Born in Italy on March 25, 1867, Arturo Toscanini first established himself as a talented conductor when he was just 19. In a career that spanned decades, Toscanini worked with leading opera houses and symphonies across the globe, including La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. At the age of 89, Toscanini died in New York on January 16, 1957.
Musical Studies and Early Career
Arturo Toscanini was born on March 25, 1867, in Parma, Italy. His parents were Claudio and Paola Montani Toscanini. At the age of 9, Toscanini entered Parma's Royal School of Music. By the time he was 17, he was conducting his own compositions at the school. He graduated in 1885, receiving the highest honors in composition and cello.
After his graduation, Toscanini joined a traveling opera company as a cellist. However, one night in Brazil he filled in as conductor during a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. Toscanini, who had memorized the opera's score, performed brilliantly and greatly impressed the audience. Given his triumph, Toscanini continued to serve as conductor for the remainder of the season, thus establishing his talent and reputation at the young age of 19.
After returning to Italy, Toscanini made his Italian conducting debut in Turin in November 1886. He went on to wield his baton at many opera houses in his home country. Toscanini conducted the world premieres of Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (1892) and Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème (1896), as well as the Italian premiere of Richard Wagner's Die Götterdämmerung (1895).
In 1896, Toscanini conducted for the first time at Milan's La Scala (Italy's most renowned opera house). The music he led in this performance included a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Toscanini's success grew when he was chosen to serve as La Scala's principal conductor in 1898.
In 1908, Toscanini left La Scala to lead the New York Metropolitan Opera. There, he conducted another Puccini world premiere, La fanciulla del West, in 1910. Toscanini left the Metropolitan Opera in 1915. He returned to Italy during World War I, but only gave benefit performances until the conflict was over.
After the war, Toscanini brought a La Scala orchestra on tour in Europe, Canada and the United States. Toscanini also continued to lead American groups, first appearing as a conductor with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1926. He would work with the orchestra until 1936.
Toscanini was staunchly opposed to the growth of fascism in Europe. In Italy in 1931, he was attacked for refusing to play the fascist anthem. Toscanini had been the first non-German to conduct at the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, but he opted not to attend the festival in 1933 due to the Nazi regime. In 1936, Toscanini traveled to Palestine to conduct a group of Jewish musicians who had fled Europe.
David Sarnoff, the head of NBC, established the NBC Symphony Orchestra specifically for Toscanini in 1937. Toscanini would serve as the orchestra's musical director for 17 years, but still found time to work with other orchestras, both overseas and in the United States. With the NBC Symphony, Toscanini conducted his last live concert at Carnegie Hall on April 4, 1954. In his final years, Toscanini reviewed recordings that had not yet been released.
Toscanini married Carla De Martini in 1897. They had two sons, Walter and Giorgio (who died from diphtheria in 1906), and two daughters, Wally and Wanda. Wanda eventually married one of Toscanini's collaborators, pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Toscanini's wife died in 1951. On January 16, 1957, at the age of 89, Toscanini passed away at his home in the Riverdale section of New York City.
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