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.

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

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Principal Engineer – Biomass

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil