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. With this orchestra he toured widely in Europe and North Africa . 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 where he began the development of the public profile of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, both in Great Britain and abroad, which increases as time goes on. In 1991 he relinquished this post in order to pursue a more creative role in BBC Scotland. A result of this was the production, amongst other things, of BBC Scotland’s massive radio history, Scotland ’s Music. He won a Sony Gold Award for it. In 1993 Dalby retired from the BBC and now composes full time.
He has written a large amount of music: for orchestra, for chorus, for brass 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 in 1991 he wrote The Mary Bean for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. This was his fourth performance at the Proms. Work for his home city occupied him after that. First, The White Maa for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, music to celebrate 200 years of Union Street in Aberdeen and more recently a String Quartet to celebrate 500 years of Aberdeen University. In 1998 he composed his third Piano Sonata for Peter Seivewright and a year later, a short piece for the National Youth String Orchestra of Scotland, The First Thursday in May, welcoming the return of a Government in Scotland . At this time he was reliving his fascination with the music of the great Scots fiddler and composer, J. Scott Skinner, creating his own five movement orchestral suite A Wheen in Doric from it. The act of “rebuilding” Skinner’s tender and characteristically Scottish music is born of devotion not of destruction. More recently his attention has turned to writing vocal music both for children and adults. He is completing a set of songs for voice and piano in memory of one of his Labradors , A Little Songbook for Tessa. Sunbeam for Sheba (2002) is likewise a song in memory of a labrador — Tessa’s mother. He is also completing a substantial work for eight double basses and is beginning to write Lang Johnnie More: an essay with trumpet mutes.
Dalby has a profound interest in Scotland : he and John Purser made a massive series for BBC Radio Scotland called Scotland ’s Music. They won a Sony Award for it. He, with his colleagues, won a Gramophone award for their production of the CD of James MacMillan’s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. His composing peers awarded him a “Gold Badge” in 1999 which he accepted with a speech about sheep. He is a hill walker; he is interested in railways and literature; he is a bird watcher and he also holds a Private Pilot’s Licence.
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 was a founding director of both the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters and British Music Rights. His membership of the BAC&S Concert Executive Committee continued from its start until 2009. He was also Warden of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Performers and Composers Section in 2001 and 2002. He retains his interest in the ISM as Convener of its South-West Scotland Centre.