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Book Title: The Forms of Music|
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The author of the book: Donald Francis Tovey
Date of issue: October 1956
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 4.10 MB
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Despite his scorn for Liszt and Stravinsky, Tovey's opinions, even the wrong ones, are endlessly entertaining. This book is "merely" a set of twenty-eight Encyclopedia Britannica entries, ranging from "Aria" to "Variations," posthumously published in 1944. (Tovey died in 1940). The latest composers he addresses are Hindemith, Elgar, and Dohnanyi. This is the kind of book you read with pleasure, but also sighs, because no one writes like this anymore. So I will give you some large chunks of text.
From the article on Chamber Music:
The trombone and side-drums in the chamber music of Stravinsky will do well enough in a very smart house-party where all the conversation is carried on in an esoteric family slang and the guests are expected to enjoy booby-traps. Very different is the outlook of some of our younger masters such as Hindemith, Jarnach, and others, whose renunciation of beauty was in itself a youthfully romantic gesture, and was accompanied by endless pains in securing adequate performance. The work of masterly performers can indeed alone save the new ideas from being swamped in a universal dullness which no external smartness can long distinguish from that commemorated in the Dunciad.
From the article on Instrumentation:
If...we believe that music is made for instruments instead of instruments being built to make the best music they can, we may come to believe in the theory ascribed to Stravinsky, that each instrument should produce no passages that are not peculiar to its own timbre and inappropriate to any other. This is as if no gentleman should ever say anything that could be said by a lady, and vice versa.
From the article titled Music:
The chances of producing permanently living work are heavily weighted against the composer who confines his art to things which he alone can understand. The Russian Ballet gives abundant vital occasion for music as long as it deals intelligently with drama, fairy tale, fable, and life; and the young Stravinsky found in it inspiration for music that remains intelligible apart from the spectacle. In Petrouchka he produces rhythms and tones that enhance the moods of a fascinating pantomime; but the concertgoers who profess to enjoy it without ever seeing the ballet show themselves to be of the tribe who will gaze 'as ducks that die in tempests' at anything they are told to admire.
On continuo, from the article Instrumentation:
The continuo player represents an army of slaves upholding an aristocratic civilization.
On oboes vs. clarinets in Wagner, from the article Instrumentation:
The oboe can never efface itself. Run through the individual wind parts of some such encyclopaedic score as Wagner's Meistersinger, and you will be astonished at the unfailing beauty of the oboe parts and at the large tracts of drudgery in the excellent, uncomplaining clarinets.
On Schumann and Chopin, from the article Music:
When Schumann and Chopin handle the large classical forms they show obvious weaknesses. Schumann makes an effective new artificial sonata form out of his stiff, antithetic, epigrammatic style, as a man might construct a landscape in music. Chopin merely shows that he has taken the sonata forms uncritically from Hummel, though the first two movements of the B flat minor Sonata are almost as happy in their classical form as the Ballades are in Chopin's unique way.
On memory and the length of a musical segment, from the article Music:
...musical history may be traced in terms of the time limit over which the listener's memory is brought into play. In the sixteenth century that limit is from accent to accent; by the end of the seventeenth century it ran from phrase to phrase. The great architectural forms of Bach could stretch it easily to six minutes, and in extreme cases to ten. The rise of the dramatic sonata style did not greatly enlarge the time scale; for there are few well-constructed sonata movements that exceed a quarter of an hour, though on no smaller scale could Beethoven have prepared the famous harmonic collision that gave such offence in the first movement of the 'Eroica' Symphony.
...A design may complete itself in ten minutes while raising emotional issues that cannot be dealt with in less than forty. ... Wagner's enormous achievement in music-drama consisted essentially in giving music the same time scale as that of the drama.
On Liszt, Schubert, and the symphonic poem, from the article Symphonic Poem:
[Tovey informs us that Liszt first used this term.] The symphonic poem has been described elsewhere [in this book] as the application of the Wagnerian time scale to symphonic music. Liszt is successful only where he is writing on a hardly more than lyric scale, as in Orpheus, or, at the utmost, on a scale less than that of the earliest and best of all symphonic poems, Schubert's Wanderer Fantasia. Schubert had not the slightest idea that he was writing a symphonic poem; but in that piece he achieved everything that Liszt attempted, even to the metamorphosis of whole sections. Liszt's efforts on a larger time scale do not even begin to solve the problem; they achieve no sense of movement at all, and the device of deriving all their themes from a single figure is totally irrelevant. Saint-Saëns and César Franck are incapable of such failure, and their symphonic poems flow very convincingly, though not on a very large scale.
From the article Variations:
To speak of the progress in variation form since Beethoven is like speaking of the progress in reinforced concrete since the Parthenon. ...Variation writers may be scientifically classified into those who know their theme and those who do not. There is no reasonable doubt that many very clever composers, from Mendelssohn onwards, have completely misunderstood the nature of the deeper classical variations, and have thought that anything so unlike the original tune must be quite independent of it. Mendelssohn's Variations serieuses have a beautiful theme with a structure that might have given rise to splendid features; but Mendelssohn simply ignores this structure and replaces it by weaker things in almost every variation.
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Read information about the authorBritish musical analyst, musicologist, writer on music, composer and pianist. He is best known for his Essays in Musical Analysis.
He took classical honors with his B.A. at Oxford in 1898, and became a pianist of the first rank, though he never sought a virtuoso career. From 1914 to 1940 he was Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University.
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