b. Parma, March 25, 1867
d. New York, January 16, 1957
Arturo Toscanini, universally admired in later years as "The Maestro," made his Philharmonic debut in January 1926. He guest-conducted and shared the Music Director post with Willem Mengelberg before taking the helm single-handedly. In 1930, Toscanini led the Philharmonic on a highly successful tour of Europe. The following year, he was attacked and beaten while in Italy for his refusal to play the Fascist anthem, and he later made public his opposition to Nazi persecution of the Jews. Many saw in Toscanini’s Beethoven cycle with the New York Philharmonic during the 1932-33 season a musical repudiation of tyranny that matched his public opposition to Hitler. At the end of the season he notified Winifred Wagner that he would not conduct at Bayreuth as previously planned.
The New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, in 1931, became the first orchestra to offer regular live coast-to-coast radio broadcasts of its concerts, gaining Toscanini unprecedented fame and a remarkable salary of $110,000 per year. During his tenure, the Philharmonic performed more than 30 world premieres, and over 40 American premieres (including Ravel’s Bolero in 1929). The Maestro resigned in 1936, citing the physical demands of such a commitment. The following year, he became music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the radio orchestra founded especially for him and which he led until 1954 — the year of his last concert. In 1967, 10 years after his death, a WQXR poll found that he was still the second-most popular conductor among its listeners after Leonard Bernstein. That same year, Bernstein and the Philharmonic performed the Verdi Requiem to honor the centenary of Toscanini’s birth.