By: José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Published in Euroworld Newspaper.

Born in Parma (Italy) in 1867, the incomparable Arturo Toscanini is considered one of the Most influential orchestra conductors of all time, along with a very select of geniuses of the baton, highlighting among them Herbert von Karajan, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Fürtwangler, Otto Klemperer, Sergiu Celibidache, Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Georg Szell, etc.
Having displayed a prodigious memory since his most early childhood, being only 11 years old
He entered the parma conservatory, where in 1885 he graduated with High Honours in everything, putting more than a professor on the spot. And being only 18 years old and after subsequent studies in Paris, he became a great cellist.
In 1886, he was contracted as a main cellist and attached choir master in an opera company created to perform in Brazil. Here his great chance came, when the acting orchestra director fell ill and the astounding nineteen years old Arturo Toscanini volunteered to conduct nothing less than the performance of Verdi´s Aida, scheduled for that day and according to his own words, ´ to avoid the audience anger if the function was adjourned ´!. He brought about a devastating impact, making a masterly conduction, by heart and without a score!. Both the musicians and the attendant audience couldn´t believe what they were watching and the piece of news ran like the wind all over the world in a matter of hours, in view of the epopee magnitude, which will go on with Arturo Toscanini being unanimously appointed orchestra director of the quoted opera company, conducting by heart the remaining 19 performances of 11 operas, making his Italian debut a few months later.
In 1985, he was elected regular conductor of the new Turin Orchestra, opening the season with the first performance of Wagner´s Gotterdämmerung ( The Twilight of the Gods) by an Italian company.
A few months later, it was Toscanini who made the world premiere of Puccini´s La Bohème, and appointed Regular Conductor of the Scala de Milán in 1899, being only 31 years old.
In 1908, he was invited by the very Gustav Mahler to direct the New York Metropolitan Opera House.
And it was in 1920 when Arturo Toscanini carried out a triumphant 16 week tour all over the United States and Canada, with the recently made up Orchestra of La Scala Theatre, making his first gramophone recordings.
In 1926, he was appointed Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, office that he held until 1936.
During his immediately subsequent years, Toscanini travelled between New York and Europe, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and very specially at the Salzburg and Bayreuth Festivals, where he coincided frequently with Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter.
His prestige, hegemony and influence was such that in 1937, the New York NBC (National Broadcasting Corporation) built for him a symphonic orchestra made to his measure, the mythic NBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he worked till 1954, when he retired being 87 years old.
Toscanini introduced an unparalleled intensity and concentration within the orchestra conducting domain, and imposed an orchestral reading unknown until then, with attention to every performance detail: the intonation, the balance, the phrasing, the articulation, etc. In some respects, he demanded an absolute fidelity to the original score.
There have survived a lot of very beautiful recordings, usually made live in concerts and modernly transferred to compact disc by means of up-to-date technologies. There are also on sale some sublime videos by BMG firm featuring the lived televised concerts between 1948 and 1952, conducted by ´ Il Maestro Furioso´ with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with an already octogenarian but still gifts plethoric Maestro.
Toscanini thought that his task as a conductor in the live performances was to help the orchestra to project the music, mainly just as they had prepared it in the rehearsals. It´s true that Toscanini´s gestures and reactions could be wild enough and full of explosivity and fury in the rehearsals, but they were utterly controlled during the live concerts, while traditionally, a lot of directors relax to a certain degree during the rehearsals and display choreographic mise-en-scènes Performances.
Arturo Toscanini was also known as the ´Maestro Furioso´. With moments of sublime quietness coexisted instants in which it seemed that he was going to explode in anger, but this never happened live.
And the intensity and mythical character of his live concerts (the most impressive ones in history together with those conducted by Herbert von Karajan with Berliner Philharmoniker, Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sergiu Celibidache with the Stuttgart Radio and Munich Orchestras) are even greater on realizing the permanent enormous self-control endeavour he develops on the podium.
The unutterable orchestra conducting method of Toscanini has its roots on applying elegant solutions to difficult technical problems. So, he gave hints to orders previous to the chords (either to individual soloists or to complete orchestral sections) by means of a gaze or a little gesture from his left hand index finger, often before the difficult beginnings.
He generally moved his right arm and the baton with wide and clear trajectories, helping, motivating and impelling the musicians to achieve exactly the music he wanted.
Also very frequent were his eyebrows elevations as a previous warning signal immediately before a chord.
Toscanini was a sensational orchestra conductor, with huge physical power, stamina, concentration ability and ardour on stage.
There are a lot of DVDs in which one can realize how Toscanini only uses his right arm and the baton, with his left hand relaxed, while he´s conducting the orchestra.
His musicians obeyed him to the death, existing an outstanding chemistry and interpenetration with them.
Toscanini was a consummate romantic melomaniac, for whom music had a social and spiritual meaning. The making of music was for him a holy mission and the sounds produced by the orchestras he conducted had its most vivid reflection on the huge energy, expressivity and gravity of his countenance, on his monumental presence irradiating sumptuousness, indefatigable labour and thoroughness and on the musical intentionality and refrained seismic personality on the podium always without a score!.

The perfectionist conception of the music that Toscanini desired to achieve was so superlative that it sometimes scratched the impossible line and very harsh and violent rehearsals took place, with frequent tensions between the Legendary Maestro and his musicians.
The illustrious Herbert von Karajan, one of his greatest historical admirers (who saw him directing a lot of times both in rehearsals and live), got to comment in his memoirs that from his standpoint, Toscanini had a sound ideal of Debussy´s La Mer practically unattainable because of its extreme difficulty.
Toscanini was very many-sided and versatile, highlighting in Dvorak´s Ninth Symphony of the New World, Verdi´s Aida, Beethoven´s Symphonies, Ottorino Respighi´s Pines of Rome, I Pagliacci, Verdi´s Nabucco and Wagner´s The Ride of the Valkyries, Tannhäuser, Siegfried´s Funeral March, etc.
Finally, we must mention perhaps the most impressive moment in the musical career of this myth. It happened during the televised live concert on March 22nd 1952 at Carnegie Hall, in which Arturo Toscanini conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with Beethoven´s Fifth Symphony as stellar programme. Approaching the end of the last movement (Finalle: Allegro/Presto), the Maestro is sweating blood due to the harsh lighting and the tremendously strenuous effort made (85 years old at that moment). His face acquires a convulsive grin of agonic fight. The sweat flowing in a gush, floods completely his eyebrows and eyes, but with great professionalism and an all-out endeavour, in the middle of maximum stress and risk, for he is live in front of the audience, he completely shuts his eyes and goes on conducting through instinct!. He can´t see at all, but he has mentally calculated, on the double and in advance, that although through a very narrow margin, he can endure up to the last second of the symphony and he is having blindly the complete orchestra control, only with the baton and all of his face transformed into a sweat pool when the performance end arrives. It is a colossal epilogue. The audience have become aware of this agonic effort by the 85 year old Maestro and burst into applause while Arturo Toscanini, myth of myths, exhausted, wipes his face dry with a handkerchief, pants and is almost unable to breathe, though he rapidly goes to greet his musicians.
This was his last televised concert and the golden clasp to the career of this universal monster of orchestral conduction.

© Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza