Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) was considered by many of his contemporaries — critics, fellow musicians, and the public alike — as the greatest conductor of his era. He was renown for his brilliant intensity, his restless perfectionism, his phenomenal ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory which allowed him to correct errors in orchestral parts unnoticed for decades by his colleagues.
Toscanini was born in Parma, 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 to South America. While presenting Aida in Rio de Janeiro in 1886, the conductor was booed by the audience and forced to leave the podium. Toscanini successfully took up the baton at the suggestion of other players, and thus began his career as a conductor at age 19.
Toscanini became resident conductor at La Scala, Milan, in 1898, remaining there until 1908 and returning during the 1920s. He also had spells at the Metropolitan Opera, New York (1908 – 1915) and Bayreuth (1930 – 1931) as well as with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1926 – 1936) and at the Salzburg Festival (1934 – 1937). Strongly opposed to Italian and German fascism, he left Europe for the United States, where in 1937 the NBC Symphony Orchestra was founded for him, and with which he performed regularly until 1954 on national radio, thus becoming the first conducting superstar of modern mass media. He continued to conduct live radio performances until his retirement at 87.
Toscanini was famous for his performances of Beethoven and Verdi. 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.
By most accounts, his greatest recordings are the following:
- Beethoven Symphony no. 3 (1953, NBC Symphony; although some prefer the 1939 NBC performance))
- Beethoven Symphony no. 7 (1936, Philharmonic-Symphony of New York)
- Beethoven Symphony no. 9 (1952, NBC Symphony)
- Berlioz Romeo and Juliette (1947, NBC Symphony)
- Brahms Symphony no. 1 (1951, NBC Symphony)
- Brahms Symphony no. 2 (1952, NBC Symphony)
- Brahms Symphony no. 4 (1951, NBC Symphony)
- Debussy La Mer (1950, NBC Symphony)
- Dvorak Symphony no. 9 (1953, NBC Symphony)
- Puccini La Boheme (1946, NBC Symphony)
- Mozart Magic Flute (1937, Salzburg Festival; poor sound)
- Schubert Symphony no. 9 (1953, NBC Symphony; although some prefer the 1941 Philadelphia Orchestra performance))
- Verdi Requiem (1940, NBC Symphony; the sound is much better in the 1953 NBC performance, but although the 1953 performance is great, it is simply not as great as the 1940 performance)
- Verdi Falstaff (1937, Salzburg Festival; the sound of the 1950 NBC performance is much better, and the performance only not quite as great)
- Verdi Otello (1947, NBC Symphony; considered by many to be the most perfect opera recording ever made)
- Wagner Die Meistersinger (1937, Salzburg Festival; poor sound)
- BH Haggin, Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro (Da Capo Press, 1989), a reprint of Conversations with Toscanini and The Toscanini Musicians Knew
- Harvey Sachs, Toscanini (Da Capo Press, 1978), the best biography by far; Reflections on Toscanini (Prima Publishing, 1993); ed. The Letters of Arturo Toscanini (Knopf, 2003)
- Samuel Antek, musician, and Robert Hupka, photographer, This Was Toscanini (Vanguard Press, 1963, o.p.)
- Mortimer H. Frank, Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years (Amadeus Press, 2002)