JT's Blog

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Quotes from Tovey

I'm re-reading Tovey's unfinished book on Beethoven, which sadly seems to be out of print, and just in the first few pages I've discovered a wealth of clever aphorisms.

For example, on page 1:

To study the lives of great artists is often a positive hindrance to the understanding of their works; for it is usually the study of what they have not mastered, and thus it undermines their authority in the things which they have mastered.
— Sir Donal Francis Tovey

Then on page 7:

When a difficulty amounts to an impossibility it is imaginary. I have elsewhere pointed out that the difficulty of defining tonality is the difficulty of describing any sensation whatever.
— Sir Donald Francid Tovey

And on page 11:

It is bad policy to try and recognize subtleties before you can recognize the great simplicities.
— Sir Donald Francis Tovey

Perhaps my favorite of all comes on page 13, where he is referring to Beethoven's use of harmony and tonality:

A vast mass of analytical commentary has been written by apparently learned writers who are quite incompetent in this matter, but I am convinced that a familiarity with suitable illustrations will soon give every reader an admirably vivid idea of the essential point.
— Sir Donald Francis Tovey