Composer, producer and former head of music at BBC Scotland

Born: April 25, 1942;

Died: October 25, 2018

MARTIN Dalby, who has died aged 76, was a composer and producer who became head of music at BBC Scotland. His array of skills as a musician, his sharp intelligence and gentle but probing wit and, when needed, his absolute determination gave him the strength of character to deal with the threat to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra which led to a long-running battle with the powers that be. He put his job on the line, fighting courageously from within to save his beloved orchestra.

He was born in Aberdeen in 1942. His parents both came up from Yorkshire, his father having been appointed organist at St Machar’s Cathedral and superintendent of music for Aberdeen Education Committee. Martin went to Aberdeen Grammar School and joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, subsequently winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied viola with Frederick Riddle and composition with Herbert Howells.

An Octavia scholarship and a Sir James Caird travelling scholarship enabled him to continue his studies with Petrassi in Italy during which time he toured Europe and North Africa with a chamber group. But Aberdeenshire never left him and he was proud of it. It was a pleasure to listen to his north-eastern voice, its clarity and precision, always with the potential for gentle humour and with kindliness underlying a sharpness of mind which his quiet demeanour did not conceal.

In 1965 he was appointed as a chamber music producer with the BBC in London and this brought him into contact with some of the leading musicians of the day, Hans Keller, Deryck Cooke and Robert Simpson. He returned to Scotland in 1970 as Cramb Research Fellow in Composition, and in 1972 he took up the post of head of music, BBC Scotland, bringing with him that sense of dedication to quality and the freedom to pursue it which were hallmarks of the BBC in those days. In 1990 he returned to producing, in 1992 winning a Sony Gold Medal for one of his productions for the BBC; and in 1998 he won a British Academy of Songwriters Composers & Authors Gold Badge Award.

As a composer he was a natural lyricist, capable of intense sensuality, but at the same time there was always a rigour to his music; he had an intellectual grasp and an analytical control which came to the fore especially in his earlier compositions. His output was varied, even at times eclectic. He composed a good deal of religious choral music, one of his favourites being the beautiful Mater Salutaris - partly a favourite because the commission fee was a bottle of Highland Park. Works such as A Plain Man’s Hammer for brass band showed him in a different light, capable of brash good humour and assertion.

His later orchestral works, however, bring us into closer contact with the inner man. They exhibit a mastery of orchestration, and the rich complexity and evanescent textures of The Mary Bean realise a kind of beautiful mystery, not without an underlying potential turbulence.

Perhaps his loveliest score is, appropriately, a wedding gift to his wife, an ex-member of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Nozze di Primavera is a work of lush beauty that realises everything its title implies. Lurking subtly in its texture is the music for Ex Te Lux Oritur - the wedding hymn for Margaret of Scotland and Eric II of Norway

Martin Dalby was a wonderful producer with a love of radio and readiness to experiment. I might turn up with a demand for a recording of some obscurity that had emerged and Martin would always find a way, gracefully receiving an incomplete script at the last minute with “What have you got for us today?” instead of a reprimand. It was always positive and he was always ready to join in the fun with the many wonderful BBC sound engineers as, for example, when “drowning” George MacIlwham in the Clyde as he was playing the pipes – an illusion which took some nine man hours to accomplish, accompanied by satisfied chuckling all round. It was in such situations that Martin’s creativity as a broadcaster and as a manager made things possible. Budgets were stretched, accounting was imaginative; above all, ideas were welcomed – and he had plenty of his own. We worked together closely for over two years and they are among the very best years of my life.

Martin Dalby loved hill-walking and was a great bird lover, which may partly explain his passion for flying, exploring small airstrips in remote parts of Scotland. Latterly, his fascination with steam engines developed into a collection of about 40 models.

He is survived by his wife, Hilary. He is also survived by his compositions. It is as a composer that he deserves most to be remembered, except of course by those who knew him personally and remember him with love as a wonderful colleague and friend.