Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor. Considered one of the greatest conductors of every age for the homogeneity and brilliant intensity of the sound, the phenomenal attention to detail, the tireless perfectionism and the prodigious visual memory, is considered in particular one of the most authoritative interpreters of Verdi, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner.
He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, gaining international fame thanks to radio and television broadcasts and numerous recordings as music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
Born from Claudio Toscanini and Paola Montani, he won a scholarship at the Parma Conservatory, where he studied cello and composition from the age of nine, graduating in 1885 with distinction. In 1880 he became cellist of the Teatro Regio.
In 1886 he joined as cellist and second choir master at an operatic company with which he toured South America. In Brazil the director Leopoldo Miguez left the orchestra and told the newspapers that his decision had been caused by the behavior of the Italian orchestras. His substitute, Carlo Superti, was to direct Aida in Rio de Janeiro, but was heavily contested by the public, failing even to give the attack to the orchestra. Toscanini, incited by some instrumental colleagues, took the baton, closed the score and began to direct the work by heart. He achieved a great success, thus beginning his career as a director at only 19 years, continuing to direct the tour and getting back to Italy the writing at the Teatro Carignano of Turin for the Edmea of Catalani.
Before embarking on his career as a conductor, between 1884 and 1888, Toscanini dedicated himself to the composition of some lyrics for voice and piano. They are remembered: Spes last goddess, Son jealous, Flower of hedge, Desolation, Neurosis, Song of Mignon, Autumn, V'amo, Berceuse for piano.
In 1895, in the name of Wagner, the debut took place at the Teatro Regio in Turin, with which he collaborated until 1898 and of which, on 26 December 1905, he inaugurated the new room with Sigfrido.
In June 1898 he began to collaborate with the Teatro alla Scala (until 1903 and 1906/1907), with the duke Guido Visconti di Modrone as permanent conductor, the composer Arrigo Boito as vice-director and Giulio Gatti Casazza as administrator. At La Scala he worked to reform the way of representing the work, obtaining in 1901 what at the time was the most modern stage lighting system and in 1907 the pit for the orchestra. He also insisted on lowering the lights during the performance, prohibited entry to the latecomers and removed the encores. As his biographer Harvey Sachs wrote: "he believed that a representation could not be artistically successful until a unity of purpose was established among all the components: singers, orchestra, choir, staging, setting and costumes". On February 26, 1901, on the occasion of the transfer of the bodies of Verdi and Giuseppina Strepponi, directed 120 instrumentalists and about 900 entries in the Va pensiero, which had not appeared at La Scala for twenty years.
In 1908 he resigned from La Scala and from 7 February he was invited to direct at the Metropolitan theater in New York, being very challenged for his decision to leave Italy. During this experience Toscanini will begin to consider the United States as his second home.
Back in 1915, at the entrance to Italy at war, he performed exclusively in charity concerts and in 1916, to cheer the spirits of the fighters, he directed a band on the Monte Santo just conquered during the battle of the Isonzo; for this act he was decorated with a silver medal for civil valor. Immediately after the end of the war, within a few years he undertook the reorganization of the Scala orchestra (with which he had returned to collaborate), which he transformed into an autonomous entity.
Again in a patriotic spirit, in 1920 he went to Fiume to conduct a concert and meet his friend Gabriele d'Annunzio, who with his legionnaires had occupied the city disputed by the Slavs and the Italian government.
He also directed the New York Philharmonic (1928-1936) and was present in Bayreuth (1930-1931, where he was the first non-German director and where he performed for free, considering it a great honor) and at the Salzburg Festival (1934-1937).
Of socialist ideas, after an initial sharing of the fascist program, he was a strong opponent of fascism and Nazism. In fact, in November 1919 he was a candidate for the political elections in the college of Milan in the list of combat groups (with Mussolini and Marinetti, but was not elected) , moving away because of the progressive slipping to the right of Mussolini and passed anti-fascism already before the march on Rome. It became a critical and out of tune voice in the culture approved to the regime, succeeding, thanks to the enormous international prestige, to keep the Scala orchestra substantially autonomous in the period 1921-1929. In this regard he refused to direct the first of Turandot, of his friend Giacomo Puccini, if Mussolini had been present in the hall.
On May 14, 1931, at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, where he was to conduct a concert in memory of Giuseppe Martucci, he refused to perform Giovinezza and the Royal March in the presence of Costanzo Ciano and Leandro Arpinati and was therefore attacked and slapped by the "black shirt" Guglielmo Montani near a side entrance to the theater, then being pushed to the ground. For these attitudes of open hostility to the regime he suffered a hostile press campaign on an artistic and personal level, while the authorities arranged measures such as the espionage of phone calls and correspondence and the withdrawal of the passport, which endangered his career and life itself. . The attack suffered was the basis of the renunciation of conducting orchestras in Italy until fascism and the monarchy had been in power.
In 1933 he also broke off relations with Nazi Germany, contesting and rejecting an invitation by Hitler and abandoning the Wagner festival in Bayreuth. In 1938, after Germany's annexation of Austria, he also abandoned the Salzburg festival, despite being warmly invited to stay. In the same year he inaugurated the festival of Lucerne (for the occasion many, especially anti-fascists, went from Italy to follow his concerts) and the following year, also following the increasingly rampant racial persecution, he left Europe for the United States.
In the United States, Georgetown University awarded him an honorary degree and was created specifically for him the NBC Symphony Orchestra, formed by the most virtuous American musicians, who regularly conducted from 1937 to 1954 on national radio and television, becoming the first director to rise to the role of a star of the mass media.
He continued from the United States to use music to fight against fascism. His ideas took him to Palestine, where in 1936 he was called to Tel Aviv for the inaugural concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra), destined to welcome and give work to Jewish musicians fleeing Nazism, and who he would direct for free. Meanwhile, the Italian government had also adopted an anti-Semitic policy with the promulgation of the racial laws of 1938, in line with those of the German allies. Toscanini sent Mussolini furious when he called them "medieval stuff", repeating several times: "damn are the Rome-Berlin axis and the pestilential Mussolini atmosphere". He also worked to seek home and work for the persecuted Jews and the politicians who had escaped from Hitler's regime.
During the Second World War he directed exclusively charity concerts in favor of the US military and the Red Cross, managing to collect large sums of money. He also worked on the making of a propaganda film in which he directed two compositions by Giuseppe Verdi with a symbolic value: the overture of the Forza del destino and the Hymn of Nations, modified by varying the anti-Fascist hymn of Garibaldi's inserting the US national anthem and the International. In 1943 the Teatro alla Scala, on whose external walls featured writings such as "long life at Toscanini" and "returns Toscanini", was partially destroyed during a violent bombardment by the allies. The reconstruction took place quickly, thanks also to the huge donations paid by the master.
In 1946 Toscanini returned to Italy to vote in favor of the Republic and to direct the historic re-opening concert of La Scala, remembered as the liberation concert, dedicated largely to Italian opera. That evening of May 11th the theater was filled up to the impossible; the program saw the overture of La gazza ladra, the chorus of the Meena, the Pas de six and the March of the Soldiers from William Tell, the prayer from the Moses in Egypt, the overture and the choir of the Jews from Nabucco, the ouverture de The Sicilian vespers, Verdi's Te Deum, the intermezzo and excerpts from Act III by Manon Lescaut, the prologue and some arias from the Mephistopheles. On that occasion he debuted at the Scala Renata Tebaldi, defined by Toscanini "angel voice".
He also directed in the highest Italian theater the commemorative concert by Arrigo Boito, including the Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, in 1948, Verdi's requiem Mass in 1950 and, for the last time, a concert dedicated to Wagner in September 1952.
On December 5, 1949 he was appointed senator for life for high artistic merit, but decided to give up the post the next day. He sent, from New York, a telegram to renounce the then President of the Republic, Luigi Einaudi:
"He is an old Italian artist, very disturbed by his unexpected telegram that turns to you and begs you to understand how this announced nomination to life senator is in deep contrast with his feelings and how he is compelled with great regret to reject this honor. . Devoid of any hoarding of honors, academic titles and decorations, I would like to end my life in the same simplicity in which I have always traveled. Grateful and grateful for the gratitude expressed in the name of my country ready to serve him again whatever the event, please do not want to interpret my desire as an act rude or arrogant, but in the spirit of simplicity and modesty that inspires ... welcome my deferential greeting and respectful tribute »
He retired at 87 years after an extraordinary career lasting 67; his last concert, entirely dedicated to Wagner, always beloved composer, was with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on April 4, 1954 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. Precisely on the occasion of that last concert, the master, also famous for his extraordinary memory, for the first time lost concentration and stopped beating time. There were 14 seconds of silence, after which he resumed the direction of the Tannhäuser piece. At the end of the concert he quickly reached the dressing room, while in the theater the applause seemed to stop.
He died at the age of 90 in his New York home in Riverdale and was buried at the Monumental Cemetery of Milan, in the family tomb previously built on the death of his son Giorgio by the sculptor Leonardo Bistolfi.