Short biography

Sir Donald Francis Tovey (b. July 17, 1875  d. July 10, 1940) was a British musical analyst, musicologist, writer on music, composer and pianist. He is best known for his Essays in Musical Analysis.

Tovey began to study the piano and compose at an early age. He eventually studied music under Hubert Parry. Tovey became a close friend of Joseph Joachim, and played piano with the Joachim Quartet in a 1905 performance of Johannes Brahms’ 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 Henry Wood in 1903 and under Hans Richter in 1906. During this period he also contributed heavily to the music articles in the 1911 Encyclopedia 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 and 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.

Tovey began to compose and perform less often later in life. In 1913 he composed a symphony, in 1935 he wrote a cello concerto for Pablo Casals and he 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 Johann Sebastian Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge. Tovey was knighted in 1935. He died in 1940 in Edinburgh.

7 Responses to “Short biography”

  1. Please, give me a mail for sending a good watercolor youth portrait of D.F. Tovey, in order to know the name of the autor. He signs “E.E.”.

    Thank you.

  2. Dear Francesc Fontbona de Vallescar, many thanks for your email. My email address is I am always interested on all memorabelia of Donald Francis Tovey. I am planning to produce at least two more CDs of his music.
    yours sincerely,Peter Shore

  3. Tovey’s father was rector at St. Mary’s Church Worplesdon, Surrey. The church has a memorial plaque and window dedicated to Donald Tovey inside it.

  4. Hello Allan,
    Thanks for the info. I have visited St. Mary’s Church, Worplesdon and photographed the memorial plaque and window dedicated to Donald Tovey. Donald Tovey is buried with his parents near to his brother Duncan’s wargrave in the graveyard at Worplesdon.
    best wishes, Peter Shore

  5. Does anyone know any information about Donald Tovey’s Old German Love Song for viola and orchestra

  6. Hello,

    Thanks for the biography, but it would be good to mention also, among Tovey’s writings, the “Companion to Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas” which has never been surpassed or even equaled as a reference on those 32 great works…


  7. I have sent a separate email to Peter Shore about the Tovey books I inherited from my late husband, which I would like to give away.

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