Special Collections

The James B. Meriwether 
Arturo Toscanini Collection

Table of Contents

Special Collections
-Front Page
-Descriptive Summary
-Administrative Information
-Scope and Content
-Series Description
-Container List




Toscanini, Arturo, Italian conductor; b. Parma, March 25, 1867; d. N. Y., Jan. 16, 1957. He entered the Parma Conservatory at the age of 9, studying the cello with Carini and composition with Cacci; graduated in 1885 as winner of the 1st prize for cello; received the Barbacini Prize as the outstanding graduate of his class. In 1886 he was engaged as cellist for the Italian opera in Rio de Janeiro. 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 conducting the Municipal Orchestra. Although still very young, he quickly established a fine reputation. From 1887 to 1896 he conducted opera in the major Italian theaters. From 1921-1929 he was artistic director of La Scala. In 1926-1927 he was a guest conductor of the N.Y. Philharmonic, returning in this capacity through the 1928-29 season; he was then its associate 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. Toscanini became music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937, a radio orchestra 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 Symphony Orchestra until the end of his active career, conducting his last concert in Carnegie Hall, N.Y., on April 4, 1954 (10 days after his 87th birthday), and then sent a doleful letter of resignation to NBC, explaining the impossibility of further appearances. He died a few weeks before his 90th birthday.

Toscanini was one of the most celebrated masters of the baton in the history of conducting; undemonstrative in his handling of the orchestra, 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 orchestra. 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 symphonies, 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.

(Excerpted from Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edition. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York: Schirmer, 1991)

Images courtesy of Classical Works


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