For more than half a century, Arturo Toscanini was one of the world’s most respected conductors, a musical powerhouse whose performances packed orchestra halls—and filled the radio waves—in every major city in the United States. Toscanini dominated the classical music world, leading the debut performances of numerous important operas and symphonies. In a time when the majority of Americans craved popular music and novel trends, Toscanini did more than any other artist to increase the audience for classical symphonies and operatic works. A New York Times reporter noted that the fiery conductor “represented absolute, uncompromising integrity. He strove earnestly to realize as exactly as possible the composer’s intentions as printed in the musical score. To achieve perfection he drove musicians relentlessly, himself hardest of all.”
Toscanini conducted entirely from memory. Nearsighted from childhood, he memorized hundreds of intricate operas, symphonies, and concertos and then—in performance and often in rehearsals as well—led without ever consulting the score. The temperamental former cellist kept a full schedule of touring, recording, and performing until well into his eighties, finally retiring just three years before his death. The New York Times praised Toscanini for his “judgment, experience, vast musical knowledge, uncompromising standards and the touch of incandescent brilliance he infused into every performance he conducted.”
Toscanini was born in 1867 and grew up in Parma, Italy. His father was a tailor, and as a youth Arturo, too, wanted to make clothes. His ambitions changed at the age of nine when he began cello lessons at the Parma Conservatory of Music. He was fascinated by the instrument and by classical music in general. Within two years he won a full scholarship to the conservatory, where he was known to sell his lunch in order to buy more sheet music.
After graduating from the conservatory in 1885, Toscanini immediately found work with travelling orchestras in Italy. In 1886 he joined a company that journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to stage some operas. On that particular trip the company conductor one day refused to lead a performance. The musicians persuaded Toscanini to step in as conductor—his penchant for memorizing whole scores had already marked him as extraordinary. Toscanini reluctantly accepted the assignment and, with no prior preparation, made his conducting debut on June 25, 1886. He was 19 at the time.
Word soon spread in Italy of the young cellist who
For the Record…
Born March 25, 1867, in Parma, Italy; died of complications from a stroke, January 16, 1957, in Riverdale, the Bronx, NY; son of Claudio and Paola (Montani) Toscanini; married Carla dei Martini, 1897; children: Walter, Wally, Wanda. Education: Studied music at Parma Conservatory of Music, 1876-85.
Cellist with touring orchestras in Italy, 1885-87; conductor of orchestras in Italy, 1887-1908; conductor of Metropolitan Opera orchestra, New York City, 1908-15; conductor in Italy, 1915-26; conductor of New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, 1926-36; conductor of Palestine Symphony Orchestra, 1936; conductor of NBC Symphony Orchestra, 1937-54; guest conductor of numerous symphony orchestras in U.S. and Europe. Made numerous recordings on RCA Victor label.
conducted whole operas from memory. Toscanini found himself invited to the podium on numerous occasions with local opera companies, and he conducted the world premieres of Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci in 1892 and Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme in 1896. Both productions were highly successful, and the young musician was invited to conduct at La Scala in Milan—Italy’s most important opera house. By 1898 Toscanini was named chief conductor and artistic director at La Scala, and he became well known there for introducing new operas and symphonic works. He also gained a reputation for his unorthodox attitudes; he was dismissed in 1903 for refusing to permit encores.
Toscanini brought his talents to America in 1908 as conductor for the Metropolitan Opera. He proved quite popular in New York City—as a New York Times contributor put it, his “success was instantaneous … one triumph after another.” After opening with Verdi’s Aida on November 16, 1908, Toscanini stayed with the Metropolitan Opera for seven seasons. He returned to Italy at the outbreak of World War I to conduct benefit performances for the country’s soldiers. At the end of the war, he received a decoration for bravery for leading an army band in the midst of a battle between the Italians and the Austrians.
After World War I Toscanini returned to America with an orchestra that he had engaged himself. It was with this orchestra that he made his first recordings on the Victor label in 1921. Some five years later he accepted the post of conductor with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. That group merged with the New York Symphony Society in 1928 as the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. Toscanini was its principal conductor for ten years. He also found time to serve as a guest conductor at festivals and concerts in Germany, France, Austria, and London.
Never one to shun politics, Toscanini was appalled by the fascist movement in Italy. He was an outspoken opponent of the fascists and was once badly beaten during a concert appearance when he refused to conduct the fascist anthem. He also severed ties with the Wagner festival at Bayreuth, Germany, and the Salzburg festival in Austria when Adolf Hitler took power. Toscanini spent the years of World War II in America, at the helm of the orchestra that he would lead for the rest of his life.
In 1937 Toscanini accepted a position as director of the newly formed National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Symphony Orchestra. The NBC Symphony was the first classical orchestra ever commissioned and subsidized by a broadcasting company. Toscanini was paid a then-fabulous salary of $40,000 as its conductor.
Some of the new symphony orchestra’s performances were held at Radio City Music Hall, and most were broadcast nationwide on radio. This exposure increased Toscanini’s popularity immensely. When he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra on a transcontinental trip in 1950, he was hailed by enthusiastic fans in major metropolitan areas and small towns alike. “Seldom in the history of America had a musician received such warm and widespread veneration,” wrote a New York Times reporter.
Toscanini worked tirelessly until he was 87 years old. During his lastyears with the NBC Symphony Orchestra he engaged in a hectic schedule of recording, making some 30 albums with RCA Victor, including all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies and the four symphonies by Brahms. The energetic conductor formally retired on April 4, 1954, immediately following a concert at Carnegie Hall. He died three years later following a severe stroke, just months before his ninetieth birthday.
In his day Toscanini was treated with an awe and reverence reserved for a select few. More than once the New York police had to barricade his concerts to keep out throngs of fans. Musicians and singers endured his temperamental outbursts, and audiences respected his eccentric notions about applause and encores. Throughout his career Toscanini was affectionately known as “The Maestro.” His passing was mourned by political leaders and classical musicians all over the world.
Responding to the conductor’s death on January 17, 1957, David M. Keiser, then president of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, told the New York Times that Toscanini, “more than any other person in our time, has symbolized the supreme peak in musical perfection.” New York Times correspondent Olin Downes offered a similar sentiment, writing of Toscanini: “There has never been a more gallant and intrepid champion of great music, or a spirit that flamed higher, or a nobler defender of the faith.”
Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, Melogram, 1989.
Toscanini at La Scala, SRO, 1993.
Toscanini Conducts Music by His Contemporaries, dell’Arte, 1993.
The Toscanini Collection, 71 volumes, RCA, 1994.
Toscanini and the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra: Great Recordings 1926-1936, 3 volumes, Pearl 3.
American Record Guide, September/October 1988; September/October 1990.
Musical America, November 1989; July 1990.
New York Times, April 5, 1954; January 15, 1957.
New York Times Magazine, November 8, 1953; December 27, 1953.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Toscanini, Arturo, great Italian conductor; b. Parma, March 25, 1867; d. N.Y., Jan. 16, 1957. He entered the Parma Cons. at the age of 9, studying the cello with Carini and composition with Dacci; graduated in 1885 as winner of the 1st prize for cello; received the Barba-cini Prize as the outstanding graduate of his class. In 1886 he was engaged as cellist for the Italian opera in Rio de Janeiro; on the evening of June 30, 1886, he was unexpectedly called upon to substitute for the regular conductor, when the latter left the podium at the end of the introduction after the public hissed him; the opera was Aida, and Toscanini led it without difficulty; he was rewarded by an ovation and was engaged to lead the rest of the season. Returning to Italy, he was engaged to conduct the opera at the Teatro Carignano in Turin, making his debut there on Nov. 4, 1886, and later conducted the Municipal Orch. there. Although still very young, he quickly established a fine reputation. From 1887 to 1896 he conducted opera in the major Italian theaters. On May 21, 1892, he led the premiere of Pagliacci in Milan, and on Feb. 1, 1896, the premiere of La Bohème in Turin. He also conducted the first performance by an Italian opera company, sung in Italian, of Götterdämmerung (Turin, Dec. 22, 1895) and Siegfried (Milan, 1899); he made his debut as a sym. conductor on March 20, 1896, with the orch. of the Teatro Regio in Turin. In 1898 the impresario Gatti-Casazza engaged him as chief conductor for La Scala, Milan, where he remained until 1903, and again from 1906 to 1908. In the interim, he conducted opera in Buenos Aires (1903-4; 1906). When Gatti-Casazza became general manager of the Metropolitan Opera (1908), he invited Toscanini to be principal conductor; Toscanini’s debut in N.Y. was in Aida (Nov. 16, 1908). While at the Metropolitan, Toscanini conducted Verdi’s Requiem (Feb. 21, 1909), as well as 2 world premieres, Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West (Dec. 10, 1910) and Giordano’s Madame Sans-Gêne (Jan. 25, 1915); he also brought out for the first time in America Gluck’s Armide (Nov. 14, 1910), Wolf-Ferrari’s Le Donne curiose (Jan. 3, 1912), and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (March 19, 1913). On April 13, 1913, he gave his first concert in N.Y. as a sym. conductor, leading Beethoven’s 9th Sym. In 1915 he returned to Italy; during the season of 1920-21, he took the La Scala Orch. on a tour of the U.S. and Canada. From 1921 to 1929 he was artistic director of La Scala; there he conducted the posthumous premiere of Boito’s opera Nerone, which he completed for performance (May 1,1924). In 1926-27 he was a guest conductor of the N.Y. Phil., returning in this capacity through the 1928-29 season; then was its assoc. conductor with Mengelberg in 1929-30; subsequently was its conductor from 1930 to 1936; took it on a tour of Europe in the spring of 1930. He conducted in Bayreuth in 1930 and 1931. Deeply touched by the plight of the Jews in Germany, he acceded to the request of the violinist Huberman, founder of the Palestine Sym. Orch., to conduct the inaugural concert of that orch. at Tel Aviv (Dec. 26, 1936). During this period, he also filled summer engagements at the Salzburg Festivals (1934-37), and conducted in London (1935; 1937-39). He became music director of the NBC Sym. Orch. in N.Y. in 1937, a radio orch. that had been organized especially for him; he conducted his first broadcast on Dec. 25, 1937, in N.Y. He took it on a tour of South America in 1940, and on a major tour of the U.S. in 1950. He continued to lead the NBC Sym. Orch. until the end of his active career; he conducted his last concert from Carnegie Hall, N.Y., on April 4, 1954 (10 days after his 87th birthday).
Toscanini was one of the most celebrated masters of the baton in the history of conducting; undemonstrative in his handling of the orch., he possessed an amazing energy and power of command. He demanded absolute perfection, and he erupted in violence when he could not obtain from the orch. what he wanted (a lawsuit was brought against him in Milan when he accidentally injured the concertmaster with a broken violin bow). Despite the vituperation he at times poured on his musicians, he was affectionately known to them as ’The Maestro” who could do no wrong. His ability to communicate his desires to singers and players was extraordinary, and even the most celebrated opera stars or instrumental soloists never dared to question his authority. Owing to extreme nearsightedness, Toscanini committed all scores to memory; his repertoire embraced virtually the entire field of Classical and Romantic music; his performances of Italian operas, of Wagner’s music dramas, of Beethoven’s syms., and of modern Italian works were especially inspiring. Among the moderns, he conducted works by Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, and among Americans, Samuel Barber, whose Adagio for Strings he made famous; he also had his favorite Italian composers (Catalani, Martucci), whose music he fondly fostered. In his social philosophy, he was intransigently democratic; he refused to conduct in Germany under the Nazi regime. He militantly opposed Fascism in Italy, but never abandoned his Italian citizenship, despite his long years of residence in America. In 1987 his family presented his valuable private archive to the N.Y. Public Library.
G. Ciampelli, A. T.(Milan, 1923); E. Cozzarli, A. T.(Milan, 1927); T. Nicotra, A. T.(tr. from the Italian, NY., 1929); D. Bonardi, T. (Milan, 1929); P. Stefan, A. T (Vienna, 1936; Eng. tr., N.Y., 1936); L. Gilman, T. and Great Music (N.Y, 1938); S. Hoeller, A. T.(NY., 1943); G Ciampelli, T. (Milan, 1946); A. Della Corte, T. (Vicenza, 1946); D. Nives, A. T.(Milan, 1946); E Sacchi, T. (Milan, 1951; Eng. tr. as The Magic Baton: T.’s Life for Music, N.Y, 1957); H. Taubman, The Maestro: The Life of A. T (N.Y, 1951); S. Chotzinoff, T.: An Intimate Portrait (N.Y, 1956); R. Marsh, T. and the Art of Orchestral Performance (Philadelphia, 1956); B. Haggin, Conversations with T.(N.Y, 1959; 2nd ed., enl, 1979); S. Hughes, The T. Legacy: A Critical Study of A. T.’s Performances of Beethoven, Verdi, and Other Composers (London, 1959); L. Frassati, II Maestro A. T e il suo mondo (Turin, 1967); H. Schonberg, The Great Conductors (N.Y, 1967); A. Armani, ed., T. e La Scala (Milan, 1972); G. Marek, T. (N.Y, 1975); H. Sachs, T. (Philadelphia, 1978; new ed., 1995); D. Matthews, A. T. (Tunbridge Wells and N.Y, 1982); J. Freeman and W. Toscanini, T. (N.Y, 1987); J. Horowitz, Understanding T: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped to Create a New Audience for Old Music (N.Y, 1987); H. Sachs, A. T dal 1915 al 1946: l’arte all’ombra della politica: omaggio al maestro nel 30 anniversario della scomparsa (Turin, 1987); idem, Reflections on T (NY., 1991); G. Marchesi, A. T.(Turin, 1993).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was the most famous and influential conductor of the first half of the 20th century.
Arturo Toscanini was born on March 25, 1867, in Parma, Italy, the son of a tailor. When Arturo showed musical tendencies, he was sent to the local conservatory, where he spent the next 9 years, devoting himself entirely to music. He graduated in 1885 with a first prize in cello and was immediately engaged to play in the orchestra at the Reggia, Parma's famous opera house. During the following summer he joined an orchestra that went to Brazil to play a season of Italian opera. At one performance the regular conductor was unable to appear. The 19-year-old cellist took over and, without a rehearsal, conducted Aida from memory, thus beginning one of the musical world's most illustrious careers.
On returning to Italy, Toscanini was in great demand as an opera conductor. He conducted the first performances of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci and Puccini's La Bohème. By the time he was 30, he was acknowledged to be the best opera conductor in Italy, and he was appointed principal conductor at La Scala in Milan, Italy's leading opera house. There, with his notorious temper and keen musicianship, he imposed a high performance standard on both singers and orchestra. He also disciplined the audience by refusing to allow the traditional encores that destroyed the musical continuity of the operas. He conducted at La Scala from 1898 to 1903 and again from 1906 to 1908, when he resigned to become a conductor with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City.
Toscanini returned to Italy in 1915 and to La Scala when it reopened after World War I. The growth of fascism and Mussolini's dictatorship made it impossible for Toscanini to remain; in 1928 he became conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1936. His harsh discipline and uncompromising musical standards made the Philharmonic one of the world's greatest orchestras.
During these years Toscanini also conducted opera at the famous European music festivals at Salzburg and Bayreuth. In 1937 he became conductor of the National Broadcasting Company Orchestra. This orchestra's broadcast concerts and recordings brought his performances to millions of listeners. He died in New York City on Jan. 16, 1957.
At the time Toscanini started to conduct, late-19th-century performance ideals were prevalent and conductors and performers thought it was their right and duty to "express themselves" in the music they played. Great liberties in tempi and dynamics were taken, and the score indications were often ignored. Toscanini vigorously opposed this approach, believing that performers should meticulously follow the scores and play every note exactly as written at the precise degree of loudness called for by the composer. He expected his musicians to show as much devotion toward the score and energy in carrying out its directions as he did. If they failed, he was merciless in his criticism.
Toscanini was one of the first to conduct without a score. His visual memory was phenomenal, and he could make minute corrections, referring to exact measures, without looking at the score. This skill was developed partly as a matter of necessity, because he was so nearsighted that he could not read a score at normal distance. He also had a marvelously acute ear, and there are many instances of his hearing a false note in a single instrument, even with the full orchestra playing.
Among the best books on Toscanini are David Ewen, The Story of Arturo Toscanini (1951; rev. ed. 1966); Howard Taubman, The Maestro: The Life of Arturo Toscanini (1951); and Samuel Chotzinoff, Toscanini: An Intimate Portrait (1956). Two books that contain analyses of his interpretations and comparisons of his recordings are Robert C. Marsh, Toscanini and the Art of Orchestral Performance (1956), and Spike Hughes, The Toscanini Legacy (1959). □
Distinguished opera and symphony conductor; b. Parma, Italy, March 25, 1867; d. New York City, Jan. 16, 1957. Son of Claudio (a tailor) and Paola Toscanini, Arturo studied cello and graduated with honors from the Parma conservatory in 1885. In 1897 he married Carla dei Martini, and was the father of Walter and two daughters, Wally and Wanda (later the wife of the piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz). While a cellist in a Rio de Janeiro opera orchestra, he was unexpectedly called upon to conduct Verdi's Aïda. Subsequently he was musical director or chief conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala (Milan), the New York Philharmonic, the Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals, and the NBC Orchestra (which he had organized). Toscanini had a phenomenal memory, was a stern and temperamental disciplinarian, and achieved
performances of high perfection. He introduced works by puccini, respighi, Moussorgsky, Kodály, the American Samuel Barber, and others. He refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford but accepted the One World award for music (1947). His funeral Mass took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, in the presence of Cardinal Francis Spellman.
Bibliography: d. ewen, The Story of Arturo Toscanini (rev. ed. New York 1960). t. w. gervais, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 8:517–519. h. taubman, The New York Times 106 (Jan. 20, 1957) 2:7.1. n. broder, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–) v.13 (in press). d. cairns, "Arturo Toscanini" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 19, ed. s. sadie (New York 1980) 85–88. d. m. randel, ed., The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (Cambridge 1996) 922–923. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Eighth Edition (New York 1992) 1898. r. werba, "Toscanini in Österreich: Versuch einer politisch-humanitären Demonstration," Österreichische Musik Zeitschrift 53 (1998) 26–35. f. zimmerman, "Arturo Toscanini," in International Dictionary of Opera 2 v., ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993) 1347–1351.
[h. e. meyers]