Born Aberdeen, Martin Dalby studied composition at the Royal College of Music, London, with Herbert Howells, and viola with Frederick Riddle. In 1963 a travelling scholarship enabled him to spend two years in Italy, where he played the viola in a small Italian chamber orchestra. He then worked for the BBC in London producing music programmes for Radio 3 and left in 1971 to become Cramb Research Fellow in composition at the University of Glasgow. Following this he returned to the BBC, this time as head of music in Glasgow until early retirement in 1993. His work includes a symphony, a viola concerto, various choral works, songs and song-cycles, but perhaps his chamber music is the most significant part of his output. Recent works include The White Maa for chamber orchestra, and a new work for the Yggdrasil Quartet of Aberdeen.
Martin Dalby was born in Aberdeen in 1942. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and in 1960 won a Foundation Scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied composition with Herbert Howells and viola with Frederick Riddle. In 1963 the Octavia Prize and a Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarship enabled him to spend two years in Italy where besides composing he played the viola with a small Italian Chamber Orchestra. In 1965 he was appointed as a music producer to the BBC’s newly formed Music Programme (later to be Radio 3.) In 1971 he became the Cramb Research Fellow in Composition at the University of Glasgow and in 1972 returned to the BBC as Head of Music, Scotland. In 1991 he relinquished this post in order to pursue a more creative role. In 1993 he retired from the BBC and now composes full time.
He has written a large amount of music: for orchestra, for chorus, for brass bands and wind bands, for the church, for Film, Radio and Television, many songs and song cycles, and chamber music ranging from duos and trios to octets and nonets. Most of it has been commissioned: from festivals such as Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Cardiff, Orkney and Peterborough, or from orchestras and ensembles. It has been performed widely throughout the world notably at such festivals as the Warsaw Autumn and the Henry Wood Proms in London for which more recently he wrote The Mary Bean for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Work for his home city has occupied him more recently, first The White Maa for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra music to celebrate 200 years of Union Street in Aberdeen and most recently a String Quartet to celebrate 500 years of the University of Aberdeen. He recently completed his third Piano Sonata for Peter Seivewright and a short piece for the National Youth String Orchestra of Scotland, The First Thursday in May welcoming the return of a Parliament to Scotland. He is at present working with the music of the great Scots fiddler and composer, J. Scott Skinner, creating his own Orchestral Suite from it. The act of “rebuilding” Skinner’s tender and characteristically Scottish music is born of devotion not of destruction.
Dalby has a profound interest in Scotland: he produced BBC Radio Scotland’s massive radio history, Scotland’s Music a few years ago and won a Sony Gold Award for it; he and his colleagues won a Gramophone award for their CD of James MacMillan’s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie; his composing peers awarded him a “Gold Badge” in 1999.
Dalby has always concerned himself with the interests of his fellow composers. He helped in forming and running several chamber groups in Scotland. He was Chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain from 1995 to 1998 and now is a founding director of the UK composer organisation, The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters. He is also Warden elect of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Performers and Composers Section.