Arturo Toscanini was one of the great virtuoso conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries. Known for his photographic memory, perfectionism and intensity, he worked his orchestral detail at all of the leading opera and symphony houses worldwide, including the La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Orchestra for 17 years. He conducted his last live concert at Carnegie Hall on April 4, 1954. He wrote his own orchestral arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which was incorporated into NBC Symphony Orchestra performances. His repertoire registered 117 operas, 480 orchestral pieces by 228 composers.
Born in Parma, Italy on March 25, 1867, he died in New York on January 16, 1957. His body was returned to Milan and interred in the Cimitero Monumentale. His epitaph was taken from his remark concluding Puccini’s “Turandot.” “Qui finisce l’opera, perche’ a questo punto il maestro e’ morto” (Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro is dead).
Toscanini was totally opposed to fascism in Europe. In 1931, he was attacked for refusal to play the fascist anthem, prompting his emigration to the U.S. He opted not to conduct at a Wagner festival in Germany due to the Nazi regime. Toscanini refused to display Mussolini’s photograph at the La Scala and refused to play the anthem Giovinezza at the La Scala and raged, “If I were capable of killing a man, I would kill Mussolini.”
Toscanini conducted the world premieres of many operas including Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “La fanciulla del West” as well as Wagner’s “Die Gotterdammerung.”
He believed that a performance could not be artistically successful unless “unity of intention was first established among all the components: orchestra, singers, chorus, staging, sets, and costumes.” Dimming the houselights was a must during performances.
Toscanini was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.