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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Arturo Toscanini on YouTube

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As Glenn Gould put it in a documentary I posted in these pages not so long ago, there were two conductors that dominated the North-American airwaves in the first half of the twentieth century: Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini.

No doubt, Toscanini was a legendary figure in opera and orchestral concerts, both in Europe and in America. His American career began in the early 1900’s, when he arrived in New-York and (depending on who you believe) either replaced or displaced Gustav Mahler as artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera. However, he is best remembered in the conciousness of the Baby Boom generation as the conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra from the late 1930’s until he retired from conducting in 1954.

NBC was, at the time, the flagship private radio network owned and operated by RCA and its equally legendary CEO David Sarnoff. Thus, Toscanini’s tenure with the NBC Symphony meant unprecedented access to the airwaves as well as an opportunity to distribute the performances commercially on the RCA Victor record label. Toscanini’s performances, especially those from the post-WWII years, were captured as state-of-the-art MONO and even early STEREO.

As well, it should be noted that Mr. Toscanini on the NBC television network and Eugene Ormandy with his Philadelphia Orchestra foir the rival CBS television network both have the distinction of having made the first concert television broadcasts in North Americs and, as I recall reading once, on the same day.

For today’s PTB, I thought I would share some YouTube clips of some of the radio/studio performances by Toscanini and the NBC, as well as film/television footage and, to begin, a curious yet interesting set of clips re-enacting some personal moments involving the great maestro.

Toscanini in his own words is a 2009 British television programme that re-enacted casual evenings at Toscanini’s home, surrounded nby family and friends (close to home, one of these frineds depicted in the series is Montreal’s own Wilfrid Pelletier, longtime resident conductor at the Met). Toscanini would regale his visitors with anecdotes about his career and his personal life. The topics range from his feelings about the NBC Symphony, meeting Verdi and his opinions of composers and conductors, including some not-so-flattering comments on the aforementioned Stokowski. Here is a YouTube playlist containing many of these anecdotes which find their inception from tape recordings made and collated by Todcanini;’s son, Walter.

As the below playlist and details will show, I have retained a fair number of selections by Toscanini and his NBC orchestra. From radio and/or studio, selections by Aaron Copland, Beethoven’s second symphony (complete performance as part of the YouTube Beethoven project) and some of Toscanini’s farewell concert from April 4, 1954.

From film and television, selections from his 1949 television concert staging of Verdi’s Aida (some of which was part of I Love a Parade a couple of weeks ago), and another staple of his television concerts from Studio 8-H, Wagner’s Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.

Finally, two selections (and a short documentary) from a film that Toscanini participated in called Hymn of the Nations, featuring two works by Verdi: his mesmerizing overture from La Forza del Destino (unfortunately, the clip I found includes a short voice-over by Sir Yehudi Menuhin, but the performance still shines as my very favourite rendition of Forza’s overture) and Hymn of the Nations, a rarely heard non-operatic Verdi work.

The latter performance is rather controversial: for the initial broadcast (and film) performance, Toscanini added additional material based on the anthems of the WWII “coalition of convenience”: Britain, US and the Soviet Union. US censors later removed the Soviet section (measures from The Internationale) which were restored to the fim for the YouTube clip I selected.

In most of the clips I chose, Toscanini’s uncompromising vision oozes throughout. Toscanini comes from an old generation of “despotic” conductors – I find the word despotic to be very harsh although the stories of Toscanini’s heavy hand are manifold; however, there is no disputing the result. And the digital restoration in many of these clips gives these older recordings new life and vigor.

Happly Listening!

(All selections feature Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Additional credits are provided where applicable)

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin, WWV 75

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Overture to Der Freischütz, Op.77

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Selected Hungarian Dances, WoO 1

Dances no. 1, 2, 4, 17, 20 and 21

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Third movement (Scherzo: Allegro) from Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 36

[Complete Performance]

Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
El Salón México (1933-36)

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Overture to La forza del destino (1862)

"Celeste Aida" from Act I of Aida (1871)
Richard Tucker, tenor
[More selections from the March 26, 1949 telecast]

Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of the Nations) (1862)
Jan Peerce, tenor and the Westminster Choir

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Overture to Tannhäuser, WWV 70

Your Playlist:

May 18th, 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "The Crown" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentaries May 18th on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated May-15-2012 at 10:32 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Conductors , Recorded Music