Theodore Norman was a unique figure in the history of the
guitar and a guiding force behind the Modern Arts Guitar
Quartet. He was a member of the first violin section of the
Los Angeles Symphony from 1935 until 1942, playing under
the baton of such figures as Albert Coates, John Barbirolli, Igor Stravinsky, and Bruno Walter. 

While in the army during World War II, Ted hosted a program for Armed Forces Radio in which he interviewed famous composers such as Ernst Toch, Erich Korngold, and Arnold Schoenberg. He studied composition with Schoenberg’s student Adolph Weiss, one of the first to introduce 12-tone techniques to the USA. After the war, Norman formed his own string quartet and stayed in contact with Schoenberg, performing the First Quartet under the guidance of the composer, as well as other works, such as the Ode to Napoleon, at Schoenberg's home.

While working on his ballet Metamorphosis, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, Ted decided to give the guitar, an instrument with which he was unfamiliar, a part in the orchestration. "I became enchanted with the instrument," he recalls, "and went into the hills [of Los Angeles] to learn how it worked." In 1954 he composed and published Two Twelve-Tone Pieces for Solo Guitar, the first work of its kind. In 1956 Ted met Andrés Segovia in Sienna, Italy where he attended Segovia's master classes. The two became good friends, and Segovia was a regular visitor at the Norman's home until Segovia’s death in 1986.

In 1956 Ted approached Ernst Krenek to request a work for solo guitar. Krenek agreed and produced his Suite for Guitar Solo, consulting extensively with Ted about effective writing for the guitar, and using Ted’s book, The Classical Guitar: A New Approach as a guide. Ted premiered the suite at a Monday Evening Concert at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, and among those in attendance was Igor Stravinsky, who asked if Ted would play the guitar part for a performance of Le Rossignol.  Norman, who knew Stravinsky from his Los Angeles Philharmonic tenure, agreed and later spent time with Stravinsky in Venice, Italy. Norman's transcriptions of Stravinsky's Les Cinq Doigts for two guitars (published by J.W. Chester) were approved by the composer.

Ted and Pierre

In March of 1957, Robert Craft set out to record Schoenberg's Serenade op. 24 for Columbia Records. As the only guitarist at that time with the background and ability to handle the part effectively, Ted was a natural to play the part. At the same time he was working with Pierre Boulez for a 'Monday Evening Concert' performance of Le Marteau sans Maître, and the next year he recorded the guitar part for that work with Robert Craft for Columbia Records.


The Modern Arts Guitar Quartet was in many ways an embodiment of Theodore Norman’ approach to music. Matthew Elgart and Peter Yates of the Elgart/Yates Duo were students of Ted who taught and inspired the Quartet. Fourteen years after the dissolution of the quartet and twelve years after Ted’s death, the story and the music of the Modern Arts Guitar Quartet remains a tribute to the memory of Theodore Norman.