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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.
Mewton-Wood also possessed considerable talent as a composer. His string trio was featured on the Second Boosey and Hawkes Concerts held at Wigmore Hall on 27 March 1943. He also composed music for films including Tawny Pipit (1944) and Chance of a Lifetime (1950).
During his time in London he lived in a house in Hammersmith Terrace and there would often host musical evenings and entertain his close friends Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.
Mewton-Wood's The Times obituary of 7 December 1953 described his debut performance:
In 1952–53, while Britten was busy composing his opera Gloriana, he deputised Mewton-Wood to accompany his partner, tenor Peter Pears.
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. Mr. Fedrick was suffering from the severe pain for two or three days before calling a doctor and was eventually admitted to Westminster Hospital for an immediate operation but he subsequently died. Mewton-Wood became distressed and was advised to check himself into the Atkinson Morley Hospital for psychiatric treatment where he stayed for five days. He was released but put under supervision. Mewton-Wood was found dead in his music room on 5 December 1953.
The notes written by a friend of Mewton-Wood, John Amis, for the reissue of the Bliss Concerto recording, confirm that Mewton-Wood was homosexual 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.