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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.
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 in order 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 between the World Wars
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). Langford has expressed regret at the complete current neglect of Demuth's achievements as a composer.
Demuth received a commission with the rank of lieutenant in the British Army on 23 October 1942.
- Two Piano Pieces (1942)
- Viola Concerto (1951)
- Symphony for string orchestra (1952)
- Concerto for alto saxophone and military band
- Prometheus (ballet)
Selected books and articles
- 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)
"Norman Demuth's Viola Concerto (1951) also received its first performance, with Herbert Downes as soloist. 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." (Hugh Ottaway, in 'Broadcast Music', The Musical Times, Vol. 98, No. 1368 (Feb., 1957), p. 78
Demuth died, aged 69, in Chichester.
- Interview with Gordon Langford at musical-theatre.net, URL accessed 2 April 2008