The Letters of Arturo Toscanini

The Letters of Arturo Toscanini

by Arturo Toscanini

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Fifty years after his death, Arturo Toscanini is still considered one of the greatest conductors in history, and probably the most influential. His letters, expertly collected, translated, and edited here by Harvey Sachs, will give readers a new depth of insight into his life and work. As Sachs puts it, they “reveal above all else a man whose psychological

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Fifty years after his death, Arturo Toscanini is still considered one of the greatest conductors in history, and probably the most influential. His letters, expertly collected, translated, and edited here by Harvey Sachs, will give readers a new depth of insight into his life and work. As Sachs puts it, they “reveal above all else a man whose psychological perceptions in general and self-knowledge in particular were much more acute than most people have thought likely.” They are sure to enthrall anyone interested in learning more about one of the great lives of the twentieth century.

“This is a major contribution to our understanding of Toscanini and of several entire eras of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century musical life, especially the almost improvisatory looseness of opera in Italy, the glamour of European festivals, and the concert life of the United States. It’s also a wonderful, sometimes downright salacious read.”—New York Times

“Toscanini’s large, cranky humanity comes alive throughout his letters, as it does in his best recordings.”—New York Review of Books
“Edited with scrupulous care and wide-ranging erudition.”—Wall Street Journal
“Sachs has served the conductor well . . . by editing this generously annotated and unprecedentedly revealing collection of letters that were written, usually in haste and often in fury, over the course of seventy years.”—Washington Post

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times - John Rockwell

“A major contribution to our understanding of Toscanini and of several eras of late 19th- and 20th-century musical life. . . . It's also a wonderful, sometimes downright salacious read.”

Washington Post - Mortimer Frank

“Sachs has served the conductor well . . . by editing this generously annotated and unprecedentedly revealing collection of letters that were written, usually in haste and often in fury, over the course of seventy years.”

Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association - Christopher Hatch

"While the business and public letters will be of greater interest to both musical and political historians, the personal correspondence better reveals the inner man."
New York Times

“A major contribution to our understanding of Toscanini and of several eras of late 19th- and 20th-century musical life. . . . It's also a wonderful, sometimes downright salacious read.”

— John Rockwell

Globe and Mail

“There is hardly a love letter that does not sparkle with insights into music or politics. There is hardly a letter about music or politics that does not provide insight into [Toscanini’s] life. . . . Sachs’s editing is as meticulous as his biography and other writings about Toscanini have been. His notes after every letter provide the details we need to understand the context of the letter. With the notes, the book is almost an autobiography.”

Washington Post

“Sachs has served the conductor well . . . by editing this generously annotated and unprecedentedly revealing collection of letters that were written, usually in haste and often in fury, over the course of seventy years.”

— Mortimer Frank

Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

"While the business and public letters will be of greater interest to both musical and political historians, the personal correspondence better reveals the inner man."

— Christopher Hatch

Publishers Weekly
When Sachs wrote the standard biography of the great conductor (Toscanini) 20 years ago, he said that Toscanini's letters were "relatively few and often uninformative." Years later Sachs unearthed hundreds of communications from Toscanini held by members of his family, private collectors and official archives. This collection, meticulously edited and spanning Toscanini's entire working life from a letter of apology for an infraction at music school in Parma when he was 18 years old to the last feeble scratchings of a very old man in 1954 helps fill out a picture of this formidable personality in his very own words. That is particularly valuable as Toscanini (1867-1957) left no memoir, shunned interviews and was notoriously private for so public a figure. While everything that became familiar about him is here on extravagant display (e.g., his perfectionism, his ill temper), the impression that emerges above all from these pages is one of enormous vitality. A player in political events of the day, his stern anti-Fascist stance put him at odds with many fellow musicians and ultimately exiled him from Bayreuth, Salzburg and eventually his beloved Italy, ruled by what he called "the great Delinquent" (Mussolini). He was also sexually voracious, and some of the most remarkable letters here are his passionate ones to Ada Mainardi, wife of a celebrated cellist, whom he pursued avidly through his early 70s, when she was half his age (and she was only one of countless liaisons). It goes without saying that as an observer of the musical scene between 1890 and 1950, the man who actually conducted the premiere of La Boh me has remarkable riches to offer. This will be catnip to music lovers. (Apr.) Forecast: Toscanini has never lost his hold on the public imagination. Wide review attention, as well as the sensational nature of some of the material here, should ensure sales above what such a volume might normally inspire. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of a biography of Toscanini (1867-1957), Sachs has now compiled and translated this valuable collection of the complete letters of the great maestro. The letters are arranged in seven chronological sections, beginning with a schoolboy's apology to his headmaster to a near-deathbed thank-you note. Sachs provides helpful commentary that places the letters in their proper context. Toscanini was well known for his impeccable musicianship, photographic memory, passionate interpretations, choleric temper, and principled positions on the political and social issues of his day, and his remarkable personality shines forth from virtually every page. What may surprise readers is the frequency and intensity with which he discusses sexual matters, almost always in letters to his mistresses. Readers may be amused by how often Toscanini swerves in midparagraph from the flowery prose of a passionate lover to a scathing diatribe about a mediocre composer or poorly prepared singer. Carefully researched and edited, this collection will greatly advance the cause of Toscanini scholarship and entertain lay readers interested in knowing more about the man and his times. Recommended for all collections. Larry Lipkis, Moravian. Coll., Bethlehem, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This volume collects the letters of the celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini, most of which have not been previously published. Given that he never wrote a memoir or essays and granted no interviews, it provides an unusual opportunity for insight into one of the most influential musical figures of the century, whose 68-year career began before Verdi had completed and lasted into the era of televised concerts and televised sound. The letters, which include correspondence with his wife and children, colleagues, and friends, reveal much about his complicated personality, musical knowledge, political views, and the musical life of his time throughout the world, as well as his romantic affairs and erotic adventures. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
A rich and vivid collection of the great conductor's correspondence. Music historian Sachs (Rubinstein, 1995, etc.) learned of these letters after publishing his definitive biography (Toscanini, 1978), and while they contain no startling revelations, they give us a much better understanding of a man who famously refused all interviews and wrote no memoirs. In his introduction, Sachs predicts that Toscanini's numerous affairs will garner the most attention, and there are indeed many, many pages of "erotic, pornographic ravings." After a while, this seemingly ageless adolescent's ardor grows wearisome, and we are grateful that he also wrote copiously about more interesting matters like music. The letters reveal the constant battles Toscanini (1867–1957) waged to tighten performing standards and to reproduce practices of the baroque and classical era by using reduced forces and correct instrumentation. The most entertaining and amusing sections detail his cruel assessments of colleagues, particularly second-rate ones. "Our poor Bernardino [Molinari], who boasts of having two big, hard b[alls]," he writes, "is really the victim of the disproportionate weight of his accessories, because the blood, exiting from his brain and infiltrating down below, leaves his intelligence very anemic." Or, of prolific but minor composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: "He is forever the victim of a continual musical dysentery. And he writes music that grips no one, it runs off you just like it runs out of his ... pen." Toscanini is most vitriolic when it comes to colleagues who served Hitler and Mussolini. He broke with Wilhelm Furtwängler, a serious rival he had previously respected deeply, when Furtwänglerelected to stay in Hitler's Germany, declaring that he preferred "not to mix music with politics." Toscanini was among the first of his contemporaries to grasp that when it came to collaborating with the Third Reich there was more than "politics" involved. Music, history, and gossip from a master musician and letter-writer. (7 b&w photos)

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Part One

January 1885–September 1897


1867 March 25: Born in Parma, Italy, the first of four children and only son of Claudio Toscanini (1833–1906) and Paola Montani Toscanini (1840–1924).

1876 Enters Parma's Royal School of Music.

1885 Graduates with highest honors in cello and composition and maximum points in piano, taking first prize in graduating class.

1886 June 30: Makes unanticipated debut as conductor in Rio de Janeiro while touring as principal cello and assistant chorus master of itinerant Italian opera company. November 4: Makes Italian conducting debut in Turin.

1892 Conducts world premiere of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in Milan.

1895 Becomes principal conductor of Teatro Regio, Turin, and conducts there the first Italian production of Wagner's Götterdämmerung.

1896 Conducts world premiere of Puccini's La bohème at the Regio, where he also conducts his first complete symphony concerts.

1897 Marries Carla De Martini (1897–1951) of Milan.


Parma, 12 January 1885

Hon. Mr. Director.

The serious incident of which I am guilty toward you obliges me to write a few lines, which may serve to familiarize you with my great repentance for having committed so serious a mistake.

I did it not at all because I wished to disobey your orders, but rather because I had not reflected much about what I was doing, and because I allowed myself to succumb to a moment ofanger.

I am very sorry for having caused such great displeasure to you and to my Teachers, but I hope that the goodness that you have always shown me will not fail at so critical and sad a moment for me, and that you will be so kind as to pardon my involuntary error, as I promise you that my gratitude toward you will never fail and that you will never have cause for complaint about me.

Anxiously hopeful, and with all my esteem, I sign myself your very Aff. pupil

A. Toscanini

Giusto Dacci (Parma, 1840–1915), composer and pedagogue, directed his hometown's excellent conservatory throughout AT's student years. According to Dacci's diary, on Sunday, 11 January 1885, fifteen students, including the seventeen-year-old AT, who was in his last year at the conservatory, refused to get up early to attend mass. When Dacci told them that they would have to attend a later mass during the time reserved for weekly family visits, and ordered them to go immediately to their respective study rooms, they refused. Dacci, who was accustomed to being obeyed, told an assistant to take the names of the disobedient boys and remarked in his diary that "Toscanini, in the presence of his companions, declared that he wanted his name to be first on the list. [. . .] I had his father sent for at once and told him that if his son did not write a letter asking to be pardoned, he would certainly be expelled from the school. [. . .] The young Toscanini, who was also in the office, walked out of the room–another scornful act. The same day I informed the Royal Commissioner of the occurrence. [. . .]" Only after Dacci had persuaded some of the professors to write the letter and persuade AT, the school's star pupil, to copy and sign it was the problem resolved.


Since I'll be returning to Casalmonferrato this October to conduct, I would need a concertmaster, in addition to several first violins; and of course I thought of you immediately, because after Gioconda we'll do Lombardi, and you understand what there is in this opera. I think the pay will be as much as 7 lire a day. [. . .]

The violinist Enrico Polo (1868–1953) had been a schoolmate of AT's at the Parma Conservatory. He later studied under Joseph Joachim in Berlin, then returned to Italy, became AT's concertmaster at Turin's Teatro Regio (1895), married AT's wife's older sister, and was an influential professor of violin at the Milan Conservatory for more than thirty years. The nineteen-year-old AT's remarkable conducting debut in Rio de Janeiro in June 1886 and his Italian debut in Turin the following November did not solve his employment problems. He successfully auditioned for the position of second cello in La Scala's orchestra for the 1886–87 season (which included the world premiere of Otello under the composer's supervision) and conducted very little throughout 1887. He did, however, conduct Meyerbeer's L'Africaine in the Piedmontese town of Casale Monferrato in June of that year and returned in the fall to conduct Ponchielli's La Gioconda and Verdi's I lombardi. "What there is" in I lombardi is a lengthy, elaborate violin solo in the Trio in Act III; a first-rate violinist is required, and AT thought immediately of his friend Polo.


Casale [Monferrato] 28 November 1887.

Dear Sir.

As the performances of La Gioconda are coming to an end, and as next Saturday will be the evening of the prima donna, Sig.a Peydro, the town would wish to have the artist appear in a new piece of some sort; I therefore ask you to be so good as to demonstrate your great courtesy by allowing one of my songs to be performed, if not between the acts then at least before or after the opera. You will be doing me an enormous favor.

I therefore declare to you my most deeply felt thanks, and believe me your

Most humble servant

A. Toscanini

This letter was intended for the impresario or director of Casale Monferrato's opera house. In those days, leading singers were often given serate d'onore (evenings of honor) during which they were presented with gifts and laurel wreaths between two acts of an opera or at the end of the performance. Lola Peydro, the leading soprano in La Gioconda, did indeed sing AT's song "Son Gelosa" (composed during his student years) at her serata, with the young maestro accompanying her at the piano.


Genoa 7-3-92.

My dear Piontelli.

I need to ask a great favor of you, thus I ask you not to deny it of me and to be understanding if I'm bothering you for the second time.

As a result of various (not trifling) family obligations, I find myself in very great need. I require three hundred lire and I don't know which wall to bash my head against; I beg you to be so kind as to get me out of this mess, and I hope that the occasion to pay you back can't be far off: for now, all I can do is be grateful. The bearer of this letter is a trustworthy friend of mine (Attorney Oreste Ventura). You could give him the three hundred lire or, if you prefer, send them to me in Genoa, Via Fieschi 19, apartment 8. Again, I ask you to do this for me if you can, and I thank you in advance. I shake your hand and ask you to think of me as

Your Affec.

Arturo Toscanini

AT, in his early letters to Luigi Piontelli–one of the most important Italian opera impresarios of his day, who, later in the decade, acted as a sort of agent-manager for AT–addresses the older man with the extraformal voi form of the second person; in correspondence from the mid-1890s on, the informal tu is used. The financial difficulties in which AT found himself off and on for several years were the result of his eccentric (and alcoholic) father's shaky business dealings. AT's relations with his parents and sisters were fundamentally affectionate but often strained.


Genoa 17-3-92.

My dear Piontelli.–Yesterday, after two supplicating letters and a telegram, I received from you a message saying that a telegraphic money order would be sent to me that morning. The morning went by, the evening went by, and another morning, and . . . nothing, nothing, nothing. My dear Piontelli, I absolutely can't believe that you're laughing at my present, highly critical position: I believe that you've forgotten; so for the last time, I beg and plead with you to send me three hundred lire; I'm in an impossible position, I can't leave Genoa until I have this sum; and believe me, I'm in this situation because of my goodness, too much goodness, toward a family that is very ungrateful to me. Superti can tell you something about this.

So be good, be kind, dear Piontelli, do me this favor; my gratitude will be boundless if you get me out of this situation, and if you wish I'll sign a promissory note that I will pay back as soon as I have a contract. You, who told me that I would be engaged in the fall, at Carnival and at Lent in your theaters, should trust that I will be able to pay off all of my debts, if not today then tomorrow. So do me this immense favor, think about my situation, which costs me more with every passing day and continually eats away at my heart. And I don't know where to turn. I hope that tomorrow (Friday) a money order from you will reach me, or at least a telegram disabusing me of my hopes–even that–but answer–it's not a matter that's not worth answering.

Once again, I heatedly implore you, I thank you in advance, and I send you my greetings. A handshake from

Your Aff.

A. Toscanini [. . .]

AT had known the violinist and conductor Carlo Superti at least since 1886: Superti had been assistant conductor and coimpresario of the Italian opera company with which AT had made his unanticipated conducting debut in Rio de Janeiro that year. Later, Superti worked as AT's assistant at various theaters.


The Fanfulla [newspaper] would like to have it believed that it was I who spontaneously offered Mascangi the honor of conducting I Rantzau. This is not true. Far from having given up this honor, I would rather have kept it for myself, and I would have felt fully equal to the task, and with no effort, notwithstanding the limited time available; but Mascagni wanted to keep for himself the honor of the first three performances. As far as I'm concerned, he can keep the remaining ones as well.

AT made his Rome debut at the Teatro Costanzi (now Teatro dell'Opera) in October– November 1892, conducting Carmen, La forza del destino, and the world premiere of Gualtiero Swarten by the now-forgotten Andrea Gnaga. He was also to have conducted the local premiere of I Rantzau, the latest opera of Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945), but Mascagni then decided that he would like to conduct the first performances himself. This letter is the result of what was to be the first in a series of clashes between AT and Mascagni, whose characters were poles apart. It is the only example of a published self-defense on AT's part in such a case.



My dear Maestro Puccini,

Some days ago I had the pleasure of being contacted by the Cambiaggio Agency to conduct Manon in Trent during the coming season.

I've heard nothing more about it . . . has it perhaps come to naught? I hope not.–In the event that the business were to come off, I would ask you to be so good as to bear in mind the following excellent orchestra musicians–Uldarico Giraud and Adolfo Melò; the former is a principal cellist with few rivals, the other an outstanding principal double bass, and both are currently working under my direction. In the event that I were not engaged, if some other plans for Manon are made without my participation, do propose [the two musicians] all the same to the management, and you will be very satisfied.

My dear maestro, I shall add my modest applause to the many praises unani- mously heaped on your Manon by Turin's audiences and newspapers. Please accept it, because if nothing else it certainly has the virtue of sincerity.–I send you my best regards and I shake your hand affectionately.–Your

A. Toscanini

Quite a few letters from Puccini (1858–1924) to AT exist–most or perhaps all of the significant ones have been published–but there are very few known communications from AT to Puccini. In this letter, the conductor addresses the composer with the formal Lei form of the second person singular; by the letter of 1 March, below written less than a year later, AT was using the informal tu. AT was finishing up a tumultuous five-month season at Palermo's Politeama Garibaldi when he wrote this letter. Puccini's Manon Lescaut had had its world premiere in Turin two months earlier and was beginning to make the rounds of other major theaters. AT could not have heard it performed, but he had read the score. In the event, he did not perform Manon or anything else in Trent the following season, and he first conducted Manon in March 1894 in Pisa.


My dear Blanc–Let me refresh your memory. If by chance they decide to give Lohengrin at the Dal Verme, don't forget that I am eager to conduct this opera in Milan and that I am counting on your friendship in order to succeed with this plan.–From Milan I've learned that Cimini is favored by the management. Is this true? I put myself in your hands; by all means remind Signor Giulio to think of me, so that I can at least make up for the damage done me last year and rid myself of the curse thrust upon me by the infamous Viscount D'Afa [?]. . . . . I'm hoping to open here tomorrow. Following enormous problems with the orchestra and chorus everything has been mended, and I think the production will be a success.

Good-bye, my dear Blanc. If you have a couple of free minutes, let me know about the Dal Verme productions. Remember me. I shake your hand affectionately. Your

A. Toscanini

Pisa, 17-2-94

Blanc was an administrator in the Ricordi publishing company, which controlled much of Italy's musical life in those days (see below). Lohengrin was indeed performed at the Teatro Dal Verme (which, after La Scala, was considered the best of Milan's various opera houses) in September 1894, but with Vittorio Maria Vanzo (1862–1945) conducting. (Cimini, mentioned by AT, could conceivably have been Pietro Cimini, who later made a name for himself as a conductor, but he was only eighteen in 1894.) Vanzo, an early Italian Wagnerite, had conducted Lohengrin in Parma in 1883 (the sixteen-year-old AT was playing in the cello section) and the first Italian production of Die Walküre in Turin in 1891. "Signor Giulio" was Giulio Ricordi (1840–1912), head of the G. Ricordi & Co. publishing firm, a powerful worldwide force in the opera industry; he and AT were not fond of each other, but AT needed the right to conduct operas of which Ricordi owned the copyright, and Ricordi soon came to need the ser- vices of the brilliant young conductor as a propagator of new operas by Puccini and other rising stars. What the "damage" AT refers to might have been is not known, but his artistic intransigence prevented him from getting as much work as he might otherwise have had during the first decade of his career. As he wrote to a friend many years later, "At that time, no one wanted me as a conductor, and I spent many a month inactive, by others' lights. They didn't deny that I had a certain amount of talent, but they were frightened by my nasty character and my exacting demands." This statement certainly applied to his relations with Giulio Ricordi. Viscount d'Afa has not been identified. The production with which AT was having "enormous problems" in Pisa was Otello: the orchestra was not up to the task.


Pisa 1-3-94.

My dear Puccini.

Tomorrow is the first orchestra rehearsal with everyone, singers and chorus. If you want to honor us with your presence, do so, and as soon as possible. We ought to open next Wednesday. I don't need to tell you that the impresa is at your disposal with respect to expenses, etc. etc. The tenor Rosati is a cretin, but he makes up for this misfortune of his with a beautiful, warm, and expressive voice. The baritone Bucalo, a gift from D' Ormeville, doesn't convince me at all, but he already sang it [the role of Lescaut] in Ferrara and it went well. The rest is going along.–Come very soon and let me know either by letter or by telegram.

Tell Blanc to send me two copies of the latest edition of Manon.

Ciao. Greetings from Corsi and a handshake from your

Aff. A. Toscanini

An impresa was a group licensed to run a given opera season at a given theater; the head of the impresa was the impresario, who engaged singers, conductor, and extra orchestra musicians and chorus members (if necessary) and provided sets, costumes, and whatever else was needed for the productions. The impresa is not to be confused with the theater administration, which was a permanent organization, usually under the control of the municipality. The administration engaged an impresa on a season-by-season basis: Theater A in City B might engage Signor X's impresa one year and Signor Y's the next. Most, but by no means all, imprese were based in Milan. The "cretin" may have been Enrico Rosati (1874–?), whose main claim to fame is that he was Beniamino Gigli's teacher. Carlo D'Ormeville (1840–1924) was a playwright, librettist (Catalani's Loreley is his best-known text), impresario, and theater agent; he seems to have been something of an intrigant, and AT had little use for him. "La Corsi": Emilia Corsi (1870–1927), soprano, was a well-known Manon Lescaut.

Copyright 2002 by Harvey Sachs, editor

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Meet the Author

Harvey Sachs is the author of, among other books, Toscanini, Music in Fascist Italy, and Rubinstein: A Life. He has also written for the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Times Literary Supplement, and many other publications.

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