Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Arturo Toscanini

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Arturo Toscanini

Today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post takes a different tack than usual.  Rather than prescribing/recommending a particular CD (or DVD, or book), today’s post will feature a series of links to various video performances of Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony, interviews with people who knew him, and audio recordings of a very few of his legendary temper tantrums! Instant Fame The story of Toscanini’s rise to almost instant fame is the stuff of legend. At the age of eighteen, he was living at home and contributing to his family’s finances by working as a freelance cellist.  He looked younger than his years, so he grew a mustache in an attempt to look older. During the 1885-’86 opera season, Toscanini played cello at the Teatro Regio in Parma (where, for our information, he had begun performing as a cellist cello at the tender age of thirteen). Over his time in the pit, Toscanini had memorized all of his parts, which allowed him to watch the action on stage without ever having to look at the music on his stand. He later remembered: “I never had to turn a page.” Toscanini’s prodigious memory annoyed the conductor of the Teatro Regio – Nicola […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: The Towering Inferno

We mark the birth on March 25, 1867 – 157 years ago today – of the cellist and conductor Arturo Toscanini, in the city of Parma, in what was then the Kingdom of Italy.  He died, at the age of 89, on January 16, 1957, at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, in New York City. (Properly embalmed and, we trust, adequately chilled, his no-doubt well-dressed corpse was shipped off to Milan, Italy, where he was entombed in the Cimitero Monumentale.  His epitaph features his own words, words he spoke in 1926 after conducting the posthumous premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, which had been left unfinished at Puccini’s death: “Qui finisce l’opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto.” (“Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died.”) What Made Toscanini So Special Arturo Toscanini lived a long life, and he lived it to the hilt.  Firmly in the public eye from the age of 19 (in 1886) until his death in 1957, he travelled everywhere, seemed to have performed with everyone, and had more affairs than Hugh Heffner had bunnies.  This is my subtle way of saying that even the most cursory […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Four Birthdays and a Painful Death

Some birthday greetings to four wonderful musicians before diving into the rather more grim principal subject of today’s post. Four Birthdays A buon compleanno (“happy birthday” in Italian) to the legendary Italian conductor (and cellist) Arturo Toscanini, who was born on March 25, 1867 – 152 years ago today – in the north-central Italian city of Parma (the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or “parmesan” cheese and the simply exquisite cured ham known as Prosciutto di Parma). Toscanini was as famous for his incendiary temper as he was for his streamlined, rhythmically propulsive, honor-the-composer’s-score-at-all-costs performances. Decorum and good taste precludes me from sharing many of the nicknames he was awarded by his performers; one such nickname I can share is “The Towering Inferno.” A boldog születésnapot (“happy birthday” in Hungarian) to the killer-great Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók, who was born on March 25, 1881 – 138 years ago today – in what was then the town of Nagyszentmiklós, in the Kingdom of Hungary in Austria-Hungary. (It was a source of ever-lasting pain for the adult Bartók that the town and district in which he grew up was ceded to Romania in 1920 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up by the […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Leo Smit

Today we remember and honor the Dutch composer Leo Smit, who was born on May 14, 1900 – 118 years ago today – in Amsterdam. As regular readers of this blog are aware, while I opine (and even bloviate) with fair regularity, I rarely get personal in my posts: Music History Monday is about events and people in music history, and is not intended as a platform for my own life and issues. But today is a bit of an exception, for which I will be forgiven. The degree to which musicians identify with their primary instruments is primal; it’s something that non-musicians have probably never really thought about. A professional musician has, in all likelihood, been playing her instrument since her age was in single digits. Over time that instrument becomes a best friend (and sometimes a worst enemy). A musician shares her life with her instrument; grows up and meets puberty and adulthood with her instrument; and in the end perceives her world through her instrument. If you’re a pianist, for example, you perceive the world through the sound, physiognomy, and repertoire of the piano; it’s inevitable, given the ten-of-thousands of hours a professional has spent camped out […]

Continue Reading