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Music: Maestro’s Return

3 minute read

As if he would make his way to the podium without attracting notice, Arturo Toscanini hurried on to Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall stage last week to begin his eleventh season as conductor of the Philharmonic-Symphony. One glimpse of the trim, greying little Italian and every player in the orchestra, every member of the audience, rose respectfully. After one grave little bow Toscanini turned his back, rapped sharply for attention, commanded his men to play, his audience to listen.

No reporter has yet succeeded in fully describing a Toscanini concert. The players suddenly become amazingly alert. The Maestro flicks his baton, establishes the pace. His left hand may rest easily on his hip at first. Soon it pleads for eloquence, stands out like a policeman’s warning when he wants a pianissimo, quivers over his heart when he begs for special feeling. Front row subscribers in last week’s audience occasionally heard a husky croaking sound. Toscanini was singing as he always sings when his orchestra plays to please him.

Last week, with all his rigid standards, he had good reason to be pleased. Weber’s Freischütz overture seemed to have been freshly recreated. An oldtime Cherubini symphony had such subtle grace and elegance that it was accepted as important. Most surprising was the Saint-Saens Danse Macabre which sounded extraordinarily vital, not a measure of it hackneyed or cheaply melodramatic. After the Rhine Journey from Wagner’s Götterdammerung, the audience would have stayed long to cheer. But Toscanini was through. He bowed briefly, tugged at the concert master’s sleeve, his own private sign that he wants the players to leave the stage.

The evening ended with no answer to the question which has been bothering Manhattan for two months. Was this season to be Toscanini’s last in the U. S.? Or was it only rumor that the Maestro was tired, eager to quit? If he did leave what would be the effect on music in Manhattan? Some took the stand that his presence has had its unfortunate reaction, that other conductors have been slighted because they lacked his consummate touch, that too many concertgoers have come to think more of a Toscanini performance than of the music that is played.

Toscanini began his career as a conductor 50 years ago next June when he was an obscure young cellist of 19, playing in the orchestra at the Rio de Janeiro opera. One night the regular leader was unable to appear and some one suddenly thought of the quiet little Italian who never used a score. Toscanini went to the stand in a borrowed frock coat many sizes too big, conducted Aida completely from memory. Lately an aged Brazilian critic attempted to describe the perfection of that performance. Toscanini’s comment: “Ah, but he is wrong. I made two mistakes, one in the first act, another in the third.”

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