Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-53)
March 24, 2006 10:53 AM   Subscribe

After a Noel Mewton-Wood performance of Hindemith's (.pdf) Ludus Tonalis, Dame Myra Hess exclaimed: ‘The boy is truly remarkable, and what shall he be like at 40-odd?’. Glowing testimonials to his ‘genius’ (Sir Malcolm Sargent) from Beecham, Schnabel, Bliss, Hindemith and Britten were countered by indifference from the major record labels and concert managements. In 1953, at the age of 31, the pianist, a shy young man susceptible to depression, committed suicide. Now, the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive of Middlesex University offers a scan of the The London Evening News page with the report of Mewton-Wood's death. And here is a mp3 page with some of his out-of-print work.
posted by matteo (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating post about a guy I'd never heard of and am glad to know about. But:

1) Why the "indifference from the major record labels and concert managements" if he was so great?

2) Is there nothing more known about his life? That obit is certainly suggestive, but you'd think the LGNA would take the trouble to post some further information with the benefit of an additional half-century.

Using Google Books, I found this page from The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume Three, which quotes Edward Sackville-West as saying:
Noel had in him the makings of a great pianist and would, I feel, have become one, if he had lived only a little longer. The necessity of pushing ahead with his career perhaps made him in too much of a hurry to realize his assets — a miscalculation that seems almost inevitable in these days. But at no time did he belong to the world of good, reliable, second-rate pianists: he played either magnificently or downright badly, with a jarring ferocity that seemed designed to hurt himself as much as the music; and in both cases he played
with the energetic aplomb that distinguished everything he said or did.
And there's a brief paragraph about him here (The Dictionary of Performing Arts in Australia: Opera, Music, Dance, p. 157), but it says absolutely nothing about his personal life ("He was at the height of his powers when he died"). He seems to have fallen through a trapdoor into oblivion.
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on March 24, 2006


I'm enjoying the mp3s. Thanks, matteo.
posted by shoepal at 11:53 AM on March 24, 2006


His playing in the third movement of Chopin's
Concerto in F Minor is brilliant. I love the comment that "He played either magnificently or downright badly." The arts are full of players like that, who, when the step up to the plate, either strike out, or hit one out of the park.
posted by Faze at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2006


Why the "indifference from the major record labels and concert managements" if he was so great?

that's exactly what I thought when I went to a Shura Cherkassky's concert 11 years ago. why?

see, in high school I was lucky enough to go to a Horowitz concert, and, frankly, he wasn't better than Cherkassky. and I love Horowitz to bits. it can be argued very successfully that Cherkassky is classical music's most underrated artist (at least for the 20th Century).

Lipatti died young, too, but at least he had found an audience.

I truly believe that, had Fricsay lived, he'd have become more famous than Karajan (God knows he deserved it, just today I was blown away -- blown away -- by his Mendelssohn's Notturno

dying young seldom helps, unless you're Gould. but I agree it's a mystery, too. Mewton-Wood is up there with the Gods -- Haskil, Lipatti, Shura. and Anton.
posted by matteo at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2006


players like that, who, when the step up to the plate, either strike out, or hit one out of the park.

anxiety kills -- literally, sometimes
posted by matteo at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2006


If only Kirk Cameron could have witnessed to this sinner wracked with guilt for his sexual apostasy.

(Fortunately, God made sure the better artist survived. No effete piano playing could be better that "Growing Pains", 4 out of 5 fundies agree.)
posted by orthogonality at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2006


oh, and languagehat -- poor Dennis Brain at least has his BBC, EMI and Testament tributes

ortho: imagine Cameron in a Mewton-Wood Christian, straight-to-video biopic
posted by matteo at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2006


the "a scan of the The London Evening News page with the report of Mewton-Wood's death" link is dead.

you can download the scan here
posted by matteo at 12:44 PM on March 24, 2006


dying young seldom helps

I think this is the exact reverse of the truth. Look at Brain, Clifford Brown, the Big Bopper—who would remember the Big Bopper today if he hadn't died young? No, that should have been a huge career boost. The only thing I can think of is homophobia, but then why hasn't he had several biographies in this homophilic age? Very strange.
posted by languagehat at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2006


I think this is the exact reverse of the truth

no, in classical music it seldom helps, I stand by my comment -- I mentioned Fricsay, a classic example. a 70-year-old Lipatti would have kicked almost everybody else's ass. same for Cantelli -- he and Fricsay would have terrorized Karajan in his nightmares, remember what Toscanini said of Cantelli. you're a Giulini fan -- had he died right after the Callas Traviata he'd be a footnote. classical music artists are like historians -- they need time, time, time to create a body of work, and they evolve. Celibidache became a (cult) superstar at 70, nobody would remember his (astonishing, by the way, check out on Music & Arts his 1947 La Mer) 1940's-1950's work. I have his Turin Beethoven Ninth from the late Fifties, it's ten time less interesting that his later Ninth on EMI

why hasn't he had several biographies in this homophilic age? Very strange.

like Frank O'Hara, he needs a Brad Gooch. I really hope he finds one (and a publisher smart enough to commision the work). or, maybe a Hollywood susperstar (not Kirk Cameron) will revive his popularity by starring in a Mewton-Wood biopic. Jesus Christ, cinema made the "Shine" guy famous, of all people
posted by matteo at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2006


or, NM-W needs a Nick Tosches
posted by matteo at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2006


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