded at the Colt Clavier Collection. One of their most recent recordings For Two To Play was of all the double harpsichord works up to the time of Mozart when the harpsichord was superseded by the piano. Medhurst told me: "She was my mentor and it was such a joy to work with her. She was so spontaneous and a brilliant keyboard player, and she had such rhythmic point. Whatever instrument she played - great music came out."

She was married to the military historian Edward Thomas, nephew of the poet of the same name who was killed in the First World War. She loved travelling with her husband as he revisited many of the places abroad where he was in military intelligence, including Thailand in 1995, the last journey they made together. He died in 1996.

Dyson appeared for many years in the Haslemere Festival of Early Music, and its Musical Director, Jeanne Dolmetsch, recalled attending her 80th birthday party in March this year: "She was in sparkling form. She will be remembered for intimate, witty and informative lectures, her wonderful accompanying and her skill in improvisation. She was my musical mother!"

As a person she was charming, unaffected and modest despite the fact that she had an incredibly scholarly mind. She was also generous towards other artists - a rare quality among musicians.

In recent years she taught regularly at the Dolmetsch Summer School, and confessed it was one of her favourite undertakings because clearly she had a special empathy with the young. It was here, on the last afternoon of the course, that she suffered a fatal heart attack after a wonderful week in which she had been full of her usual enthusiasm. As Jeanne Dolmetsch put it: "Ruth Dyson's life was rather like a piece of music which bubbles over with excitement and ends in a perfect cadence. That is how she would have wanted it."

Margaret Campbell

Barbara Ruth Dyson, keyboard player and teacher: born London 28 March 1917; married 1964 Edward Thomas (died 1996; one step-son, one step-daughter); died Guildford, Surrey 16 August 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project