Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Cesare Civetta: The Real Toscanini

You want this book

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) was the dominant figure in America's concert live form 1937 until his death twenty years later. David Sarnoff and RCA created the NBC Symphony for the Maestro. Concerts were broadcast weekly form Studio 8-H in New York, and these programs made Toscanini famous to all, after a fifty year career that began in the cello section of the word premiere of Verdi's Otello.

Toscanini led the world premieres of La boheme, Pagliacci and Turandot. He gave the Italian premiers of Wagner's Ring operas (with the extraordinary tenor Giuseppe Borgatti as Sigfrido). By 1937 he had served music directorships at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. He had given concerts with the BBC Orchestra and the London Philharmonic. The Maestro journeyed to Palestine, accepting no fee to lead the inaugural concerts of the Palestine Symphony (today the Israel Philharmonic)

He was an ardent anti-fascist who was beaten up by Mussolini's thugs in the early 1930s, for refusing to play the fascist hymn, Giovinezza. Toscanini conducted Tannhauser and Tristan und Isolde at Bayreuth, refusing to return after 1933."I cannot go against my conscience as an artist and as a man."
He had love affairs with celebrated divas, children out of wedlock and a long marriage to Carla Di Martini.

Cesare Civetta is himself a noted young conductor. In 1976, when Civetta was very young indeed, he produced a radio series for WFUVin New York. Understanding Toscanini featured interviews with musicians, critics, writers and members of the NBC Symphony. From them and from Maestro Civetta we have the present volume, The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro.

Toscanini was known for his volcanic temper, and this is acknowledged in context. He was often enraged at himself, when he felt that his own powers were not up to the music at hand. Themes emerge as to the Maestro's demands on himself and others, but also on his humility, kindness and phenomenal memory. He could be paternal and he could be severe.   Today one of the few criticisms is the fast tempi Toscanini was thought to favor

"For me it was never too driving. It was never too fast for me. It was always under control, no matter what tempo. He knew exactly what he was doing".--George Koutzen, cellist NBC Symphony

"Toscanini sought expressive quality through dynamics or texture, not through tempo, which was the constant"
--Robert Shaw

Cesare Civetta
Cesare Civetta has produced a book by a musician with musicians about the supreme musician. The best books on music lead you back to the music itself, and The Real Toscanini is no exception. I read this twice in one sitting-and will read it again. It's a rich book. informative and entertaining. And every so often I put it down to listen to the Maestro in concert. I returned to the music,. as I'm sure Toscanini would have wished.

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