Thursday, October 14, 2010

Toscanini - The Two Faces of Tyranny

"I HATE conducting - I suffer so much."
"I do NOT want to hear the note - I want to hear the SPIRIT of the note!"
This was Toscanini.
At a rehearsal with the great singer Farrar, after several bouts with her (and she was a true Prima Donna), Farrar finally said to Toscanini, "after all, Maestro, I am a star, too - " Toscanini, while pointing to himself said "when the sun shines, the stars do not."
After another argument during a rehearsal with, I believe, another fabled singer, Galli-Curci, Toscanini stopped the entire proceeding, looking directly at her chest and bellowed, " if THOSE were the seat of your brains, we would have no trouble!"
This was Toscanini.
When it was announced that Toscanini would be become Director of the New York Philharmonic, the watchword among the performers in the orchestra was "watch out - Toscanini is coming."
After his stint with the Philharmonic, many performers talked freely about their experiences with the conductor. One said "in both rehearsal and performance, his eyes were hot, burning coals and that stick was something alive."
Another stated that "Toscanini on the podium was indeed the Sermon on the Mount."
This was Toscanini.
During his final days, he once said, very sadly and with despondence, after his being addressed as "maestro" by someone in the room, "please do not call me 'maestro' any more - I am no longer 'maestro'."
His one-of-a kind commitment to what he always referred to as the "wishes of the composer" drove him and those who performed under him to levels many said they could not have achieved in any other situation.
He was a vicious foe of the tyranny called Fascism in his beloved Italy, let alone his renowned hate of Hitlerism in Germany, and was once set upon by a group of thugs in, I believe, New York. Upon hearing of this incident, the Italian dictator expressed public pleasure of this incident, whereupon Toscanini said that he would not return to his adored Italy until Mussolini was gone.
This was Toscanini.
Imagine -before he was twenty, he was playing 'cello publicly.
He was a wonderful pianist, and I have video of his playing some Wagner at the piano brilliantly.
His memory was beyond description - it was said that as many as some 600 compositions were stored in his brain.
Germany, in early 20th century, hailed him as the greatest conductor of Wagner.
Italy, in early 20th century, hailed him as the greatest conductor of Italian opera, especially Verdi.
His coalescing of the NBC Symphony Orchestra created a reaction that amounted by many "in the know" as having created the greatest orchestra ever, and, interestingly, many in this day feel the same way.
Toward the end, his love for and admiration of the young conductor Cantelli made them almost a father-son relationship, perhaps even stronger than the relationship he had with his son-in-law Vladimir Horowitz. Toscanini was never told about the tragic plane crash that took Cantelli away from us.
The Maestro loathed tyranny to his inner core - he raised millions of dollars for the war effort against European Fascism; and yet, he was, in truth, a kind of tyrant who struck fear into so many who played under him - most of the same musicians understood this form of "tyranny," and loved him, for the most part, as much as they feared him.
The images we can see of Toscanini on a TV screen, after a half century since his existence, continue to exude a kind of implacable energy and drive that, for me, never fails to assail me in a manner I experience in no other performance in video form. In some arcane way, Toscanini invades my senses with a kind of power that slams into me from across the room - I can only imagine what it must have been like to be in the same room with this man.
This was Toscanini...



Blogger Steve said...

Dear Sir/Madam,

If I may ask, is the footage you speak of actual video of Toscanini, or a recording? Either way, please send me more information and perhaps possibly obtaining a copy of it. Send me an email at:

December 28, 2010 at 8:56 PM  

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