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He studied at the University of Edinburgh and at the Royal College of Music (with Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry), and played viola in various London orchestras. His compositions include the Viola Concerto in G minor (which was premiered at the Proms in 1903 with Émile Férir as soloist and recorded in 2004 by Lawrence Power on the Hyperion label), the operas Westward Ho! and Cinderella, the "choral ballad" Tinker, Tailor, and a piece for viola and piano called Chanson celtique. His books about music include Music and Nationalism: A Study of English Opera (1911), Choral Orchestration (1920), A History of Music (1916—with Stanford), and A Digest of Music History (1923).
Forsyth is arguably best known for his Orchestration, originally published in 1914 and revised in 1935. Dover published a reprint of this revision in 1983 with a new foreword by composer William Bolcom, who lauds especially Forsyth's insight into instrumental culture and his wit. Conductor Adrian Boult recounts in Adrian Boult on Music how Forsyth advised Ralph Vaughan Williams about the orchestration of the latter's A London Symphony.
- Orchestration, "Cecil Forsyth"
- Grove Dictionary of Music, "Cecil Forsyth".
- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, "Cecil Forsyth".
- Bynog, David M. "Cecil Forsyth: The Forgotten Composer?" Journal of the American Viola Society 24, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 13-19.
- Bynog, David M. "The Vocal Music of Cecil Forsyth." British Music 30 (2008): 6-15.