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Mewton-Wood, Noel Charles Victor (1922–1953)

by C. W. F. McKenna

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Noel Charles Victor Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), pianist, was born on 20 November 1922 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, son of Frederick William Myles Wood, a secretary from England, and his Victorian-born wife Dulcie Maie, née Mewton. Noel attended Carey Baptist Grammar School, Kew. From the age of 9 he studied under Waldemar Seidel at the University Conservatorium of Music. In 1935, aged 12, he made his first public appearance as pianist with the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by (Sir) Bernard Heinze.

In 1937 Mewton-Wood was accepted by the Royal Academy of Music, London. He gave a farewell concert at the Melbourne Town Hall on 8 May. Supported by a public fund, he travelled with his mother to London, where he met his cousin W. J. R. Turner, a well-known poet and music critic. At the academy he studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with Theodore Holland; then, at Turner's instigation, he spent the summer of 1938 taking lessons at the home of Artur Schnabel at Tremezzo, Italy.

After Mewton-Wood's successful performances at Glasgow late in 1939, Turner contacted Sir Thomas Beecham, who agreed to audition the young pianist. On 31 March 1940 Mewton-Wood made his début with Beecham at the Queen's Hall, London, playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3. Beecham described him as 'the best talent I've discovered in the British Empire for years'. He subsequently played as soloist at the Mendelssohn-Schumann concert, conducted by Beecham in London in 1943. His concert tours included one to Australia for the A.B.C. in 1945, and others to South Africa (1950) and Europe. He toured Britain at various times with Richard Tauber, (Dame) Joan Hammond and Ida Haendel. Among the works of which he gave the first performance were Benjamin (Lord) Britten's piano concerto, played at a Cheltenham Festival and conducted by Britten himself, a piano concerto by (Sir) Arthur Bliss, played at a London Promenade Concert in 1949, a piano sonata written by Bliss especially for Mewton-Wood and first performed in public at the St Ives Festival on 7 June 1953, and Prokofiev's eighth piano sonata. He wrote many musical compositions, including the incidental music for the film Tawny Pipit (1944). Besides his music, he showed an interest in atomic physics and collected modern paintings.

During his short career Mewton-Wood established a reputation as an outstanding interpreter of modern works, especially those of Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev, Bliss, Britten, Busoni and Hindemith. A friend and admirer of Hindemith, Mewton-Wood played his Ludus Tonalis in London in 1946. In October 1952 he played a Hindemith piano concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; critics praised his 'controlled and expressive artistry' and 'rare musical intelligence'. He became one of the most frequent performers of Hindemith's work, and in January 1953 played his Sonata for Horn and Piano with Dennis Brain.

That year Mewton-Wood performed at the Coronation Promenade Concerts and at three major festivals: Edinburgh (with the violinist Max Rostal), Aldeburgh—where he presented with the tenor (Sir) Peter Pears works for voice and piano by Britten—and St Ives. Distressed by the recent death of his close friend William Fedrick, Mewton-Wood committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid on 5 December 1953 in their home at Notting Hill Gate, London, 'while the balance of his mind was disturbed'.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Moresby, Australia Makes Music (Melb, 1948)
  • C. W. F. McKenna, W. J. Turner (Syd, 1990)
  • Canon, 4, 1951
  • Gramophone, Jan 1954
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 May 1938, 29 Mar, 20 May 1940, 28 Feb 1941, 7 Dec 1953
  • Times (London), 7-8 Dec 1953
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1953
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1953
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Dec 1953.

Citation details

C. W. F. McKenna, 'Mewton-Wood, Noel Charles Victor (1922–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mewton-wood-noel-charles-victor-11116/text19793, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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