Francis Toye

John Francis Toye (27 January 1883 – 13 October 1964) was an English music critic, teacher, writer and educational administrator. After early efforts as a composer and novelist, and service in naval intelligence in World War I, he became music critic of The Morning Post from 1925 to 1937, which he combined with teaching singing and working as managing director of the Restaurant Boulestin in London.

In 1939 Toye was appointed director of the British Institute of Florence, but the outbreak of World War II forced him to leave Italy in 1940. During the war, he served as director of the Sociedade Brasileira de Cultura Inglesa, Rio de Janeiro. Toye returned to the institute in Florence in 1946. He retired in 1958 but continued to live in Florence for the rest of his life.

Toye published novels, a play, autobiographies, essays and some works of music, but the book generally regarded as his most important was Giuseppe Verdi: His Life and Music, published in 1931, which remained the standard English work on its subject for many years.


Early years

Toye was born in Winchester, Hampshire, the eldest son of Arlingham James Toye and his wife Alice Fayrer née Coates.[1] His father was a schoolmaster at Winchester College who had a strong interest in music.[2] Francis's younger brother was the composer and conductor Geoffrey Toye,[3] whose son was John, a long-time news anchor for Scottish Television,[4] and his niece became a soprano with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company under the name Jennifer Toye.[5]

Toye was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied languages.[6] He was intended for a career in the diplomatic service, and passed the Foreign Office examination for student interpretership in the Levant in 1904.[6] He resigned from the service in 1906 and studied singing and composition with teachers including E. J. Dent.[6]

Toye began as a music critic in 1908 on the weekly magazine Vanity Fair.[6] In the years leading up to World War I, he also produced a variety of works, including a short play, The Extra Shilling;[7] incidental music (jointly with his brother Geoffrey) for The Well in the Wood, a "pastoral masque" by C. M. A. Peake;[8] a sonata for piano and flute, performed at the Steinway Hall in London in 1910;[9] magazine articles on a wide variety of subjects, from "The Theory of Feminism" for a suffragette paper, The Englishwoman,[10] to "Opera in England" for The English Review;[11] a comic novel written jointly with Marcel Boulestin;[12] and a second novel, written alone, Diana and Two Symphonies.[13]

World War I to World War II

In 1914 Toye married the American author Ann Huston Miller, known as "Nina".[6][14] There were no children of the marriage, which lasted until Toye's death fifty years later.[6] In World War I, he served in various capacities in the War Office from 1914 to 1917, then transferred to the intelligence department of the Admiralty, where he served in London and at Scapa Flow.[6] He went into commerce in 1920 and spent two years as manager of the coinage department of the Mond Nickel Company.[2] He then worked for The Daily Express, first as a leader-writer and then as a music critic.[6] In 1925 he was appointed music critic of The Morning Post and was active in London journalism until The Morning Post was absorbed into The Daily Telegraph in 1937. After that, he wrote a weekly column, "The Charm of Music", in The Illustrated London News.[15]

The Times wrote of this period of Toye's life: "His tastes were Latin as against the generally Teutonic atmosphere of London music, being however an ardent Handelian; he was interested in singing and even gave lessons in the art. He formulated his creed in a book, The Well-Tempered Musician", published in 1925. Sir Keith Falkner, Director of the Royal College of Music in London, praised Toye as a teacher of singing: "He was a teacher with a fine ear and down-to-earth knowledge".[14] Toye's love of singing and of Italian music were deployed in his most important book, Giuseppe Verdi: His Life and Music, published in 1931, which for many years remained the standard English authority on its subject.[2] He followed it with a rather lighter treatment of Rossini in Rossini: A Study in Tragi-Comedy in 1934.[2]

In addition to his writing, Toye was a frequent broadcaster, delivering regular talks about music on the main BBC station between 1926 and 1931.[16] From 1933 to 1939, Toye combined his musical work with the post of managing director of the Restaurant Boulestin in Covent Garden, one of the most famous restaurants of its day, with an international reputation.[17]

Florence and Rio

In 1939 Toye was appointed director of the British Institute of Florence, an institution dedicated to teaching English language and literature to Italians. Shortly after Toye's appointment, the Institute announced the forthcoming establishment of a new branch in Naples, with further branches to follow in Genoa, Turin and Palermo.[18] but his work was cut short when Italy entered World War II in May 1940.[19] He was forced to flee from Italy, and for some time he and his wife were reported missing,[20] but they returned safely to England. In 1941 Toye accepted the post of director of the Sociedade Brasileira de Cultura Inglesa, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which he held from 1941 to 1945, combining this position, between 1943 and 1945, with the post of British Council representative in Brazil.[6]

Memorial plaque for Toye in Portofino, Italy

After the end of the war, the Toyes returned to Florence, where they lived for the rest of Toye's life. In 1946 he resumed the directorship of the British Institute, whose premises and "magnificent library" had survived the war intact.[19] The Times later wrote, "he devoted a dozen years to the work of the institute with success founded on his love of Italy and his reputation as one of the line of English eccentrics."[2] He wrote two volumes of autobiography, For What We Have Received (1948)[21] and Truly Thankful (1957).[1] Toye retired from the directorship of the institute in 1958, bought a farm near Florence, where he grew vines, and "added a good deal of spice and gaiety to the musical life of London and to that of the English colony in Italy."[2] He visited London regularly and contributed notices to The Times of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.[2]

Toye died in Florence at the age of 81.[6] His fellow critic, Neville Cardus, wrote of him, in an obituary tribute in The Guardian, "Years ago he was critic for the old Morning Post, and as typical a Morning Post man as well could be, distinguished in presence, a connoisseur of music, good food, and wine, rather unapproachable at first sight, but once known extremely likeable, a representative in excelsis of the old school, fastidious yet humane."[22] The Gramophone called him "the man who loved Verdi this side of idolatry, and who loved Handel and Sullivan no less. His books on Verdi and Rossini will always be well thumbed, and the restoration of the supremacy of Italian opera in England owes much to his advocacy."[23]


  1. 1 2 John Francis Toye. Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Group, 2002, accessed 5 August 2010 (subscription required)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Times obituary, 16 October 1964, p. 15
  3. Colles, H. C. and Andrew Porter. "Toye, Francis". Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 4 August 2010. (subscription required)
  4. Obituary and report for John Toye, Herald 30 April 1992 and 30 May 1992
  5. Toye's younger sister, Eleanor, first married Joseph Remington Charter in 1923 and then Joseph Richard Bishop, with whom she had a son, Francis Peregrine Bishop, and a daughter, Jennifer Gay Bishop. Jennifer was a principal soprano with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company between 1954 and 1965, using her uncles' name, Toye, as her stage name. See Stone, David. "Jennifer Toye". Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 27 May 2004, accessed 25 August 2010
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Toye, (John) Francis". Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edition, Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 4 August 2010 (subscription required)
  7. The Times, 1 June 1907, p. 14
  8. The Times, 29 July 1909, p. 11
  9. The Times, 6 July 1910, p. 13
  10. The Times, 1 April 1911, p. 13
  11. The Times, 1 December 1911, p. 13
  12. The Observer, 19 March 1911, p. 4
  13. The Times, 24 October 1913, p. 12
  14. 1 2 The Times, 20 October 1964, p. 15
  15. See The Illustrated London News, 1 January 1938, p. 29, to 26 August 1939, p. 354.
  16. See, for example, The Times, 5 November 1926, p. 20; 20 February 1928, p. 21; and 2 July 1931, p. 19
  17. David, p. 172
  18. "Britain and Italy", The Observer, 2 July 1939, p. 10
  19. 1 2 "Brief History". British Institute of Florence, accessed 6 August 2010
  20. The Times, 24 June 1940, p. 3
  21. First published by Alfred A Knopf, New York
  22. Cardus, Neville. The Guardian, 19 November 1964, p. 8
  23. Wimbush, Roger. "Here and There". The Gramophone, December 1964, p. 39, accessed 6 August 2010


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