> TOVEY The Classics of Music [PS]: Book Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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DONALD FRANCIS TOVEY: The Classics of Music - Talks, Essays, and Other Writings Previously Uncollected
edited by Michael Tilmouth and editing completed by David Kimbell and Roger Savage. Oxford University Press
Price: £60.00 (Hardback) ISBN0-19-816214-6. Published 2001, 864 pages, numerous music examples, 10 halftones, 1 table, 234mm x 156mm.


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"It may expected that no more words from Tovey’s pen will ever be published". These words were uttered by Hubert Foss, the editor of Essays and Lectures on Music (1949), the last of the posthumous volumes of Tovey’s writings prepared for the press. He was fortunately wrong, but it would take over 50 years to prove him wrong!

Sir Donald Francis Tovey (1875-1940), the Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University from 1914 until his death is best remembered by musicians and musicologists the world over as the author of Essays in Musical Analysis. But what is forgotten is that Tovey regarded himself first and foremost as a musician. Making music was the real business of Tovey’s life; everything else was secondary. He was not content to just be a pianist, conductor and composer, but as an editor, writer, broadcaster, scholar, and teacher his aim was to bring his knowledge and love of music to a much wider audience.

The idea behind this present volume could be traced back to the visit to the Reid Music library at Edinburgh University in 1982 by Edward Heath, former Prime Minister and life-long Toveyan. Heath had been shown some of the items in the Library’s extensive archives of Toveyana which did not appear in the various Tovey volumes the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and the Oxford University Press had published in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It occurred to Michael Tilmouth, Tovey Professor of Music in the University of Edinburgh that collecting some of these unpublished items into what he called a Tovey Miscellany might be appropriate. This idea grew and by 1986 Tilmouth had decided to call the result The Classics of Music. Unfortunately Tilmouth died in 1987. But fortunately for us David Kimbell, Professor of Music, and Roger Savage, Senior Lecturer in English Literature both at the University of Edinburgh set about completing Tilmouth’s work.

As the editors point out in the introduction, the contents vary a great deal in quality and in the polish of their presentation. Tovey relied very much on his incredible powers of memory and that this inevitably resulted in mistakes. But he was right far more often than he was wrong; and the editors consider that to present him whole, warts and all, is more histographically just than would be a selection of the writings of the man who was, after all, by far the most considerable English writer on music in the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is divided into six parts, of which part one is Essays in Musical Analysis. Most people who know about Tovey have done so through his published Essays in Musical Analysis and will be familiar with the form and content of the essays. The essays which follow, all of them published in connection with particular concerts in the first instance and none previously reprinted in book form, constitute a substantial supplement to the seven volumes of reprinted pieces brought out by the Oxford University Press between 1935 and 1944. The essays here range from cantatas by Bach to William Walton’s coronation march, Crown Imperial, which was performed at the coronation of King George VI on 12th May 1937. Tovey and the Reid Orchestra performed many works by his contemporaries, such as, Hebridean Sea-Poems, Caristiona by Granville Bantock and Sibelius’ symphonic Fantasia, Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49. There are essays on his own music, such as the Piano Concerto in A major Op. 15, which was performed as recently as 2000 in New York by the young Japanese pianist, Makiko Hirata and the Jupiter Symphony under their conductor, Jens Nygaard.

Part Two. Tovey as journalist, reviewer, and obituarist (1902-1911, 1926-1934). Tovey reviewed performances of the Brahms F Major Quintet and the Beethoven A Minor Quartet in 1902 given by the Joachim Quartet. This was a sympathetic review as Tovey was a good friend of the violinist, Joseph Joachim and Tovey would perform the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Joachim Quartet as pianist three years later in 1905 at a Northlands Chamber Music Concert. Two years later in 1907 Tovey was to write the obituary of Joseph Joachim for The Times Literary Supplement. Reviewing concerts given by the Queens Hall Orchestra in 1902 conducted by Arthur Nikisch Tovey was scathing about Nikisch’s interpretation of Schubert’s C Major Symphony. "Now it is surely an extraordinary thing that Herr Nikisch should show, side by side with so many fine qualities a tendency to indulge in the most distressing vagaries of the instrumental virtuoso". It was Nikisch interpretation that angered Tovey not his technique. As a conductor Tovey’s technique was not altogether adequate and when his old friend Fritz Busch visited him in Edinburgh in 1934 he remarked that he still noticed ‘many uncertainties’ in his (Tovey’s) beat, though he did not think that it had reached ‘Furtwängler’s state of Holy Trinity vibrato’!

Part Three. Composer-Articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1929). Tovey’s association with the Encyclopaedia Britannica fell into three phases and began in 1905 when the editor Hugh Chisholm, asked for his assistance in planning the musical content of its Eleventh edition, which appeared in 1910-11. Tovey’s help consisted in revising, supplementing, replacing, or recommending others to revise-supplement-replace the articles on music by earlier writers which had appeared in the Ninth Edition.

The second phase from 1920-5 consisted of revising and re-revising the concluding section of his central article ‘Music’, for the supplementary volumes which comprised the Twelfth and Thirteenth Editions (1922, 1926).

The third phase from 1925-9 consisted of making or commissioning further modifications and additions for the reorganized Fourteenth Edition.

A selection of Tovey’s own longer pieces on Forms and Techniques was made after his death by Hubert Foss and published in 1944 by the Oxford University Press as Musical Articles from the Encyclopaedia Britannica; but until now none of Tovey’s articles on individual composers has been reprinted. There are nearly a hundred composer-articles by various writers in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 14 but only sixteen had the initials ‘D.F.T.’ printed at the end of them. Fifteen of those so signed are reprinted in The Classics of Music. Most of the articles on composers cover particular aspects of the composers work. In the case of Mozart it is the opera and the requiem. Only the article on Beethoven can be considered a complete biography.

Part Four. Two lecture series from the 1920s. After his appointment to the Reid chair at Edinburgh University in 1914 Tovey became well known as a lecturer. The eight Beethoven lectures were given on a weekly basis in 1922 probably in Edinburgh; and the ten Cramb lectures ‘Music in Being’, were given at Glasgow University in 1925. Both series were delivered improvised, i.e. without scripts written out beforehand, and quite possibly with little in the way of notes either. The lectures have come down to us in the form of typed transcriptions deposited in the Tovey Archive, Reid Library, University of Edinburgh and were the result of typing-up after the event from the note-pads of a very competent stenographer, or succession of stenographers, who tried to get down everything Tovey had to say. The standard of recording and transcription seems to be high, though there are a few fairly obvious mistakes of hearing or typing (‘Fidele’ for ‘Fidelio, ‘falling stanza’ for ‘four-line stanza’ etc) In the transcripts of lectures and radio talks, the editorial policy has been that phrases which in the originals are clearly there simply for rhetorical emphasis or informal viva voce continuity are sometimes silently omitted.

Part Five. Broadcast talks for the BBC in the 1930s. Tovey was regarded by all who knew him as a born talker. So at the suggestion of his friend Sir Walford Davis, Tovey was invited to give a number of BBC broadcasts in the 1920s and 1930s. Broadcasting was still very much in its infancy and everything went out live, so nothing survives of those talks which were apparently given in 1926 and 1933. In 1934 he gave a series on Beethoven’s keyboard works, and like Sir Walford, Tovey simply sat at the piano and spoke impromptu. Tovey stressed in the first of the twenty-minute broadcasts that they were not going to be talks illustrated by music, but music illustrated by talk. Fortunately the talks were taken down in shorthand and converted into typescripts which now survive on microfilm in the BBC Archives. Tovey was a nervous and inexpert broadcaster which can be surmised from a memorandum from the Music Programme Advisory Panel after the Beethoven series which noted that Tovey was ‘above the heads of the ordinary listener’. After the second series: ‘He is not easy to listen to’, and later: ‘would it be wise [for him] to write out more?’ In his next series in 1937, ‘Music and the Ordinary Listener’ Tovey did read from fully prepared scripts. The criterion for selection here has been coherence and readability in book form. Thus complete Keyboard Talks are omitted which serve primarily to provide fairly brief prologues or postludes to the playing of extended pieces on the piano or gramophone. Tovey of course frequently illustrated the points he was making at the studio piano. Some of these illustrations have been turned into musical examples here; others become score-references.

Part Six. Pieces on Several Occasions (1899-1939). The items in this final section span Tovey’s writing career and are arranged in chronological order. Many of them were not included by Foss in his Tovey collection Essays and Lectures on Music 1949 for one reason or another. It is commendable that the editors of this book have seen fit to include them. The piece on Emanuel Moór’s development of the ‘duplex-coupler’ pianoforte shows that Tovey had a keen interest in the technical development of musical instruments. He was so enthusiastic about this one that he prophesied that ‘the ordinary pianoforte will be extinct as the Dodo in ten years’. Tovey had ignored economic factors: the Moór mechanism could not be fitted to existing pianos and Moór pianos were very much more expensive than conventional pianos. So it was the Moórs piano that became extinct. The piece on ‘The Needs of an Orchestra’ gives us an insight into his thoughts and feelings on the practicalities of running the Reid Orchestra. He was as much concerned with the lack or rehearsal time for his orchestra as with the problems of funding in order to provide instruments as well as providing enough work to give something like a livelihood to his musicians. It is distressing to note that after nearly one hundred years conditions haven’t changed much for the working professional musician or orchestra!

At 864 pages long and with a price tag of £60 this book is certainly not for the occasional reader. But for all those who know and love Tovey’s writing this is a long awaited and very welcome addition. It is also a useful introduction to the rest of Tovey’s published writings for those who are new to him. It is very well produced and edited with plenty of musical examples and annotations. For the first time in one book the reader is able to appreciate the depth and breadth of Tovey and his livelong love of music. Hopefully the Oxford University Press will see fit to reprint Mary Grierson’s biography ‘Donald Francis Tovey’. It is also hoped that this book will help to stimulate a renewed interest in Tovey’s own music as well as his writing.

Peter Shore


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