James Dillon (composer)

James Dillon (born 29 October 1950) is a Scottish composer who is often regarded as belonging to the New Complexity school. Dillon studied art and design, linguistics, piano, acoustics, Indian rhythm, mathematics and computer music, but is self-taught in composition.

Dillon was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Honours include first prize in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 1978, the Kranichsteiner music prize at Darmstadt in 1982,[1] and five Royal Philharmonic Society composition awards, most recently for his chamber piece Tanz/Haus: triptych 2017. Dillon taught at Darmstadt from 1982 to 1992, and has been a guest lecturer and composer at various institutions around the world. He taught at the University of Minnesota School of Music in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 2007 to 2014.

Selected works

His major works include choral and vocal music, including the cycle L'évolution du vol (1993) and the opera Philomela (2004), the orchestral works helle Nacht (1987), ignis noster (1992), Via Sacra (2000), and La navette (2001), as well as a violin concerto for Thomas Zehetmair (2000) and the piano concerto Andromeda (2006) for his partner, Noriko Kawai, all showing an ease of writing for large forces. From 1982–2000, Dillon worked on the Nine Rivers cycle, a 3-hour work for voices, strings, percussion, live electronics and computer-generated tape. The epic work was first performed in full in Glasgow, November 2010.[2] Andrew Clements of The Guardian awarded it a full five stars, describing the last movement (“Oceanos”) as having a “Wagnerian grandeur” and stating, “The cumulative power of [Nine Rivers] is massive, the range of musical experience vast.”[3]

His considerable body of chamber music, often written expressly for a performer's individual abilities, includes solos for clarinet, drumkit, cello, flute, piccolo, guitar, violin, viola, and accordion, alongside eight string quartets (1983, 1991, 1998, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017), the five-part Book of Elements for piano (1997–2002) and the soadie waste for piano and string quartet (2002/3). In 2013, Tom Service referred to the Book of Elements as “the most significant contribution to the pianist's repertoire since György Ligeti's Études.”[4] His fourth string quartet received the 2005 Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Chamber-Scale Composition.[5] He won the same award in 1997 (for Traumwerk, Book 1), 2002 (for The Book of Elements 5), and 2017 (for Tanz/Haus: triptych 2017).[6]

His music has been published by Edition Peters since 1982.

List of compositions


Windows and Canopies, small orchestra (20 players), 1985

Überschreiten, small orchestra (16 players), 1986

helle Nacht, large orchestra (90 players), 1986–87

Introitus – Nine Rivers 8, 11/12 strings, fixed media, live electronics, 1989–90

ignis noster, large orchestra (100 players), 1991–92

Blitzschlag, flute, large orchestra (66 players), 1988–96

Via Sacra, large orchestra (80 players), 1999

Concerto, violin, large orchestra (79 players), 2000

La Navette, large orchestra, 2000–01

Physis I & II, large orchestra, 2004–05

Andromeda, piano, large orchestra (80 players), 2005–06

torii, small orchestra (17 players), 2009–10

White Numbers, large orchestra (77 players), 2011

THE GATES, string quartet, large orchestra, 2016

Circe (Pharmakeia : 3), small orchestra (16 players), 2017

Chamber music

Crossing Over, clarinet, 1978

Ti.re-Ti.ke-Dha, drum kit, 1979

...Once upon a Time, alto flute (+ piccolo), oboe (+ English horn), clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, double bass, 1980

Parjanya-Vata, cello, 1981

East 11th St. NY 10003 – Nine Rivers 1, 6 percussion, 1982

String Quartet No. 1, 1983

Zone (...de azul), clarinet, French horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, piano, 1983

Le Rivage, flute (+ piccolo, alto flute), oboe, clarinet (+ bass clarinet), French horn, bassoon, 1984

Sgothan, flute, 1984

Diffraction, piccolo, 1984

Shrouded Mirrors, guitar, 1988

Del Cuarto Elemento, violin, 1988

L'ÉCRAN parfum – Nine Rivers 2, 6 violins, 3 percussion, 1988

La Femme invisible – Nine Rivers 4, flute (+ piccolo), alto flute (+ bass flute), oboe, English horn (+ oboe), clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 soprano saxophones (2nd + alto saxophone), piano, 3 percussion, 1989

L'Œuvre au Noir – Nine Rivers 6, bass flute (+ alto flute, piccolo, triangle), bassoon (+ contrabassoon, crotales), tenor-bass trombone, bass trombone, harp (+ sleigh bells), 2 cellos (1st + rainstick, 2nd + crotales), double bass (+ sleigh bells), 2 percussion, live electronics, 1990

éileadh sguaibe – Nine Rivers 7, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, tenor-bass trombone, bass trombone, tuba, 2 percussion, live electronics, 1990

String Trio, violin, viola, cello, 1990–91

nuée, bass clarinet, 2 percussion ad libitum, 1991 (section of L'Évolution du vol; may be performed separately)

String Quartet No. 2, 1991

Siorram, viola, 1992

Lumen naturæ, violin, viola, cello, 1992

Vernal Showers, violin, ensemble (flute [+ piccolo, alto flute], oboe, harp, guitar, mandolin, viola, cello, double bass, harpsichord, percussion), 1992

l'ascension, 2 percussion, 1993 (section of L'Évolution du vol; may be performed separately)

le vent, l'arbre et le temps, double bass, 1993 (section of L'Évolution du vol; may be performed separately)

Redemption, clarinet, violin, piano, 1995

Traumwerk, Book 1, 2 violins, 1995–96

Todesengel, clarinet, vibraphone, 1996

String Quartet No. 3, 1998

Eos, cello, 1999

La Coupure – Nine Rivers 5, percussion, live electronics, film, 1989–2000

Two Studies, accordion, 2001

Traumwerk, Book 2, violin, harpsichord, 2001

Traumwerk, Book 3, violin, piano, 2001–02

The Soadie Waste, piano, string quartet, 2002–03

The Magic Stick, piano, percussion, 2005

String Quartet No. 4, 2005

The Hesperides, cello, piano, 2007

Theatrum: figuræ, oboe (+ English horn), clarinet (+ contrabass clarinet), bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, 2 percussion, 2007

String Quartet No. 5, 2003–08

The Leuven Triptych, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, harp, guitar, cello, double bass, piano (+ synthesizer), percussion, live electronics, 2008–09

String Quartet No. 6, 2010

Oslo/Triptych, flute (+ piccolo, bass flute, shortwave radio), clarinet (+ E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, shortwave radio), 2 violins, viola, cello, piano (+ harmonium/synthesizer), percussion (+ shortwave radio, voice transformer), 2011

New York Triptych, flute (+ piccolo, alto flute, bass flute), oboe (+ English horn), clarinet (+ E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet), violin, viola, cello, piano (+ electronic keyboard), percussion, shortwave radio, fixed media, 2011–12

String Quartet No. 7, 2013

Tanz/Haus: triptych 2017, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, violin, cello, double bass, piano, accordion, percussion, 2017

String Quartet No. 8, 2017

String Quartet No. 9, 2018


Viriditas – Nine Rivers 3, 16 mixed voices, 1993–94

Oceanos – Nine Rivers 9, 16 mixed voices, orchestra, live electronics, 1985–96

Hyades, 12 mixed voices, 1998

residue..., 24 mixed voices, 1998–99

Vapor (text by Titus Lucretius Carus), 4 mixed voices, string quartet, 1999

Stabat Mater Dolorosa, 12 mixed voices, 12 players, live electronics, 2014


Who do you love, female voice, flute (+ piccolo, bass flute), clarinet, violin (+ viola), cello, percussion, 1980–81

Evening Rain, any voice, 1981

Come live with me (text from the Song of Solomon), female voice, flute (+ piccolo, alto flute), oboe (+ oboe d'amore, English horn), piano, percussion, 1981–82

A Roaring Flame (texts by Alexander Carmichael, Clara d'Anduza), female voice, double bass, 1981–82

Time Lag Zero (text from the Song of Solomon), female voice, viola, 1982

L'Évolution du vol, female voice (+ hurdy-gurdy), E-flat clarinet (+ bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet), double bass, piano (+ harmonium), 2 percussion, 1991–93 (sections 2–7 of its eight sections may be performed separately: l'homme et la vérité, female voice, piano; l'ascension; l'être-ange, female voice [+ hurdy-gurdy], E-flat clarinet; nuée; descente/désir, female voice, bass clarinet, double bass; le vent, l'arbre et le temps)

Upon the cloudy night, countertenor, piano, 2009

The Louth Work: Orphic Fragments, soprano, clarinet, viola, cello, piano, percussion, 2016


Dillug-Kefitsah, 1976

Spleen, 1980

black/nebulae, 2 pianos, 1995

The Book of Elements 1, 1997

The Book of Elements 3, 2000

The Book of Elements 2, 2001

The Book of Elements 4, 2002

The Book of Elements 5, 2002

Charm, 2009

Dragonfly, 2009

Fujin, 2011


Birl, 1986


  1. Kennedy, Rutherford-Johnson & Kennedy 2013, p. 231.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-07. Retrieved 2012-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Clements, Andrew (2010-11-16). "Nine Rivers – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  4. Service, Tom (2013-02-04). "A Guide to James Dillon's music". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  5. "Chamber-Scale Composition: Past Winners". Royal Philharmonic Society. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  6. "James Dillon". British Music Collection. 2009-04-04. Retrieved 2019-10-12.


  • Kennedy, Michael; Rutherford-Johnson, Tim; Kennedy, Joyce (2013). The Oxford Dictionary of Music. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-957854-2.
  • Toop, Richard. 2001. "Dillon, James". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
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