Toscanini! Even today, thirty-five years after his death, Toscanini remains the supreme legend in classical music. Nearly every musician who ever played with him considered the experience to have been the pinnacle of his career. The greatest composers of the time implored him to conduct premieres of their works. Seasoned critics ran out of superlatives describing the power of his performances. Even his rivals acknowledged that he had no peer. He was called, quite simply, the Maestro, as if there was no other. His influence still shapes our modern perception of classical music. And yet, the modern listener is perplexed: Toscanini’s records often fail to affirm his reputation.
What was the key to Toscanini’s magic? Most of the simple generalizations which have been offered are unconvincing.
If there is indeed an explanation for Toscanini’s fame it lies in his attitude. Toscanini was a fanatic. He approached music as religion and performance as a sacred rite. His concentration during rehearsals and performances was unbearably intense and the kinescopes of his televised concerts remain mesmerizing. He had a savage temper and flew out of control at the slightest provocation. He demanded precise playing and was plunged into despair over a single lapse. He insisted that any musician, no matter how famous, who did not share his attitude be fired. He would sooner quit (and often did) than tolerate the slightest lapse in standards.
From “Toscanini, The Recorded Legend
” by Peter Gutman, (c) 2002 Peter Gutmann, on ClassicalNotes.com