Norman Demuth

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Norman Demuth (15 July 1898 – 21 April 1968) was an English composer and musicologist, currently remembered largely for his biographies of French composers.


Early life[edit]

Demuth was born in Croydon, Surrey. On leaving Repton School in 1915, he volunteered as Rifleman No. 2780 with the 5th London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) in the City of London on 17 September 1915, falsifying his age by adding one year on enlistment to seek active-service for which he was then under-age. In early March 1916 he was sent to France with a reinforcement draft to the Regiment's 1st Battalion on the Western Front, and was wounded in the leg by shrapnel fragments from the accidental detonation of a Mills Bomb on 28 June 1916 in the frontline village of Hebuterne during the prelude of the Battle of the Somme. He was medically evacuated to England and subsequently discharged from the British Army as medically unfit for further war service in November 1916.

In Forgotten Voices of the Great War, Demuth is quoted as saying:

"Almost the last feather I received was on a bus. I was sitting near the door when I became aware of two women on the other side talking at me, and I thought to myself, 'Oh Lord, here we go again'. One lent forward and produced a feather and said, 'Here's a gift for a brave soldier. I took it and said,'Thankyou very much- I wanted one of those.' Then I took my pipe out of my pocket and put this feather down the stem and worked it in a way I've never worked a pipe cleaner before. When it was filthy I pulled it out and said, 'You know, we didn't get these in the trenches', and handed it back to her. She instinctively put out her hand and took it, so there she was sitting with this filthy pipe cleaner in her hand and all the other people on the bus began to get indignant. Then she dropped it and got up to get out, but we were nowhere near a stopping place and the bus went on quite a long way while she got well and truly barracked by the rest of the people on the bus. I sat back and laughed like mad."[1]

In between the World Wars[edit]

Although Demuth studied for a time at the Royal College of Music, he was essentially self-taught. Greatly sympathetic to French music, he wrote a number of books on the subject; these include studies of César Franck, Paul Dukas, Albert Roussel, Vincent d'Indy, Charles Gounod, Maurice Ravel, and French opera.

Between 1929 and 1935 Demuth was conductor of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra. From 1930 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, and latterly at the University of Durham. Among his pupils was Gordon Langford, whose surname was originally Colman (and who changed the name on Demuth's advice).[2]

World War 2[edit]

Demuth received a commission with the rank of lieutenant in the British Army on 23 October 1942. He served in the Pioneer Corps, for whom he composed the Regimental march in 1943.[3][4]

Later life[edit]

Norman Demuth's Viola Concerto (1951) received its first performance in 1951, with Herbert Downes as soloist. Hugh Ottaway said of the work "Designed in two linked sections, one slowish, the other quick, it made an impression through its capable workmanship and sense of purpose but did not offer much of imaginative distinction. A certain monotony of rhythm and texture was acutely felt, especially in the opening section, which is a rather busy meditation whose concertante viola part is inclined to fuss and fidget."[5]


Demuth died, aged 69, in Chichester. His pupil Gordon Langford has expressed regret at the complete current neglect of Demuth's achievements as a composer.[2]

Selected compositions[edit]

  • Two Piano Pieces (1942)
  • Viola Concerto (1951)
  • Symphony for string orchestra (1952)
  • Concerto for alto saxophone and military band
  • Prometheus (ballet)
  • Pioneer Corps March

Selected books and articles[edit]

  • Ravel (1947)
  • Albert Roussel: A Study (1947)
  • Anthology of Musical Criticism (1947)
  • César Franck (1949)
  • Vincent d'Indy 1851–1931: Champion of Classicism—A Study (1951)
  • A Course in Musical Composition (4 volumes) (1951)
  • Musical Trends in the 20th Century (1952)
  • Musical Forms & Textures: A Reference Guide (1953)
  • French Piano Music: A Survey with Notes on its Performance (1959)
  • French Opera: Its Development to the Revolution (1963)


  1. ^ Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Great War (London: Random House, 2012). 18–22
  2. ^ a b Interview with Gordon Langford Archived 20 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine. at Retrieved 2 April 2008
  3. ^ Royal Pioneer Corps. Retrieved 1 December 2016
  4. ^ Philip L Scowcroft, Light Music Garland no 222, MusicWeb international. Retrieved 1 December 2016
  5. ^ Hugh Ottaway, in 'Broadcast Music', The Musical Times, Vol. 98, No. 1368 (Feb. 1957), p. 78

External links[edit]