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Classical 101

A Conversation with Harvey Sachs, Author of New Arturo Toscanini Biography

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Arturo Toscanini in the 1944 film Hymn of the Nations

Harvey Sachs wrote his first biography of Arturo Toscanini in 1978. Nearly 40 years later, he's published a completely new book about the conductor, "Toscanini: Musician of Conscience."

At over 900 pages, this is a fabulous read. The maestros' life and Sachs' skill telling the story make an unbeatable combination. You won't be bored.

I recently spoke over the phone with Sachs from his home in Italy. Listen to our conversation about Toscanini and Sachs' new book here:

Toscanini (1867-1957) captured and kept the public's attention for over 70 years. His career began in the orchestra of La Scala, Milan, where he played cello at the world premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in 1887.  

Toscanini's conducting debut wasn't planned. The cellist was on tour in Buenos Aires when the conductor of the La Scala orchestra was booed off stage before a performance of Aida. The young Toscanini grabbed the baton, conducted the concert, gave a sensational performance and never looked back.

Over the years, Toscanini conducted the world premiers of operas La Boheme, Pagliacci and Turandot. He served as music director of La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Credit Liveright Publishing Corp. / Amazon
The cover for "Toscanini: Musician of Conscience," by Harvey Sachs

Known for his political activism, he voiced strong opposition to both Mussolini and Hitler, and refused to conduct in Germany, Austria or Italy as long as fascist dictators were in power.

Toscanini's love life was as stormy as his professional endeavors. Love affairs with sopranos Geraldine Farrar and Lotte Lehmann are only part of the story, which unfolds in Sachs' new book.

His final concerts were all-Richard-Wagner programs with the NBC Symphony—an orchestra formed expressly for Toscanini—in 1954.

Toscanini died at age 89, a few weeks after I was born. In "Toscanini: Musician of Conscience," Sachs brings the maestro vividly to life for those of us who could not experience his performances in person.

Check out this clip of Toscanini in old age, conducting with the command of his youth:

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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