Tobias Matthay

Last updated

Tobias Matthay, ca. 1913 Tobias Matthay - Project Gutenberg eText 15604.png
Tobias Matthay, ca. 1913

Tobias Augustus Matthay (19 February 1858 15 December 1945) was an English pianist, teacher, and composer.



Matthay was born in Clapham, Surrey, in 1858 to parents who had come from northern Germany and eventually became naturalised British subjects. [1] He entered London's Royal Academy of Music in 1871 and eight months later he received the first scholarship given to honour the knighthood of its principal, Sir William Sterndale Bennett. [2] At the academy, Matthay studied composition under Sir William Sterndale Bennett and Arthur Sullivan, and piano with William Dorrell and Walter Macfarren. He served as a sub-professor there from 1876 to 1880, and became an assistant professor of pianoforte in 1880, before being promoted to professor in 1884. [3] With Frederick Corder and John Blackwood McEwen, he co-founded the Society of British Composers in 1905. [4] Matthay remained at the RAM until 1925, when he was forced to resign because McEwen—his former student who was then the academy's Principal—publicly attacked his teaching.

In 1903, after over a decade of observation, analysis, and experimentation, he published The Act of Touch, an encyclopedic volume that influenced piano pedagogy throughout the English-speaking world. So many students were soon in quest of his insights that two years later he opened the Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School, first in Oxford Street, then in 1909 relocating to Wimpole Street, where it remained for the next 30 years. The teachers there included his sister Dora. He soon became known for his teaching principles that stressed proper piano touch and analysis of arm movements. He wrote several additional books on piano technique that brought him international recognition, and in 1912 he published Musical Interpretation, a widely read book that analyzed the principles of effective musicianship. However, whilst acknowledging its importance, a later interpreter of Matthay's writing criticized its lack of clarity: [5]

The interminable repetitions, recapitulations, summaries, footnotes, all with a change of emphasis and as often as not with new names for the same thing, led enquirers into a maze from which only the clearest brain equipped with a dogged perseverance, could extricate itself.

Many of his pupils went on to define a school of 20th century English pianism, including Arthur Alexander, York Bowen, Norman Fraser, Myra Hess, Denise Lasimonne, Clifford Curzon, Harold Craxton, Moura Lympany, Gertrude Peppercorn, Irene Scharrer, Lilias Mackinnon, Guy Jonson, Vivian Langrish, Hope Squire, Eileen Joyce, jazz "syncopated" pianist Raie Da Costa, Harriet Cohen, Dorothy Howell, and the duo Bartlett and Robertson. [6] He taught many Americans, including Ray Lev, Eunice Norton, and Lytle Powell, and he was also the teacher of Canadian pianist Harry Dean, English composer Arnold Bax and English conductor Ernest Read. [7] In 1920, Hilda Hester Collens, who had studied under Matthay from 1910 to 1914, founded a music college in Manchester named the Matthay School of Music in his honour. It was later renamed the Northern School of Music, a predecessor institution of the Royal Northern College of Music. [8]

His wife Jessie née Kennedy, whom he married in 1893, wrote a biography of her husband, published posthumously in 1945. [9] She was a sister of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser. She was born in 1869 and died in 1937. [1] Tobias Matthay died at his country home, High Marley, near Haslemere in 1945, aged 87.


Matthay's larger scale compositions and virtuoso piano works were all written between the 1870s and 1890s before he focused instead on piano technique and teaching. They include two symphonies, some concert overtures and several piano concertante works. They were all forgotten for many years, resurfacing at a Sotheby's manuscript auction on 30 November 2006, won by the Royal Academy of Music. [10] [11]

Only the symphonic overture In May (1883) and the one movement Concert Piece in A minor for piano and orchestra (begun about 1883 and revised till about 1908) gained much contemporary attention. The Concert Piece became his most popular large scale work, although its London premiere at the Proms had to wait 25 years before its first performance, on 28 August 1909. The soloist was York Bowen. It was then performed at the Proms by Vivian Langrish in 1914, in 1919, and 1920 and again in 1925 by Matthay's student Betty Humby (who later became Betty Humby Beecham after she married Thomas Beecham). [12] Myra Hess also performed it under Matthay's baton at Queen's Hall on 18 July 1922 in the presence of the King and Queen for the Royal Academy of Music Centennial Celebration.

Matthay also wrote chamber music (most notably the Piano Quartet, op.20 of 1882), a small number of songs, and a great deal of piano music. [13] His 31 Variations and Derivations on an Original Theme for piano, written in 1891 and revised till 1918, was one of his last important early period works. Showing the influence of both Liszt and Wagner, it was considered harmonically daring when first composed. The work is in two parts, the second growing increasingly complex. [14]

During and after the First World War Matthay returned to piano composition, but abandoned his previously complex style in favour of short character pieces closer in spirit to Schumann's pieces for children. In 1933 he recorded some of these, including Twilight Hills and Wind Sprites from the 1919 suite On Surrey Hills, op.30, [15] as well as the older Prelude and the highly demanding "Bravura" from Studies in the Form of a Suite (1887). [16] [17]

A nearly complete collection of the published piano works is held at the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland. It was donated by the late James Matthew Holloway from papers originally in the possession of the pianist and favourite Mathay student Denise Lassimonne (1903–1994), whom Matthay took in after the death of her father, later naming her his ward and heir [18] Many of the scores contain corrections, editorial markings and comments by Matthay himself. [19]

List of works



Piano Works (selected) [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karl Goldmark</span> Hungarian-born Viennese composer (1830–1915)

Karl Goldmark was a Hungarian-born Viennese composer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Sterndale Bennett</span> British composer (1816–1875)

Sir William Sterndale Bennett was an English composer, pianist, conductor and music educator. At the age of ten Bennett was admitted to the London Royal Academy of Music (RAM), where he remained for ten years. By the age of twenty, he had begun to make a reputation as a concert pianist, and his compositions received high praise. Among those impressed by Bennett was the German composer Felix Mendelssohn, who invited him to Leipzig. There Bennett became friendly with Robert Schumann, who shared Mendelssohn's admiration for his compositions. Bennett spent three winters composing and performing in Leipzig.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joachim Raff</span> German-Swiss composer and pianist

Joseph Joachim Raff was a German-Swiss composer, pedagogue and pianist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Xaver Scharwenka</span> Musical artist

Theophil Franz Xaver Scharwenka was a German pianist, composer and teacher of Polish descent. He was the brother of Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka (1847–1917), who was also a composer and teacher of music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ferdinand Ries</span> German composer

Ferdinand Ries was a German composer. Ries was a friend, pupil and secretary of Ludwig van Beethoven. He composed eight symphonies, a violin concerto, nine piano concertos, three operas, and numerous other works, including 26 string quartets. In 1838 he published a collection of reminiscences of his teacher Beethoven, co-written with Beethoven's friend, Franz Wegeler. Ries' symphonies, some chamber works—most of them with piano—his violin concerto and his piano concertos have been recorded, exhibiting a style which, given his connection to Beethoven, lies between the Classical and early Romantic styles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cipriani Potter</span> English composer, pianist, conductor and teacher

Philip Cipriani Hambly Potter was an English musician. He was a composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. After an early career as a performer and composer, he was a teacher in the Royal Academy of Music in London and was its principal from 1832 to 1859.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Blackwood McEwen</span> Scottish classical composer

Sir John Blackwood McEwen was a Scottish classical composer and educator. He was professor of harmony and composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, from 1898 to 1924, and principal from 1924 to 1936. He was a prolific composer, but made few efforts to bring his music to the notice of the general public.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">York Bowen</span> English composer and pianist (1884–1961)

Edwin York Bowen was an English composer and pianist. Bowen's musical career spanned more than fifty years during which time he wrote over 160 works. As well as being a pianist and composer, Bowen was a talented conductor, organist, violist and horn player. Despite achieving considerable success during his lifetime, many of the composer's works remained unpublished and unperformed until after his death in 1961. Bowen's compositional style is widely considered as ‘Romantic’ and his works are often characterized by their rich harmonic language.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ludvig Norman</span>

Ludvig Norman was a Swedish composer, conductor, pianist, and music teacher. Together with Franz Berwald and Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, he ranks among the most important Swedish symphonists of the 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karl Weigl</span> Austrian composer

Karl Ignaz Weigl was a Jewish Austrian composer and pianist, who later became a naturalized American citizen in 1943.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ebenezer Prout</span> English musical theorist, writer, teacher and composer

Ebenezer Prout was an English musical theorist, writer, music teacher and composer, whose instruction, afterwards embodied in a series of standard works still used today, underpinned the work of many British classical musicians of succeeding generations.

Benjamin James Dale was an English composer and academic who had a long association with the Royal Academy of Music. Dale showed compositional talent from an early age and went on to write a small but notable corpus of works. His best-known composition is probably the large-scale Piano Sonata in D minor he started while still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, which communicates in a potent late romantic style. Christopher Foreman has proposed a comprehensive reassessment of Benjamin Dale's music. Dale married one of his students, the pianist and composer Kathleen Richards in 1921.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Dunhill</span> English composer

Thomas Frederick Dunhill was a prolific English composer in many genres, though he is best known today for his light music and educational piano works. His compositions include much chamber music, a song cycle, The Wind Among the Reeds, and an operetta, Tantivy Towers, that had a successful London run in 1931. He was also a teacher, examiner and writer on musical subjects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Francis Barnett</span> English music composer and teacher

John Francis Barnett was an English composer, pianist and teacher.

Freda Swain was a British composer, pianist and music educator.

James Friskin was a Scottish-born pianist, composer and music teacher who relocated to the United States in 1914.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walter Cecil Macfarren</span>

Walter Cecil Macfarren was an English pianist, composer and conductor, and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. His students included Stewart Macpherson, Tobias Matthay, and Henry Wood.

Arthur Alexander was a New Zealand-born pianist, teacher and composer who spent most of his career in the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oscar Beringer</span> English pianist and teacher

Oscar Beringer was an English pianist and teacher of German descent.


  1. 1 2 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed. (1954) Vol. 5, p. 632, Macmillan, London OCLC   6085892
  2. "Tobias Matthay". Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  3. Siek, Stephen (2012). England's Piano Sage: The Life and Teachings of Tobias Matthay. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN   978-0-81088-161-7.
  4. Hardy, Lisa (2001). The British Piano Sonata, 1870-1945. Boydell Press. ISBN   978-0-85115-822-8.
  5. Coviello, Ambrose (1948). What Matthay Meant: His Musical and Technical Teachings Clearly Explained and Self-explained. London: Bosworth. p. 1. OCLC   316255047.
  6. "Tobias Matthay Collection". Royal Academy of Music. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  7. Scott-Sutherland, Colin. 'Tobias Matthay (1858-1945) and his Pupils', in British Music (British Music Society), Issue 29 (2007)
  8. Kennedy, Michael (1971). The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972. Manchester University Press. p. 89. ISBN   978-0-7190-0435-3 . Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  9. Jessie Henderson Kennedy Matthay. The Life and Works of Tobias Matthay (1945)
  10. Music and Continental Manuscripts, Sotheby's Catalogue, 2006
  11. Tobias Matthay Collection, Royal Academy of Music
  12. BBC Proms Performance Archive
  13. Dawes, Frank.'Matthay, Tobias ( Augustus )' in Grove Music Online, 2001'
  14. Radio Times Issue 604, 28 April, 1935, p 28
  15. Tobias Matthay plays Matthay "On Surrey Hills", Op. 30
  16. Tobias Matthay plays Matthay Prelude and Arpeggio Op. 16 , Columbia DX444, 1933
  17. Recordings,
  18. Denise Lassimonne
  19. Tobias Matthay Collection at IPAM</
  20. Piano Quartet, op 20, Charles Avison Ltd (1906) score at IMSLP
  21. Compositions by: Matthay, Tobias. IMSLP