1867 – 1957
Italian born Arturo Toscanini became a household name and one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th centuries and is arguably the most influencial conductor of the 20th Century. Musically he was noted for being a perfectionist with an ear for orchestral detail and aided by a photographic memory.
Early in his career Toscanini championed the work of his fiend Catalani -he even named his first daughter Wally after the heroine of Catalani's opera La Wally. Gradually the young musician's reputation as an operatic conductor of unusual authority and skill supplanted his initial "cello" career.
In the first decade of his conducting career he consolidated his career in Italy and secured a place in operatic history by conducting the world premieres of Puccini's La Bohème and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci...but much more was to follow.
He conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1908–1915) and toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic in 1930. He was acclaimed everywhere by the critics and audiences alike.
He was the first non-German conductor to appear at Bayreuth in 1930 and in the 1930s he conducted at the Salzburg Festival and at the inaugural concert in 1936 of what was to later become "The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra".
Aside from his enduring friendship with composer Catalani, Arturo Toscanini worked with such legendary artists as Enrico Caruso, Feodor Chaliapin, Ezio Pinza, Jussi Bjoerling, and Geraldine Farrar.
He also worked with Wagnerian heldentenor Lauritz Melchior, but declined to work with Melchior's frequent partner Kirsten Flagstad after her political sympathies became suspect during World War II. He therefore chose Helen Traubel to sing with Melchior instead of Flagstad at the Toscanini concerts.
After fleeing Italy, he returned to the United States where the NBC Symphony Orchestra was created for him in 1937
The studio he used was remodelled for television in 1950 and today it is the set where "Saturday Night Live" is taped.
Hundreds of hours of Toscanini's rehersals with the NBC orchestra were preserved and remain in the Toscanini Archive in New York, to this day.
Sometimes accused of neglecting American music, he nonetheless conducted and recorded such American masterworks as "An American In Paris" and Copelands, "El Salon Mexico" as well as works by Sammuel Barber.
On radio, he conducted seven complete operas, that were later released on records and CD's. They included La Bohème, La Traviata and Otello.
After his retirement many conductors, singers and musicians were constant visitors frequently interrupting the comedy, boxing and wrestling broadcasts on television which he loved.
He died of a stroke in New York in 1957 and his body was returned to Italy to be interred in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. The epitaph on his grave is taken from the account of his remarks concluding the 1926 premiere of Puccini's unfinished opera, "Turandot" - "Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died."
What is not reported is that after Toscanini said that, he actually picked up the baton and went on to finish the peformance using the Alfano ending...an ending he did not particularly like.
At his funeral service, Turkish soprano, Leyla Gencer sang an aria from Verdi's Requiem and his baton was left to his protégée Herva Nelli, who had sung the title roles in his performances of Aida and Otello.
Toscanini was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
Aside from his many great achievments, it should also not be forgotten that it was he who pushed through reforms in the performance of opera. He insisted on dimming the house-lights during performances to ensure that a performance "could not be artistically successful unless unity of intention was first established among all the components: singers, orchestra, chorus, staging, sets, and costumes."
He also favoured the traditional orchestral seating plan with the first violins and cellos on the left, the violas on the near right, and the second violins on the far right.