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Sir Donald Francis Tovey (17 July 1875 – 10 July 1940) was a British musical analyst, musicologist, writer on music, composer, conductor and pianist. He had been best known for his Essays in Musical Analysis and his editions of the works of Bach and Beethoven but since the 1990s his compositions (relatively small in number but very substantial in musical content) have been recorded and performed with increasing frequency. These recordings have mostly been well received by reviewers.
Tovey became a close friend of Joseph Joachim, and played piano with the Joachim Quartet in a 1905 performance of Brahms's Piano Quintet. He gained some moderate fame as a composer, having his works performed in Berlin and Vienna as well as London. He performed his own Piano Concerto under the conductorship of Sir Henry Wood in 1903 and under Hans Richter in 1906. During this period he also contributed heavily to the music articles in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, writing a large portion of the content on music of the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1914 he began to teach music at the University of Edinburgh, succeeding Frederick Niecks as Reid Professor of Music; there he founded the Reid Orchestra. For their concerts he wrote a series of programme notes, many of which were eventually collected into the books for which he is now best known, the Essays in Musical Analysis.
As he devoted more and more time to the Reid Orchestra, to writing essays and commentaries and to editing his editions of Bach and Beethoven, Tovey composed and performed less often later in life but the few major pieces that he completed during this later period are on a large scale, such as his Symphony of 1913 and the Cello Concerto that he completed in 1935 for his longtime friend Pablo Casals. The latter concerto is on Mahlerian scale and requires about sixty minutes to perform. Tovey also wrote an opera, The Bride of Dionysus. In illustrated radio talks recorded in his last few years, his playing can be heard to be severely affected by a problem with one of his hands.
Tovey made several editions of other composers' music and in 1931 produced a completion of Bach's The Art of Fugue. His edition of the 48 Preludes and Fugues of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, in two volumes (Vol. 1, March 1924; Vol. 2, June 1924), with fingering by Harold Samuel, for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, has been reprinted continually ever since. Tovey's completion of the (presumed) final unfinished fugue in The Art of Fugue has nothing of pastiche about it and has often been recorded as the final piece of the set.
He died in 1940 in Edinburgh. His archive, including scores, letters, hand-written programme notes and annotations to the scores of others, is housed in the Special Collections Unit of the library of the University of Edinburgh. In 2009 Richard Witts created a simple catalogue of the archive material, which is available from the university on-line.
Tovey as a theorist of tonality
In his essays, Tovey developed a theory of tonal structure and its relation to classical forms that he applied in his descriptions of pieces in his famous program notes for the Reid Orchestra, as well as in more technical and extended writings. His aesthetic regards works of music as organic wholes, and he stresses the importance of understanding how musical principles manifest in different ways within the context of a given piece. He was fond of using metaphors to illustrate his ideas, as in this quotation from the Essays (on Brahms' Handel Variations, Tovey 1922):
The relation between Beethoven's freest variations and his theme is of the same order of microscopical accuracy and profundity as the relation of a bat's wing to a human hand.
Tovey's belief that classical music has an aesthetic that can be deduced from the internal evidence of the music itself has influenced subsequent writers on music.
- Recordings of Tovey performing on piano were made for the National Gramophonic Society (NGS-114-117) on June 6 and 11, and September 4, 1928, playing Tovey's conjectural completion of Bach's The Art of Fugue, Bach's Sonata No. 2 in A Major BWV1015 (1st mvt), and Beethoven's 10th Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 96) accompanied by the violinist Adila Fachiri. The latter is the celebrated recording in which, during the first movement, after playing the exposition, the musicians stop playing and Tovey calls out 'Return to the beginning of the record. Second time...' (and then resumes playing), so that the listener shall (literally) have the da capo.
- The recording of The Art of Fugue with the Roth String Quartet (1934–1935) has Tovey's conjectural completion of the work, played by Tovey on the piano.
- Symphony in D, Op. 32 (1913): Reid Orchestra, cond. Donald F. Tovey, rec. 25 February 1937. SYMPOSIUM #1352; also:Malmö Opera Orchestra, cond. George Vass – with
- The Bride of Dionysus – Prelude. TOCCATA #TOCC 0033; also Prelude and vocal extracts from the full opera DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7241.
- Piano Concerto in A, Op. 15: Steven Osborne, piano; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Martyn Brabbins, HYPERION #CDA 67023
- Cello Concerto, Op. 40 (1935). Pablo Casals, soloist, BBC Symphony Orchestra, cond. Adrian Boult, rec. 1937, SYMPOSIUM #1115; also: Alice Neary, Cello, Ulster Orchestra, cond. George Vass TOCCATA #TOCC 0038
- Elegiac Variations for cello and piano, Op. 25, Alice Neary (cello) and Gretel Dowdeswell (piano) TOCCATA #TOCC 0038
- Cello Sonata in F, Op. 4, Rebecca Rust (cello) & David Apter (piano), MARCO POLO #8.223637
- Pristine Classical Recorded Music
- R. D. Darrell, The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (New York 1936), 45.
- Sir Donald F. Tovey (1936) — Normality and Freedom in Music The Romanes Lecture Delivered In The Sheldonian Theatre 20 May 1936. Oxford, At the Clarendon Press.
- Sir Donald F. Tovey, editor, Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues, JS Bach, 1924, published by (British) Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
- Rob Barnett: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2007/Jan07/Tovey_cello_TOCC0038.htm
- Dave Lewis: http://www.allmusic.com/album/w137347
- Free scores by Donald Tovey at the International Music Score Library Project