Greatly influential during the 20th century, Toscanini began his career directing the orchestras of Teatro Regio and Teatro La Scala at just 19 years old
Arturo Toscanini was born in 1867 in Parma, Italy, to parents who were tailors and fond of music. From a young age, Toscanini studied cello, piano, and composition at the Conservatory of Parma (now known as Conservatorio di Musica Arrigo Boito).
In 1886, he was invited by the impresario Claudio Rossi to join as a cellist and second chorus master in an opera company — an appointment that kickstarted Toscanini’s professional career and allowed him to tour internationally. As written in The New York Times, Toscanini also had the opportunity to play for his idol Giuseppe Verdi at the 1887 premiere of Shakespeare’s Otello.
During his travels in Brazil with the company, Toscanini was encouraged by his colleagues to take the place of their conductor who had then left the orchestra. The 19-year-old Toscanini proceeded to conduct their performance of Verdi’s Aida entirely from memory and inadvertently began his conducting career, according to the Arturo Toscanini Foundation.
By his return to Italy, the young artist was invited by Turin’s Teatro Regio and Milan’s Teatro La Scala to lead several major productions and opera works at the leading Italian theaters.
It was during his time at La Scala that he revolutionized opera’s performance and appreciation. Among his requests were lighting in the orchestra pit, low lights in the hall, no encores, prohibited entry to the hall for latecomers, and unifying all the performers with staging and costumes.
Toscanini also served as director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera from 1908 for seven concert seasons and delivered over 400 performances of works from 31 operas. During World War I, he also conducted many charity concerts and rejected the regime of Benito Mussolini who had asked him to perform concerts but was refused.
In 1920, he took the La Scala orchestra on a 133-concert tour of the US which lasted eight months and allowed him to make his first recordings. When La Scala reopened in 1921 after the war, Toscanini became its director and by then had reached worldwide success.
In 1937, he made his debut in America’s NBC Symphony Orchestra which was created especially for him by Radio Corporation of America president, David Sarnoff. Toscanini’s performances with the ensemble garnered wider audiences across the US and were also broadcast on television. After World War II, he returned to Italy and to La Scala.
In 1950, he performed what would be his final US tour with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and in 1954, conducted his last concert of Wagner’s works at Carnegie Hall. He died on January 16, 1957, at age 89.
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