Arturo Toscanini

From New World Encyclopedia

Arturo Toscanini
Born March 25, 1867
Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Died January 16, 1957 (age 89)
New York, New York, USA
Genre(s) Classical
Occupation(s) Conductor
Years active 1886-1954
Associated acts La Scala
New York Philharmonic

Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) was an Italian musician. He is considered by many critics, fellow musicians, and much of the classical listening audience to have been the greatest conductor of his era. He was renowned for his brilliant intensity, his restless perfectionism, his phenomenal ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory which gave him extraordinary command over a vast repertoire of orchestral and operatic works, and allowed him to correct errors in orchestral parts unnoticed by his colleagues for decades.

Early Years

Toscanini was born in Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy and won a scholarship to the local music conservatory, where he studied cello. He joined the orchestra of an opera company, with which he toured South America in 1886. While presenting Aida in Rio de Janeiro, the orchestra's conductor was booed by the audience and forced to leave the podium. Although he had no conducting experience, Toscanini was persuaded to take up the baton, and led a magnificent performance completely from memory. Thus began his career as a conductor at age 19.

Upon returning to Italy, Toscanini self-effacingly returned to his chair in the cello section, and participated as cellist in the world premiere of Verdi's Otello (La Scala, 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, indicating a ritardando where it was not set out in the score and saying that only a true musician would have felt the need to make that ritardando.)

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 he conducted his first symphonic concert (works by Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner), in Turin. By 1898 he was resident conductor at La Scala, Milan and remained there until 1908, returning during the 1920s. He took the Scala Orchestra to the United States on a concert tour in 1920-1921; it was during that tour that Toscanini made his first recordings.

International Recognition

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. As was also the case with the New York Philharmonic, Toscanini was the first non-German conductor to appear at Bayreuth (1930–1931). In the 1930s he conducted at the Salzburg Festival (1934–1937) and the inaugural concert in 1936 of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in Tel Aviv, and later performed with them in Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt.

The NBC Symphony Orchestra

Strongly opposed to Italian and German fascism, he left Europe for the United States, where in 1937, the NBC Symphony Orchestra was created for him. He conducted the first broadcast concert on December 25, 1937, in NBC Studio 8-H in New York City's Rockefeller Center. The acoustics were very dry, until some remodeling in 1939 added a bit more reverberation to the studio. (In 1950, the studio was remodeled for television productions; today it is used by NBC for Saturday Night Live.)

Toscanini was often criticized for neglecting American music; however, in 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 Carnegie Hall recording sessions of the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe and 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 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; Toscanini threatened to move to CBS, until the dispute was resolved and he returned as music director.

In 1943, he appeared in a documentary film for the Office of War Information (OWI) directed by Alexander Hammid, Hymn of the Nations, which featured Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra performing the music of Verdi. Filmed in NBC Studio 8-H, the orchestra performed the overture to La Forza del Destino and Hymn of the Nations, the latter featuring tenor Jan Peerce and the Westminster Choir.

The orchestra first appeared on television in March 1948, when Toscanini conducted an all-Wagner program. A few weeks later, the concert featuring Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was also simulcast on radio and television. There were a total of ten telecasts, from 1948 to 1952, all preserved on film and later released on home video. In the summer of 1950, Toscanini led the orchestra on an extensive transcontinental tour. It was during that tour that the famous photograph of Toscanini riding the ski lift at Sun Valley, Idaho was taken. Some have had said that, because of his broadcasts, tours, and recordings, Toscanini became the first conducting "superstar" of modern mass media.

The NBC concerts continued in Studio 8-H until the fall of 1950, when they were moved to 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 caused by a transient ischemic attack. 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 finally enabling the listening public to hear 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 Scala Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra were issued by EMI. Various companies have issued recordings of a number of broadcasts and concerts, that he did not officially approve, on compact discs. Among these are stereophonic recordings of his last two NBC broadcast concerts.

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

Premieres and Innovations

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 also conducted the first Italian performances of Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Salome, Pelléas et Mélisande, as well as the South American premieres of Tristan und Isolde and Madama Butterfly and the North American premiere of Boris Godunov.

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 darkening the 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."

Personal Life

Toscanini married Carla DeMartini 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 Ukrainian-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 Lifemagazine playing with the conductor.

Despite Toscanini's reported infidelity (documented by Harvey Sachs), he remained married to Carla until she died on June 23, 1951.


  • "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."
  • In one performance where, at the point where Puccini left off writing the finale of his unfinished opera, Turandot Toscanini said: "Here Death triumphed over art." (Toscanini then left the opera pit, the lights went up and the audience left in silence.) [1].

Recorded Legacy

Toscanini made his first recordings in 1920 and his last in June 1954. His entire catalog of commercial recordings was issued by RCA Victor, save for a single recording 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 (issued in the USA by RCA). Besides the 1926 recording with the Philharmonic, Toscanini made a series of recordings with them for Victor, in Carnegie Hall, in 1929 and 1936. He also recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1941 and 1942. All of the RCA recordings have been digitally re-mastered and released on CD. There are also recorded concerts with various European orchestras, especially with the La Scala Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

In some of his recordings, Toscanini can be heard singing or humming. This is especially true in RCA's recording of La Boheme by Puccini, 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.

He was especially famous for his magnificent performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, Debussy and his compatriots Rossini, Verdi, Boito and Puccini. He made many recordings, especially towards the end of his career, many of 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, 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, he 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. The producer 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). Later, when high fidelity and long playing records were introduced, the conductor said he was much happier with the results.

By most accounts, among his greatest recordings are the following (with the NBC Symphony unless otherwise shown):

  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (1953; although some prefer the 1939 NBC performance)
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" (1952)
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 (1936, Philharmonic-Symphony of New York)
  • Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 (1952)
  • Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, 1940 NBC broadcast.
  • Berlioz, Roméo et Juliette (symphony) (1947)
  • Brahms, Symphony No. 1 (1941)
  • Brahms, Symphony No. 2 (1952)
  • Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (1951)
  • Brahms, Four Symphonies and Tragic Overture, 1952, Philharmonia Orchestra, London (his only appearances with that orchestra, produced by Walter Legge).
  • Debussy, La Mer (1950)
  • Dvořák, Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) (1953)
  • Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 4 "Italian," 1954 and No. 5 "Reformation," 1953, Midsummer Night's Dream Excerpts 1947, Midsummer Night's Dream Scherzo; New York Philharmonic, 1929.
  • Puccini, La bohème (1946)
  • Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (1937, Salzburg Festival; poor sound)
  • Schubert, Symphony No. 9 (1953; although some prefer the 1941 Philadelphia Orchestra performance)
  • Verdi, Requiem (1940; the sound is much better in the 1951 NBC performance, but some argue the 1940 broadcast version is far superior)
  • Verdi, Falstaff (1937, Salzburg Festival; the sound of the 1950 NBC performance is much better, but the 1937 performance is often seen as slightly better in artistic terms)
  • Verdi, Rigoletto (Act IV only, 1944; from Red Cross concert held in Madison Square Garden to raise World War II funds, with the combined forces of the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony)
  • Verdi, Otello (1947; considered by many, including the conductor James Levine, to be the most perfect opera recording ever made)
  • Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1937, Salzburg Festival; now available in good sound from the Selenophone sound-on-film recordings.)

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

Many hundreds of hours of rehearsal recordings exist; some of these have circulated in limited edition recordings. Broadcast recordings with other orchestras have also survived, including New York Philharmonic broadcasts from 1932-1936, 1942, and 1945; Numerous BBC Symphony Orchestra performances from 1935-1939, Pre-war Lucerne Festival Orchestra concerts, and multiple concerts from appearances with the La Scala orchestra from 1946-1952, including Verdi's Requiem with a young Renata Tebaldi. Moreover, his ten NBC Symphony telecasts 1948-1952 survive, including that of Aïda (with Herva Nelli in the title role). They were issued on home video in the 1990s and have been reissued on DVD [2]. They further establish the passionate yet restrained podium manner for which he was acclaimed.

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 (1988, 22-8).

The Arturo Toscanini Society

In 1969, Clyde J. Key acted on a dream he had of meeting Toscanini and launched 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. Key acquired 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 recordings annually for a $25-a-year membership fee. Key's first package offering included Brahms' German Requiem, Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88 and 104, 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 "Scotch" Symphony, dating from the same NBC period; and a Rossini-Verdi-Puccini LP emanating from the post-World War II reopening of La Scala on May 11, 1946 with the Maestro conducting.

Additional releases include 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 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.

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 with Key. As long as it stayed small, the Toscanini Society appeared to offer little real competition to RCA. But classical-LP profits were so low 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.[3]

Magazine and newspaper reports subsequently detailed legal action taken against Key and his Arturo Toscanini 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, many of the recordings were found to be further proof of the greatness of the Maestro's music talents. One of the outstanding examples of a remarkable performance not approved by Toscanini was his December 1948 NBC telecast of Dvorak's Symphonic Variations, which was released on an LP by the Arturo Toscanini Society. (The telecast performance has been released on VHS by RCA and on DVD by Testament.) There was speculation that, besides RCA, the Toscanini family itself sought to defend the Maestro's original decisions, made mostly during his last years, on what should be released to the public. Whatever the real reasons, the Arturo Toscanini Society was forced to disband and cease releasing any further recordings. Remarkably, many of the same recordings later appeared on other labels.[4]

Notable premieres

  • Leoncavallo, Pagliacci, Teatro dal Verme, Milan, 21 May 1892
  • Puccini, La Bohème, Teatro Regio, Turin, February 1, 1896
  • Puccini, La fanciulla del West, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1910
  • Puccini, Turandot, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 25 April 1926
  • Barber, Adagio for Strings, NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York, November 5, 1938

Toscanini and the critics

Throughout his career, Toscanini was virtually idolized by the critics, as well as by fellow musicians, with the exception of a few, such as Virgil Thomson, and he enjoyed the kind of critical acclaim that few musicians have consistently had. Over the past 25 years or so, however, as a new generation has appeared, there has been an increasing amount of revisionist criticism directed at him by critics who never heard him in person. According to Harvey Sachs, Mortimer Frank, and B.H. Haggin, this criticism is largely founded on false assumptions, generalizations, and erroneous reporting, partly due to the fact that some of the earlier Toscanini recordings were unavailable for so long. Frank, in his recent book Toscanini: The NBC Years, refutes this revisionism quite strongly [[1]], and cites such authors as Joseph Horowitz (author of Understanding Toscanini) as perhaps the worst offender in this case. Frank states that the revisionism has grown to the point that younger listeners and critics, who have not heard as many of Toscanini's performances as the older generation, are easily influenced by it, and as a result, Toscanini's reputation, extraordinarily high in the years that he was active, has suffered a decline. Conversely, Joseph Horowitz, in Understanding Toscanini, states 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.

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.

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


  1. Mosco Carner. Puccini. 1974; Howard Taubman. The Maestro: The Life of Arturo Toscanini. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951); quoted in Norman Lebrecht. The Book of Musical Anecdotes. (Time-Warner, 1989. ISBN 0722155387)
  2. Testament Classic Recordings web siteRetrieved May 25, 2008.
  3. TIME, March 2, 1970
  4. Eyewitness account by Robert E. Nylund


  • RCA Victor recordings/liner notes
  • Seraphim recordings/liner notes
  • Arturo Toscanini Society recordings
  • RCA home videos
  • (discography) Retrieved June 17, 2007.

Books and Articles

  • 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 performance photographs from the latter part of Toscanini's career).
  • Frank, Mortimer H. Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years. New York: Amadeus Press, 2002. (Contains devastating criticism of the writings of Joseph Horowitz and other revisionists. 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 in Reflections on Toscanini.).
  • Lebrecht, Norman. The Book of Musical Anecdotes. Time-Warner, 1989. ISBN 0722155387
  • Marek, George R. Toscanini. New York: Atheneum, 1975. ISBN 0689106556 (Contains some factual errors corrected by Sachs.)
  • Matthews, Denis. Arturo Toscanini.. New York: Hippocrene, 1982. ISBN 0882546570 (includes discography)
  • 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: Da Capo Press, 1978 (considered the standard biography). ISBN 030680137X
  • 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

All links retrieved August 16, 2023.

Preceded by:
Music Director, La Scala, Milan
Succeeded by:
Tullio Serafin
Preceded by:
Tullio Serafin
Music Director, La Scala, Milan
Succeeded by:
Victor de Sabata
Preceded by:
Willem Mengelberg
Musical Director, New York Philharmonic
Succeeded by:
John Barbirolli


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.