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Arturo Toscanini (Italian pronunciation: [ɑrˈturɔ tɔskɑˈnini]; March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) was an Italian conductor. One of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th century and 20th century, he was renowned for his brilliant intensity, his restless perfectionism, his phenomenal ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory.[1] He is especially regarded as an authoritative interpreter of the works of Verdi, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. As music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra he became a household name through his radio and television broadcasts and many recordings of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century; at one time he was considered the greatest. It was only years after his death that some revisionist critics began to re-evaluate him.



Caricature of Toscanini by Enrico Caruso.

Toscanini was born in Parma, Emilia-Romagna, and won a scholarship to the local music conservatory, where he studied the cello. He joined the orchestra of an opera company, with which he toured South America in 1886. While presenting Aida in Rio de Janeiro, Leopoldo Miguez, the locally hired conductor, reached the summit of a two-month escalating conflict with the performers due to his rather poor command of the work, to the point that the singers went on strike and forced the company's impresario to seek a substitute conductor. But on the evening of June 30, 1886 maestro Carlo Superti found himself booed by the audience, now prompted by the disgruntled Miguez. Yet another last-minute substitute conductor, Aristide Venturi, could not overcome a hostile, hollering public, and was forced to leave the podium. In desperation, the singers suggested the name of their assistant Chorus Master, who knew the whole opera by heart. Although he had no conducting experience, Toscanini was forcibly persuaded by the musicians to take up the baton at 9:15 P.M., discarded the score, and led a sensational performance of the two-and-a-half hour opera completely from memory. The public was taken by surprise, at first by the youth and sheer aplomb of this unknown conductor, then by his solid mastery. The result was astounding acclaim. For the rest of that season Toscanini conducted eighteen operas, all with absolute success. Thus began his career as a conductor, at age 19.[2][3]

Upon returning to Italy, Toscanini set out on a dual path for some time. He continued to conduct, his first appearance in Italy being at the Teatro Carignano in Turin, on November 4, 1886[4], in the world premiere of the revised version of Alfredo Catalani's Edmea (it had had its premiere in its original form at La Scala, Milan, on 27 February of that year). This was the beginning of Toscanini's life-long friendship and championing of Catalani; he even named his first daughter Wally after the heroine of Catalani's opera La Wally.[5] However, he also returned to his chair in the cello section, and participated as cellist in the world premiere of Verdi's Otello (La Scala, Milan, 1887) under the composer's supervision. Verdi, who habitually complained that conductors never seemed interested in directing his scores the way he had written them, was impressed by reports from Arrigo Boito about Toscanini's ability to interpret his scores. The composer was also impressed when Toscanini consulted him personally about the Te Deum, suggesting an allargando where it was not set out in the score. Verdi said that he had left it out for fear that "certain interpreters would have exaggerated the marking".[6][7]

Gradually the young musician's reputation as an operatic conductor of unusual authority and skill supplanted his cello career. In the following decade he consolidated his career in Italy, entrusted with the world premieres of Puccini's La bohème and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. In 1896, Toscanini conducted his first symphonic concert (in Turin, with works by Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner). By 1898 he was resident conductor at La Scala, and he remained there until 1908, returning during the 1920s. He took the Scala Orchestra to the United States on a concert tour in 1920-21; it was during that tour that Toscanini made his first recordings (for the Victor Talking Machine Company).


International recognition

Toscanini in 1908.

Outside of Europe, he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1908–1915) as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1926–1936). He toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic in 1930; he and the musicians were acclaimed by critics and audiences wherever they went. Toscanini was the first non-German conductor to appear at Bayreuth (1930–1931), and the New York Philharmonic was the first non-German orchestra to play there. In the 1930s he conducted at the Salzburg Festival (1934–1937) and the inaugural concert in 1936 of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in what later became Tel Aviv, and later performed with them in Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo and Alexandria.

Opposition to Italian fascist government

In 1919, Toscanini ran unsuccessfully as a Fascist parliamentary candidate in Milan. He had been called "the greatest conductor in the world" by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. However, he became disillusioned with fascism and repeatedly defied the Italian dictator after the latter's ascent to power in 1922. He refused to display Mussolini's photograph or conduct the Fascist anthem Giovinezza at La Scala.[8] He raged to a friend, "If I were capable of killing a man, I would kill Mussolini."[9]

At a memorial concert for Italian composer Giuseppe Martucci on May 14, 1931 at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, he was ordered to begin by playing Giovinezza but he refused even though the fascist foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano was present in the audience. Afterwards he was, in his own words, "attacked, injured and repeatedly hit in the face" by a group of blackshirts.[10] Mussolini, incensed by the conductor's refusal, had his phone tapped, placed him under constant surveillance and took away his passport. The passport was returned only after world outcry over Toscanini's treatment.[8] He left Italy until 1946, when he returned to conduct a concert at the restored La Scala Opera House, which had been bombed during World War II.[11]

The NBC Symphony Orchestra

Fleeing Italy, he returned to the United States where the NBC Symphony Orchestra was created for him in 1937. He conducted his first NBC broadcast concert on December 25, 1937, in NBC Studio 8-H in New York City's Rockefeller Center. The acoustics of the specially built studio were very dry; some remodeling in 1939 added a bit more reverberation. (In 1950, the studio was further remodeled for television productions; today it is used by NBC for Saturday Night Live. In 1980, it was used by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of special televised NBC concerts called "Live From Studio 8H", the first one being a tribute to Toscanini, punctuated by clips from his television concerts.)

The NBC broadcasts were preserved on large transcription discs, recorded at both 78-rpm and 33-1/3 rpm, until NBC began using magnetic tape in 1947. NBC used special RCA high fidelity microphones both for the broadcasts and for recording them; these microphones can be seen in some photographs of Toscanini and the orchestra. Some of Toscanini's recording sessions for RCA Victor were mastered on sound film in a process developed about 1941, as detailed by RCA producer Charles O'Connell in his memoirs, On and Off The Record. In addition, hundreds of hours of Toscanini's rehearsals with the NBC were preserved and are now housed in the Toscanini Legacy archive at The New York Public Library.

Toscanini was often criticized for neglecting American music; however, on November 5, 1938, he conducted the world premieres of two orchestral works by Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings and Essay for Orchestra. In 1945, he led the orchestra in recording sessions of the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé in Carnegie Hall (supervised by Grofé) and An American in Paris by George Gershwin in NBC's Studio 8-H. He also conducted broadcast performances of Copland's El Salon Mexico; Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with soloists Earl Wild and Benny Goodman and Piano Concerto in F with pianist Oscar Levant; and music by other American composers, including marches of John Philip Sousa. He even wrote his own orchestral arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner, which was incorporated into the NBC Symphony's performances of Verdi's Hymn of the Nations. (Earlier, while music director of the New York Philharmonic, he conducted music by Abram Chasins, Bernard Wagenaar, and Howard Hanson.)

In 1940, Toscanini took the orchestra on a "goodwill" tour of South America. Later that year, Toscanini had a disagreement with NBC management over their use of his musicians in other NBC broadcasts. This, among other reasons, resulted in a letter which Toscanini wrote on 10 March 1941 to RCA's David Sarnoff. He stated that he now wished "to withdraw from the militant scene of Art" and thus declined to sign a new contract for the up-coming winter season, but left the door open for an eventual return "if my state of mind, health and rest will be improved enough". So Leopold Stokowski was engaged on a three-year contract instead and served as the NBC Symphony's music director from 1941-1944. Toscanini's state of mind soon underwent a change and he returned as Stokowski's co-conductor for the latter's second and third seasons resuming full control in 1944.

One of the more remarkable broadcasts was in July 1942, when Toscanini conducted the American premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. Due to World War II, the score was microfilmed in the Soviet Union and brought by courier to the United States. Stokowski had previously given the US premieres of Shostakovich's 1st, 3rd and 6th Symphonies in Philadelphia, and in December 1941 urged NBC to obtain the score of the 7th as he wanted to conduct its premiere as well. But Toscanini coveted this for himself and there were a number of remarkable letters between the two conductors (reproduced by Harvey Sachs in his biography) before Stokowski agreed to let Toscanini have the privilege of conducting the first performance. Unfortunately for New York listeners, a major thunderstorm virtually obliterated the NBC radio signals there, but the performance was heard elsewhere and preserved on transcription discs.[12] It was later issued by RCA Victor in the 1967 centennial boxed set tribute to Toscanini, which included a number of NBC broadcasts never released on discs.[13] In Testimony Shostakovich himself expressed a dislike for the performance, after he heard a recording of the broadcast. In Toscanini's later years he expressed dislike for the work and amazement that he had actually conducted it.[14]

In the summer of 1950, Toscanini led the orchestra on an extensive transcontinental tour. It was during that tour that the well-known photograph of Toscanini riding the ski lift at Sun Valley, Idaho was taken. Toscanini and the musicians traveled on a special train chartered by NBC.

The NBC concerts continued in Studio 8-H until the fall of 1950. They were then held in Carnegie Hall, where many of the orchestra's recording sessions had been held, due to the dry acoustics of Studio 8-H. The final broadcast performance, an all-Wagner program, took place on April 4, 1954, in Carnegie Hall. During this concert Toscanini suffered a memory lapse reportedly caused by a transient ischemic attack, although some have attributed the lapse to having been secretly informed that NBC intended to end the broadcasts and disband the NBC orchestra.[citation needed] He never conducted live in public again. That June, he participated in his final recording sessions, remaking portions of two Verdi operas so they could be commercially released. Toscanini was 87 years old when he retired. After his retirement, the NBC Symphony was reorganized as the Symphony of the Air, making regular performances and recordings, until it was disbanded in 1963.

On radio, he conducted seven complete operas, including La bohème and Otello, all of which were eventually released on records and CD, thus enabling the modern listening public to have at least some idea of what an opera conducted by Toscanini sounded like.

Final years

With the help of his son Walter, Toscanini spent his remaining years editing tapes and transcriptions of his performances with the NBC Symphony. The "approved" recordings were issued by RCA Victor, which also has issued his recordings with the La Scala Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1937-39) and the Philharmonia Orchestra (1952) were issued by EMI. Various companies have issued recordings on compact discs of a number of broadcasts and concerts that he did not officially approve. Among these are stereophonic recordings of his last two NBC broadcast concerts.

Sachs and other biographers have documented the numerous conductors, singers, and musicians who visited Toscanini during his retirement. He was a big fan of early television, especially boxing and wrestling telecasts, as well as comedy programs.

Toscanini died at age 89 of a stroke at his home in in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City on January 16, 1957. His body was returned to Italy and was interred in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. His epitaph is taken from one account of his remarks concluding the 1926 premiere of Puccini's unfinished Turandot: "Qui finisce l'opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto" ("Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died [lit. 'is dead']").[15] During his funeral service, Leyla Gencer sang a part from Verdi's requiem.

In his will, he left his baton to his protégée Herva Nelli.

Toscanini was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.


Toscanini married Carla De Martini on June 21, 1897, when she was not yet 20 years old. Their first child, Walter, was born on March 19, 1898. A daughter, Wally, was born on January 16, 1900. Carla gave birth to another boy, Giorgio, in September 1901, but he died of diphtheria on June 10, 1906. Then, that same year, Carla gave birth to their second daughter, Wanda.

Toscanini worked with many great singers and musicians throughout his career, but few impressed him as much as the Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz. They worked together a number of times and even recorded Brahms' second piano concerto and Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with the NBC Symphony for RCA. Horowitz also became close to Toscanini and his family. In 1933, Wanda Toscanini married Horowitz, with the conductor's blessings and warnings. It was Wanda's daughter, Sonia, who was once photographed by Life playing with the conductor.

During World War II, Toscanini lived in Wave Hill, a historic home in Riverdale.[16]

Despite the reported infidelities revealed in Toscanini's letters documented by Harvey Sachs, he remained married to Carla until she died on June 23, 1951.[17][18]


At La Scala, which had what was then the most modern stage lighting system installed in 1901 and an orchestral pit installed in 1907, Toscanini pushed through reforms in the performance of opera. He insisted on dimming the house-lights during performances. As his biographer Harvey Sachs wrote: "He believed that a performance could not be artistically successful unless unity of intention was first established among all the components: singers, orchestra, chorus, staging, sets, and costumes."

Toscanini favored the traditional orchestral seating plan with the first violins and cellos on the left, the violas on the near right, and the second violins on the far right.


Arturo Toscanini.

Toscanini conducted the world premieres of many operas, four of which have become part of the standard operatic repertoire: Pagliacci, La bohème, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot; he took an active role in Alfano's completion of Puccini's Turandot[19]. He also conducted the first Italian performances of Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Salome, Pelléas et Mélisande, Euryanthe as well as the South American premieres of Tristan und Isolde and Madama Butterfly and the North American premiere of Boris Godunov.

  • Edmea (revised version) by Alfredo Catalani - Turin, November 4, 1886
  • Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo - Milan, May 21, 1892
  • Guglielmo Swarten by Gnaga - Rome, November 15, 1892
  • Savitri by Natale Canti - Bologna, December 1, 1894
  • Emma Liona by Antonio Lozzi - Venice, May 24, 1895
  • La bohème by Giacomo Puccini - Turin, February 1, 1896
  • Forza d'Amore by Arturo Buzzi-Peccia - Turin, March 6, 1897
  • La Camargo by Enrico De Leva - Turin, March 2, 1898
  • Anton by Cesare Galeotii - Milan, December 17, 1900
  • Zaza by Leoncavallo - Milan, November 10, 1900
  • Le Maschere by Pietro Mascagni - Milan, January 17, 1901
  • Mosè by Don Lorenzo Perosi - Milan, November 16, 1901
  • Germania by Alberto Franchetti - Milan, March 11, 1902
  • Oceana by Antonio Smareglia - Milan, January 22, 1903
  • Cassandra by Vittorio Gnecchi - Bologna, December 5, 1905
  • Gloria by Francesco Cilea - Milan, April 15, 1907
  • La Fanciulla del West by Puccini - New York, December 10, 1910
  • Madame Sans-Gène by Umberto Giordano - New York, January 25, 1915
  • Debora e Jaele by Ildebrando Pizzetti - Milan, December 16, 1922
  • Nerone by Arrigo Boito (completed by Toscanini and Vincenzo Tommasini) - Milan, May 1, 1924
  • La Cena delle Beffe by Giordano - Milan, December 20, 1924
  • I Cavalieri di Ekebu by Riccardo Zandonai - Milan, March 7, 1925
  • Turandot by Puccini - Milan, April 25, 1926
  • Fra Gherado by Pizzetti - Milan, May 16, 1928
  • Il Re by Giordano - Milan, January 12, 1929
  • Adagio for Strings and First Essay for Orchestra by Samuel Barber - NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York, November 5, 1938
  • Western Suite by Elie Siegmeister - NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York, November 1945.

Recorded legacy


Toscanini made his first recordings in December, 1920 with the La Scala Orchestra in Victor's Trinity Church studio and his last with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in June, 1954 in Carnegie Hall. His entire catalog of commercial recordings was issued by RCA Victor, save for two single-sided recordings for Brunswick in 1926 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and a series of excellent recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1939 for EMI's HMV label (some issued in the USA by RCA, others released only recently by EMI and Testament). Besides the 1926 recordings with the New York Philharmonic (his first with the electrical process), Toscanini made a series of recordings with them for Victor, in Carnegie Hall, in 1929 and 1936. He also recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra for Victor in Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1941 and 1942. All of the RCA Victor recordings have been digitally re-mastered and released on CD. There are also recorded concerts with various European orchestras, especially with La Scala Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Hearing Toscanini

In some of his recordings, Toscanini can be heard singing or humming. This is especially true in RCA's recording of La bohème, recorded during broadcast concerts in NBC Studio 8-H in 1946. Tenor Jan Peerce later said that Toscanini's deep involvement in the performances helped him to achieve the necessary emotions, especially in the final moments of the opera when the beloved Mimi (played by Licia Albanese) is dying. During the "Tuba mirum" section of the January 1951 live recording of Verdi's Requiem, Toscanini can be heard on the disc shouting as the brass blares. In his recording of Richard Strauss' Death and Transfiguration, Toscanini sighed loudly near the end of the music; RCA Victor left this in the released recording.


He was especially famous for his performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Debussy and his own compatriots Rossini, Verdi, Boito and Puccini. He made many recordings, especially towards the end of his career, which are still in print. In addition, there are many recordings available of his broadcast performances, as well as his remarkable rehearsals with the NBC Symphony.

Charles O'Connell on Toscanini

Charles O'Connell, who produced many of Toscanini's RCA Victor recordings in the 1930s and 1940s, said that RCA quickly decided to record the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, whenever possible, after being disappointed with the dull-sounding early recordings in Studio 8-H in 1938 and 1939. (Nevertheless, there were a few recording sessions in Studio 8-H as late as June 1950, probably because of improvements to the acoustics in 1939.) O'Connell, and others, often complained that Toscanini was little interested in recording and, as Harvey Sachs wrote, Toscanini was frequently disappointed that the microphones failed to pick up everything he heard during the recording sessions. O'Connell even complained of Toscanini's failure to cooperate with RCA during the sessions. Toscanini himself was often disappointed that the 78-rpm discs failed to fully capture all of the instruments in the orchestra; those fortunate to attend Toscanini's concerts later said the NBC string section was especially outstanding.[20]

Philadelphia Orchestra recordings

O'Connell also extensively documented RCA's technical problems with the Philadelphia Orchestra recordings of 1941-42, which required extensive electronic editing before they could be released (well after Toscanini's death, beginning in 1963, with the rest following in the 1970s). Harvey Sachs also recounts that the masters were damaged, possibly due to somewhat inferior materials imposed by wartime restrictions. Unfortunately, a Musicians Union recording ban from 1942 to 1944 prevented immediate retakes; by the time the ban ended, the Philadelphia Orchestra had left RCA Victor for Columbia Records and RCA apparently was hesitant to promote the orchestra any further. Eventually, Toscanini recorded all of the same music with the NBC Symphony. In 1968, the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to RCA and the company was more favorable toward issuing all of the discs. As for the historic recordings, even on the CD versions, first released in 1991, some of the sides have considerable surface noise and some distortion, especially during the louder passages. The best sound of the recordings is the Schubert Symphony No. 9 (The "Great"), which had been restored by RCA first (in 1963) and released on LP. The rest of the recordings were not issued until 1977 and, as Sachs noted, by that time some of the masters may have deteriorated further. Nevertheless, despite the occasional problems, the entire set is an impressive document of Toscanini's collaboration with the Philadelphia musicians and can be best heard in the 2006 RCA/BMG reissue, which benefit from recent advances in digital restoration. The listener can hear the rich sound of the orchestra, developed by Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, enhanced by the more dynamic and aggressive conducting of the Italian maestro. Ormandy especially expressed his appreciation for what Toscanini achieved with the orchestra.

Later recordings

In the late 1940's when magnetic tape replaced direct wax disc recording and high fidelity long playing records were introduced, the conductor said he was much happier making recordings. Sachs wrote that an Italian journalist, Raffaele Calzini, said Toscanini told him, "My son Walter sent me the test pressing of the [Beethoven] Ninth from America; I want to hear and check how it came out, and possibly to correct it. These long-playing records often make me happy."[21]

Notable recordings

Among his most critically acclaimed recordings are the following (with the NBC Symphony unless otherwise shown):

(Many of these were never released officially during Toscanini's lifetime)


There are many pieces which Toscanini never recorded in the studio; among these, some of the most interesting surviving recordings (off-the-air) include:

Rehearsals and broadcasts

Many hundreds of hours of Toscanini's rehearsals were recorded. Some of these have circulated in limited edition recordings. Many broadcast recordings with orchestras other than the NBC have also survived, including: The New York Philharmonic from 1933-36, 1942, and 1945; The BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1935-1939; The Lucerne Festival Orchestra; and broadcasts from the Salzburg Festival in the late 1930s. Documents of Toscanini's guest appearances with the La Scala Orchestra from 1946-1952 include a live recording of Verdi's Requiem with the young Renata Tebaldi. Toscanini's ten NBC Symphony telecasts from 1948-1952 were preserved in kinescope films of the live broadcasts. These films, issued by RCA on VHS tape and laser disc and on DVD by Testament, provide unique video documentation of the passionate yet restrained podium technique for which he was well known.

Recording guide

A guide to Toscanini's recording career can be found in Mortimer H. Frank's "From the Pit to the Podium: Toscanini in America" in International Classical Record Collector (1998, 15 8-21) and Christopher Dyment's "Toscanini's European Inheritance" in International Classical Record Collector (1998, 15 22-8). Frank and Dyment also discuss Maestro Toscanini's performance history in the 50th anniversary issue of Classic Record Collector (2006, 47) Frank with 'Toscanini - Myth and Reality' (10-14) and Dyment 'A Whirlwind in London' (15-21) This issue also contains interviews with people who performed with Toscanini - Jon Tolansky 'Licia Albanese - Maestro and Me' (22-6) and 'A Mesmerising Beat: John Tolansky talks to some of those who worked with Arturo Toscanini, to discover some of the secrets of his hold over singers, orchestras and audiences.' (34-7). There is also a feature article on Toscanini's interpretation of Brahms's First Symphony - Norman C. Nelson, 'First Among Equals [...] Toscanini's interpretation of Brahms's First Symphony in the context of others' (28-33)

The Arturo Toscanini Society

In 1969, Clyde J. Key acted on a dream he had of meeting Toscanini by starting the Arturo Toscanini Society to release a number of "unapproved" live performances by Toscanini. As Time Magazine reported, Key scoured the U.S. and Europe for off-the-air transcriptions of Toscanini broadcasts, acquiring almost 5,000 transcriptions (all transferred to tape) of previously unreleased material—a complete catalogue of broadcasts by the Maestro between 1933 and 1954. It included about 50 concerts that were never broadcast, but which were recorded surreptitiously by engineers supposedly testing their equipment.

A private, nonprofit club based in Dumas, Texas, it offered members five or six LP's annually for a $25-a-year membership fee. Key's first package offering included Brahms' German Requiem, Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88 and 104, and Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben, all NBC Symphony broadcasts dating from the late 1930s or early 1940s. In 1970, the Society releases included Sibelius' Symphony No. 4, Mendelssohn's "Scotish" Symphony, dating from the same NBC period; and a Rossini-Verdi-Puccini LP emanating from the post-War reopening of La Scala on May 11, 1946 with the Maestro conducting. That same year it released a Beethoven bicentennial set that included the 1935 Missa Solemnis with the Philharmonic and LP's of the 1948 televised concert of the ninth symphony taken from an FM radio transcription, complete with Ben Grauer's comments. (In the early 1990s, the kinescopes of these and the other televised concerts were released by RCA with soundtracks dubbed in from the NBC radio transcriptions; in 2006, they were rereleased by Testament on DVD.)

Additional releases included a number of Beethoven symphonies recorded with the New York Philharmonic during the 1930s, a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 on Feb. 20, 1936, at which Rudolf Serkin made his New York debut, and one of the most celebrated underground Toscanini recordings of all, the legendary 1940 version of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, which has better soloists (Zinka Milanov, Jussi Bjoerling, both in their prime) and a more powerful style than the 1953 recording now available on RCA/BMG, although the microphone placement was kinder to the soloists in 1953.

Because the Arturo Toscanini Society was nonprofit, Key said he believed he had successfully bypassed both copyright restrictions and the maze of contractual ties between RCA and the Maestro's family. However, RCA's attorneys were soon looking into the matter to see if they agreed. As long as it stayed small, the Society appeared to offer little real competition to RCA. But classical-LP profits were low enough even in 1970, and piracy by fly-by-night firms so prevalent within the industry (an estimated $100 million in tape sales for 1969 alone), that even a benevolent buccaneer outfit like the Arturo Toscanini Society had to be looked at twice before it could be tolerated.[23]

Magazine and newspaper reports subsequently detailed legal action taken against Key and the Society, presumably after some of the LPs began to appear in retail stores. Toscanini fans and record collectors were dismayed because, although Toscanini had not approved the release of these performances in every case, many of them were found to be further proof of the greatness of the Maestro's musical talents. One outstanding example of a remarkable performance not approved by the Maestro was his December 1948 NBC broadcast of Dvořák's Symphonic Variations, released on an LP by the Society. (A kinescope of the same performance, from the television simulcast, has been released on VHS and laser disc by RCA/BMG and on DVD by Testament.) There was speculation that, the Toscanini family itself, prodded by his daughter Wanda, sought to defend the Maestro's original decisions, made mostly during his last years, on what should be released. Walter Toscanini later admitted that his father probably rejected performances that were okay. Whatever the real reasons, the Arturo Toscanini Society was forced to disband and cease releasing any further recordings.


Arturo Toscanini was very likely the first conductor to make extended appearances on live television, beginning with an all-Wagner concert in March 1948 in Studio 8-H. Between 1948 and 1952, he conducted ten concerts telecast on NBC, including a two-part concert performance of Verdi's complete opera Aida starring Herva Nelli and Richard Tucker, and the first complete telecast of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. All of these were simulcast on radio. These concerts were all shown only once during that four-year span, but they were preserved on kinescopes.[24]

The telecasts began on March 20, 1948, with an all-Wagner program, including the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin; the overture and bacchanale from Tannhäuser; "Forest Murmurs" from Siegfried; "Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey" from Götterdämmerung; and "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre. Beethoven's ninth symphony was telecast on April 3, 1948. On November 13, 1948, there was an all-Brahms program, including Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra in A minor (Mischa Mischakoff, violin; Frank Miller, cello); Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52 (with two pianists and a small chorus); and Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor. On December 3, 1948, Toscanini conducted Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550; Dvořák's Symphonic Variations, Op. 78; and Richard Wagner's original overture to Tannhäuser.

There were two telecasts in 1949, both devoted to the performance of Verdi's Aida from studio 8H. Acts I and II were telecast on March 26 and III and IV on April 2. Portions of the audio were rerecorded in June 1954 for the commercial release on LP records. As the video shows, the soloists were placed close to Toscanini, in front of the orchestra, while the robed members of the Robert Shaw Chorale were on risers behind the orchestra.

There were no telecasts in 1950, but they resumed from Carnegie Hall on November 3, 1951, with Carl Maria von Weber's overture to Euryanthe and Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. On December 29, 1951, there was another all-Wagner program that included the two excerpts from Siegfried and Die Walküre featured on the March 1948 telecast, plus the Prelude to Act II of Lohengrin; the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; and "Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music" from Götterdämmerung.

On March 15, 1952, Toscanini conducted the Symphonic Interlude from César Franck's Rédemption; Sibelius's En Saga, Op. 9; Debussy's "Nuages" and "Fetes" from Nocturnes; and the overture of Rossini's William Tell. The final telecast, on March 22, 1952, included Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, and Respighi's The Pines of Rome.

The NBC cameras were often left on Toscanini for extended periods, documenting not only his baton techniques but his deep involvement in the music. At the end of a piece, Toscanini generally nodded rather than bowed and exited the stage quickly. Although NBC continued to broadcast the orchestra on radio until April 1954, telecasts were abandoned after March 1952.

As part of a restoration project initiated by the Toscanini family in the late 1980s, the kinescopes were fully restored and issued by RCA on VHS and laser disc beginning in 1989. The audio portion of the sound was taken, not from the noisy kinescopes, but from 33-1/3 rpm 16-inch transcription disc and high fidelity audio tape recordings made simultaneously by RCA technicians during the televised concerts. The hi-fi audio was synchronized with the kinescope video for the home video release. Original introductions by NBC's longtime announcer Ben Grauer were replaced with new commentary by Martin Bookspan. The entire group of Toscanini videos has since been reissued by Testament on DVD, with further improvements to the sound.


In 1943 Toscanini made a 31-minute film for the United States Office of War Information called Hymn of the Nations. It was filmed in NBC's Studio 8-H and consists of Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony in a performance of Verdi's Overture to La Forza del Destino and Verdi's "Hymn of the Nations" (Inno delle nazione), which contains national anthems of England, France, and Italy (the World War I allied nations), to which Toscanini added the Soviet "Internationale" and "The Star Spangled Banner". Tenor Jan Peerce and the Westminster Choir performed in the latter work and the film was narrated by Burgess Meredith.[25]

The film was released by RCA/BMG on DVD in 2004. By this time the "Internationale" had been cut from the 1943 film, but the complete "Hymn of the Nations" can still be heard in the audio recording which accompanied the DVD on a CD.[26] Hymn of the Nations was nominated for a 1944 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.[27]

Toscanini: The Maestro is a 1985 documentary made for cable television. The film features archival footage of the conductor and interviews with musicians who worked with him. This film was released on VHS and in 2004 on the same DVD with Hymn of the Nations.

Toscanini is the subject of the 1988 fictionalized biography Il giovane Toscanini (Young Toscanini), starring C. Thomas Howell and Elizabeth Taylor, and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. [28] It received scathing reviews and was never officially released in the United States. The film is a fictional recounting of the events that led up to Toscanini making his conducting debut in Rio de Janeiro in 1886. Although nearly all of the plot is embellished, the events surrounding the sudden and unexpected conducting debut are based on fact.

Acclaim and criticism

Throughout his career, Toscanini was virtually idolized by the critics (a notable exception being Virgil Thomson), as well as by most fellow musicians and the public alike. He enjoyed the kind of consistent critical acclaim during his life that few other musicians have had. Toscanini was featured three times on the cover of Time magazine, in 1926, 1934, and again in 1948. In the magazine's history, he is the only conductor to have been so honored.[29][30][31] On March 25, 1989, the United States Postal Service issued a 25 cent postage stamp in his honor.[32]

Over the past thirty years or so, however, as a new generation has appeared, there has been an increasing amount of revisionist criticism directed at him. These critics contend that Toscanini was ultimately a detriment to American music rather than an asset because of the tremendous marketing of him by RCA as the greatest conductor of all time and his preference to perform mostly older European music. According to Harvey Sachs, Mortimer Frank, and B. H. Haggin, this criticism can be traced to the lack of focus on Toscanini as a conductor rather than his legacy. Frank, in his recent book Toscanini: The NBC Years, rejects this revisionism quite strongly [33], and cites the author Joseph Horowitz (author of Understanding Toscanini) as perhaps the most extreme of these critics. Frank writes that this revisionism has unfairly influenced younger listeners and critics, who may have not heard as many of Toscanini's performances as older listeners, and as a result, Toscanini's reputation, extraordinarily high in the years that he was active, has suffered a decline. Conversely, Joseph Horowitz contends that those who keep the Toscanini legend alive are members of a "Toscanini cult", an idea not altogether refuted by Frank, but not embraced by him, either.

Some contemporary critics, particularly Virgil Thomson, also took Toscanini to task for not paying enough attention to the "modern repertoire" (i.e., twentieth-century composers). During Toscanini's middle years, however, such now widely accepted composers as Claude Debussy, whose music the conductor held in very high regard, were considered to be radical and modern.

Another criticism leveled at Toscanini stems from the constricted sound quality that comes from many of his recordings, notably those made in NBC's Studio 8-H. Studio 8-H was foremost a radio and later a television studio, not a true concert hall. Its dry acoustics lacking in much reverberation, while ideal for broadcasting, were unsuited for symphonic concerts and opera. However, it is widely believed that Toscanini favored it because its close miking enabled listeners to hear every instrumental strand in the orchestra clearly, something that the conductor strongly believed in.[34]

Toscanini has also been criticized for lack of nuance and metronomic (rhythmically too rigid) performances:

Others attacked the conductor on the ground that he was a slave to the metronome. They said that his beat was inexorable, that his rhythms were rigid, that he was an enemy of Italian song and a wrecker of the art of bel canto.[35]
—The Maestro: The Life Of Arturo Toscanini (1951) by Howard Taubman
When he was young as a conductor, it was complained of Toscanini that he held the tempo and rhythm of the music firmly to its course and that it had the mechanical exactitude of a metronome.
—The Maestro: The Life Of Arturo Toscanini (1951) by Howard Taubman

Others state (and there is some evidence from the recordings) that Toscanini's tempos, quite flowing in his earlier recordings, became stricter as he got older, although this is not to be taken as a literally true statement. His 1953 recording of Pictures at an Exhibition, for instance, and his 1950 La Mer, are considered masterpieces by many.

The Toscanini Legacy

In 1986, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts purchased the bulk of Toscanini's papers, scores and sound recordings from his heirs. Named The Toscanini Legacy, this vast collection contains thousands of letters, programs and various documents, over 1,800 scores and more than 400 hours of sound recordings. A finding aid for the scores is available on the library's website. In house finding aids are available for other parts of the collection.

The Library also has many other collections that have Toscanini materials in them, such as the Bruno Walter papers, the Fiorello H. La Guardia papers, and a collection of material from Rose Bampton.


  • Of German composer Richard Strauss, whose political behavior during World War II was arguably very questionable: "To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again."
  • "The conduct of my life has been, is, and will always be the echo and reflection of my conscience."
  • "Gentlemen, be democrats in life but aristocrats in art."
  • Referring to the first movement of the Eroica: "To some it is Napoleon, to some it is a philosophical struggle. To me it is allegro con brio."
  • At the point where Puccini left off writing the finale of his unfinished opera, Turandot: "Here Death triumphed over art". (Toscanini then left the opera pit, the lights went up and the audience left in silence.).[37]
  • Toscanini was invited in the year 1940 to visit a movie set at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios. There he said with tears in his eyes, "I will remember three things in my life: the sunset, the Grand Canyon and Eleanor Powell's dancing."

See also

  • List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s - 25 Jan. 1926


  1. ^ Sachs, Harvey (1978). Toscanini. Da Capo Press. ISBN 030680137X. 
  2. ^ Tarozzi, Giusseppe (1977). Non muore la musica - La vita e l'opera di Arturo Toscanini (p.36). SUGARco Edizioni. )
  3. ^ Nicotra, Tobia (2005). Arturo Toscanini. Kessinger Publ. Co.. ISBN 9781417901265. 
  4. ^ Mortimer H. Frank, Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years, p. 149
  5. ^ David Mason Greene, Greene’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, p. 819
  6. ^ Conati et al., Marcello (1986). Encounters with Verdi. Cornell University Press. pp. 303. ISBN 0801494303. 
  7. ^ Verdi, however, was quick to criticise Toscanini when appropriate, as in a rehearsal of Otello where he was unhappy with the playing of the solo for four muted cellos that ushers in the final duet of the first act of Otello: "Gia nella notte densa". cf. Conati et al., p.304
  8. ^ a b Plaskin, 195.
  9. ^ Sachs, Toscanini, 154.
  10. ^ Sachs, Toscanini, 211.
  11. ^ Farrell, Nicholas (2005). Mussolini: a New Life. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. pp. 238. ISBN 1842121235. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ RCA Victor liner notes
  14. ^ Taubman in 1951 (at page 289) quotes him (without citation) as saying "I asked myself, did I conduct that? Did I work two weeks memorizing that symphony? Impossible! I was stupid!" The violist William Carboni, when interviewed by Haggin in 1967 (at pages 54-55 of The Toscanini Musicians Knew) quotes him (without citation) as saying "Did I play this? I must have been crazy." Marek in 1975 (at page 234) quotes him (without citation) as saying "Did I really learn and conduct such junk?"
  15. ^ William Ashbrook (1984). "Turandot and Its Posthumous Prima". Opera Quarterly 2 (3): 126–132. doi:10.1093/oq/2.3.126. ISSN 0736-0053 / Online ISSN 1476-2870. 
  16. ^ Frank, Mortimer H. "A Toscanini Odyssey", The Juilliard Journal Online, April 2002. Accessed February 26, 2008. "That archive was housed at Wave Hill, Toscanini's Riverdale residence during World War II."
  17. ^ Michael Kennedy (2002-05-12). "Conductor con brio". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  18. ^ Catherine Milner (2002-04-20). "Letters detail Toscanini's affairs". Telegraph.;jsessionid=MQQUQXCVEW2Z3QFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2002/04/21/wtosc21.xml. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  19. ^ However, he refused to conduct the section that Alfano composed at the opera's world premiere.
  20. ^ Eyewitness accounts by William Knorp and others
  21. ^ Harvey Sachs, Toscanini, pgs. 302-303
  22. ^
  23. ^ Time, March 2, 1970
  24. ^ Harvey Sachs, Toscanini
  25. ^ "Toscanini: Hymn of the Nations". Time magazine, April 29, 1946.
  26. ^ "Toscanini: The Maestro" 2004
  27. ^ Hymn of the Nations at the Internet Movie Database
  28. ^ Il Giovane Toscanini - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - New York Times
  29. ^ Cover story: "The Perfectionist". Time magazine, April 26, 1948
  30. ^ Cover story: "Birthday of a Conductor". Time magazine, April 2, 1934.
  31. ^ Cover story: "Toscanini". Time magazine, January 25, 1926.
  32. ^ Scott catalog # 2411.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Howard Taubman. "The Maestro: The Life Of Arturo Toscanini". ,
  36. ^ Howard Taubman. "The Maestro: The Life Of Arturo Toscanini". ,
  37. ^ Mosco Carner, Puccini, 1974; Howard Taubman, Toscanini, 1951; quoted in Norman Lebrecht, The Book of Musical Anecdotes
  • Seraphim recordings/liner notes
  • Arturo Toscanini Society recordings
  • RCA home videos

Further reading

  • Antek, Samuel (author) and Hupka, Robert (photographs), This Was Toscanini, New York: Vanguard Press, 1963 (consists of a series of essays by one of the NBC Symphony musicians who played under Toscanini, combined with remarkable rehearsal photographs from the latter part of Toscanini's career).
  • Frank, Mortimer H., Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years, New York: Amadeus Press, 2002. (Re-evaluates favorably several of Toscanini's most strongly criticized performances. Complete list and analysis of NBC symphony performances under Toscanini as well as other conductors.)
  • Haggin, B. H., Arturo Toscanini: Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro, New York: Da Capo Press, 1989 (reprint of Conversations with Toscanini and The Toscanini Musicians Knew).
  • Horowitz, Joseph, Understanding Toscanini, New York: Knopf, 1987 (a revisionist treatment, attacking Toscanini's legacy; contains factual errors corrected by Sachs in Reflections on Toscanini).
  • Marek, George R., Toscanini, New York: Atheneum, 1975. ISBN 0-689-10655-6 (Contains some factual errors corrected by Sachs.)
  • Marsh, R.C. Toscanini on Records-Part I: High Fidelity Magazine vol 4,1954, pp 55–58
  • Marsh Part II: vol 4,1955, pp 75–81
  • Marsh Part III: vol 4,1955, pp 83–91
  • Matthews, Denis, Arturo Toscanini. New York: Hippocrene, 1982. ISBN 0-88254-657-0 (includes discography)
  • Meyer, Donald Carl, The NBC Symphony Orchestra. UMI Dissertation Services, 1994.
  • O'Connell, Charles, The Other Side of the Record. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1947. (Inside view of Toscanini's recordings)
  • Sachs, Harvey, Toscanini, New York: Prima Publishing, 1995. (Reprint of standard and best biography originally published 1978.)
  • Sachs, Harvey, Reflections on Toscanini, New York: Prima Publishing, 1993. (Series of essays on various aspects of Toscanini's life and impact.)
  • Sachs, Harvey, ed., The Letters of Arturo Toscanini, New York: Knopf, 2003.
  • Taubman, Howard, The Maestro: The Life of Arturo Toscanini, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951 (contains factual errors corrected by Haggin and Sachs).
  • Teachout, Terry, Toscanini Lives, Commentary Magazine, July/August 2002

External links

Preceded by
Music Director, La Scala
Succeeded by
Tullio Serafin
Preceded by
Tullio Serafin
Music Director, La Scala
Succeeded by
Victor de Sabata

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Arturo Toscanini]] Arturo Toscanini (born 25 March 1867; died 16 January 1957) was an Italian conductor. Most musicians think he was the greatest conductor of his time. His fame was legendary: he was probably the first conductor to become a world superstar. He had an incredibly good memory and could remember every single note of the large number of works he conducted. He had a photographic memory so that he could remember what the pages looked like. Sometimes he found little mistakes in the scores which no one else had ever noticed. He had a very keen sense of hearing and knew exactly what each instrument was doing. He also had a fiery temperament and there are films of him shouting angrily at his orchestra in rehearsals. In the early days of gramophone recordings he made some of the first recordings of famous orchestral works.



Early years

Toscanini was born in Parma in Italy. He won a scholarship to the local music conservatory, where he learned to play the cello. He joined the orchestra of an opera company and he toured South America with them in 1886. While performing Verdi’s opera Aida in Rio de Janeiro the audience did not like the conductor and they booed him so that he had to leave the stage. No one knew what to do at first, but then they persuaded Toscanini, who was only 19 years old, to put down his cello and conduct the orchestra. He did this brilliantly from memory (without looking at the music) and that night he became famous.

When he got back to Italy Toscanini returned to his chair in the cello section, and took part as cellist in the first performance of Verdi's Otello (La Scala, 1887). Verdi was there and was very impressed when Toscanini asked him about a mistake he noticed in the score.

Soon the young musician's reputation as a brilliant conductor of opera grew. He conducted the first performances of Puccini's La Bohème and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. In 1896 he conducted his first symphonic concert (works by Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner), in Turin. By 1898 he was conductor at La Scala, Milan and he stayed there until 1908, but returned during the 1920s. He took the Scala Orchestra to the United States on a concert tour in 1920-21; it was during that tour that Toscanini made his first recordings (for the Victor Talking Machine Company).

International fame

Toscanini started conducting outside Europe: at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1908–1915) as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1926–1936). He toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic in 1930 and always had great success. Toscanini was the first non-German conductor to conduct at Bayreuth (1930–1931). In the 1930s he conducted at the Salzburg Festival (1934–1937) and the first concert in 1936 of the newly formed Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in Tel Aviv, and later performed with them in Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo and Alexandria.

The NBC symphony orchestra

At first Toscanini agreed with Fascism but later, when the dictator Mussolini came to power, he became against it. He refused to perform an opera at La Scala and was beaten up, so he left Italy and went to the United States.

There was no orchestra for him in the USA so they made a new orchestra for him to conduct. This was the NBC Symphony Orchestra, created for him in 1937. He conducted the first broadcast concert on December 25, 1937, in NBC Studio 8-H in New York City's Rockefeller Center.

Toscanini was often criticized for not performing much American music and contemporary music (music by living composers). However, in 1938, he conducted the world premieres of two orchestral works by Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings and Essay for Orchestra (Barber)|Essay for Orchestra. In 1945, he led the orchestra in Carnegie Hall recording sessions of American music including An American in Paris by George Gershwin. He also conducted broadcast performances of Copland's El Salon Mexico and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with soloists Earl Wild and Benny Goodman and Concerto in F with pianist Oscar Levant, as well as music by other American composers, including two marches of John Philip Sousa.

In 1940, Toscanini had a disagreement with the NBC and he threatened to move to CBS. Although they agreed in the end it was this time that Leopold Stokowski began conducting some of the concerts and continued to appear sometimes as a guest conductor of the orchestra.

In July 1942 Toscanini conducted the American premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony no 7. Due to World War II, the score was microfilmed in the Soviet Union and brought by courier to the United States. At first Stokowski wanted to conduct it but then he agreed that Toscanini would. Unfortunately for New York listeners, a big thunderstorm made it difficult to hear the music on the radio. Later the performance was reissued.

The orchestra went all over the world with Toscanini. In 1950 the NBC concerts moved to Carnegie Hall. In a programme of music by Richard Wagner in 1954 Toscanini was not well and forgot how the music went. He never conducted in public again after that.

Personal life

Toscanini married Carla De Martini on June 21, 1897, when she was not yet 20 years old. They had four children although one died. He worked with many great singers and musicians, including the pianist Vladimir Horowitz who was a great friend. Horowitz married one of Toscanini’s daughters.

When he died of a stroke in New York at the age of 89, his body was returned to Italy and was interred in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan.

Many years after his death, in 1987, Toscanini was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

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