James Dillon

(b. 29 October 1950, Glasgow, Scotland).

British composer of mostly orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and piano works that have been performed throughout the world.

Mr. Dillon is self-taught as a composer. He had early experiences with traditional music for bagpipes and played with his band Influx in the late 1960s. He studied art and design at the Glasgow School of Art in 1968, linguistics at University College London in 1970 and piano with Eleanor Purse in 1970–71. He later studied acoustics at the University of North London in 1971, rhythms of music from India with Punita Gupta in 1971–72 and mathematics with Gordon Millar at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London in 1972 and attended seminars on computer music at IRCAM in Paris in 1984–85. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Huddersfield in 2003.

Among his honours are First Prize in the competition of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in West Yorkshire (1978), the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis at the Ferienkurse in Darmstadt (1982), the title Classical Musician of the Year from The Sunday Times in London (1989), a fellowship from the Japan Foundation in Tōkyō (1996), and five prizes in the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards (Chamber-Scale Composition, 1997, for Traumwerk, Book 1; Chamber-Scale Composition, 2002, for The Book of Elements 5; Chamber-Scale Composition, 2005, for String Quartet No. 4; Large-Scale Composition, 2010, for Nine Rivers; Chamber-Scale Composition, 2017, for Tanz/Haus: triptych 2017). Retrospectives of his music have been given in Paris (1985), Oslo (1989), Toulouse (1991), Brussels (1992), and New York, New York (2001).

He taught at the Ferienkurse in Darmstadt from 1982–92, directed the faculty of composition at the Gothenburg Summer Academy in 1991 and served as co-composer-in-residence with Brian Ferneyhough at the Fondation Royaumont in 1996. He taught as a guest composer at Goldsmiths, University of London in 1989–90 and in 1991–92 and at Birmingham City University in 1993–94 and in 1995–96. He taught as International Distinguished Fellow at New York University in 2001–02. He later taught as Professor of Composition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis from 2007–14, now emeritus. He has given guest lectures in Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA.

His publisher is Edition Peters.


E-mail address for consulting scores:



Philomela (music/théâtre in 5 acts, text by the composer, after Sophocles, Thales of Miletus, Eva Hesse, R. Buckminster Fuller), soprano, mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, small orchestra (flute [+ piccolo, alto flute, bass flute], oboe [+ English horn], clarinet [+ bass clarinet], alto saxophone, bassoon [+ contrabassoon], French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, piano [+ celesta], accordion, percussion, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass), fixed media, live electronics, film, 2002–04


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


Crossing Over, clarinet, 1978, 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 ( 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

String Quartet No. 8, 2016–17

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


Temp'est, female voice, piccolo, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, bass trombone, electric guitar, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, piano, 2 percussion, 1994 (Simon Reynell)