Noel Mewton-Wood (20 November 1922 – 5 December 1953) was an Australian-born concert pianist who achieved international fame on the basis of many distinguished concerto recordings during his short life.
Life and career
Born in Melbourne, he studied with Waldemar Seidel at the Melbourne Conservatorium until the age of fourteen. After further study at London's Royal Academy of Music, he took private lessons from Artur Schnabel in Italy.
In March 1940, he returned to London for his debut performance at Queen's Hall, performing Beethoven's third piano concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. He then went on tour in the UK as assisting artist accompanying Viennese tenor Richard Tauber, and later performed in France, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Turkey and Australia.
During his time in London he lived in a house in Hammersmith Terrace and there would often host musical evenings and entertain Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.
Mewton-Wood's The Times obituary of 7 December 1953 described his debut performance:
|“||At once his remarkable control and his musicianship were apparent: the ascending scales in octaves, with which the pianist first enters, thundered out with whirlwind power, but he could summon beautiful cantabile tone for the slow movement and the phrasing of the rondo theme was admirably neat for all the rapidity of the tempo; a true understanding of the relationship in concerto between soloist and orchestra, and of the soloist's part in ensemble, betokened the musician, the potential chamber performer."||”|
When only 31, Mewton-Wood committed suicide by drinking prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide), apparently blaming himself for the death from a ruptured appendix of William Fedrick, whom he lived with, feeling he had overlooked the early symptoms. The notes written by a friend of Mewton-Wood, John Amis, for the reissue of the Bliss Concerto recording, confirm that Mewton-Wood was gay and was distraught at his lover's tragic death.
Benjamin Britten wrote Canticle III: Still falls the rain for a concert in Mewton-Wood's memory.
In 1962, his old teacher Waldemar Seidel auditioned the 7-year-old Geoffrey Tozer and declared "Noel has come back". Noel Mewton-Wood had died eleven months before Tozer was born.
In addition to Beethoven, Mewton-Wood's repertoire included:
- Sir Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto (Bliss was so impressed with Mewton-Wood's many performances and his recording of the work that he wrote his Piano Sonata for him)
- Busoni's Fantasia contrappuntistica and Piano Concerto (a 1948 recording with Sir Thomas Beecham is the earliest complete recording of the Busoni concerto known to survive)
- Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor
- Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis
- Tchaikovsky's three piano concertos, Concert Fantasia and G major sonata
- Tippett's song cycle The Heart's Assurance
- Works by Bartók, Britten (Mewton-Wood gave the world premiere of the revised version of Britten's Piano Concerto), Liszt, Schubert, Mahler and Schumann.
Noel Mewton-Wood features in Sonia Orchard's 2009 novel, The Virtuoso, which is narrated by a fictional obsessive admirer and sometime lover of Noel. The novel is informed by the author's own background as a pianist, and her interviews with many of Noel Mewton-Wood's friends and contemporaries.
- "Australian Boy Pianist". The Age. Victoria, Australia. 8 May 1937. p. 7.
- The Lebrecht Weekly: Big composer who acted small
- Letters from a life: The selected letters of Benjamin Britten 1913–1976
- "Noel Mewton-Wood". Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
- Sadie, S. (ed.) (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, [vol. 12.]
- Nixa label, CLP 1153, original recording, Chopin Piano Concerto No 1 in E Minor, Opus 11, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Mewton-Wood, Pianist, Walter Goehr, Conductor.