Remembering Theodore Norman

June 17, 2008


When I first started working at UCLA, I occasionally saw a man in the halls who looked a bit like Igor Stravinksy and a bit like Aaron Copland. It was Ted Norman, our guitar teacher.

His students were always on fire. Playing cutting edge stuff, difficult stuff, and always looking for new sounds on the guitar. More importantly, he made them all compose music.

He created a little guild of artists who were guitarist and composers and cool. Check out a little website someone put up that will present a good overview of his life along with some pictures.

I woke up this morning thinking about Ted, and missing him. Here is the UCLA obit that appeared in 1997.

Theodore Norman, a classical guitar pioneer, composer and UCLA faculty member in the Department of Music for thirty years, died on May 29 in Los Angeles. He was 85.

“Ted Norman was by nature less conservative than most of his students and colleagues, though often three or four times their age, a distinction which provided many opportunities for the wry and subtle humor which played on the surface of his deep seriousness about music, art and life. Hundreds of his students across the world further his ideals and it was an honor to have been associated with him at UCLA,” said Peter Yates, faculty member who studied with Norman and worked with him over the past twenty-five years.

Norman became interested in the guitar while composing his ballet “Metamorphosis,” based on the Franz Kafka novel, and used a guitar in the entire composition. Today he is noted the world over for his music for the guitar, as well as for his activated instruction which makes composition a central part of the training of concert artists.

In addition to his transcriptions for one and two guitars of music by great composers, Norman wrote ten pieces for the guitar in the twelve-tone system, the first such pieces ever to be published as well as developing a system for the blind to read music.

Norman first studied violin with Willy Hess, and composition with Adolph Weiss. He played first violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra from 1935 – 1942, and was closely associated with such composers as Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.

Later, Norman went to Europe, traveling through Spain, France, and Italy, meeting the leading Classical and Flamenco guitarists. In Sienna, he met Andres Segovia who became a regular visitor to the Norman’s Los Angeles home. In Madrid, he took formal lessons with Aurelio Herrero, a Segovia student. He played a guitar concert of his own compositions and the works of other composers on Paris radio.

After returning to the United States, he played the guitar part in Pierre Boulez’s “Le Marteau sans Maitre” and Schoenberg”s “Serenade,” recording both works for Columbia Records. He also developed a unique system of notating flamenco music.

[Photo by Peter Yates]

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