Notes and Editorial Reviews
CONCERTO 2074 (DVD: 63:20)
This documentary on Arturo Toscanini was produced by Radiotelevisione Svizzera and aired by them (without English subtitles) in September 2011, but this is its first commercial DVD release. Although relatively short and lacking any extra features, it is a fascinating glimpse into the private life of the great conductor. His granddaughter, Countess Emanuela di Castelbarco, was the primary source and encouragement for this project, and in the course of its 63 minutes
you’ll see a great many rare home movies of the maestro, about half of them in color, including a wonderful scene where he is playing the piano for his grandchildren while one of them (not identified, but probably Emanuela or Sonia) conducts with a baton while he plays. It’s certainly not surprising to see Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs talk about him, though it is a surprise that he’s talking in Italian and not in English, but a major surprise is the appearance of Elizabeth Furtwängler. Those who are apprehensive that she may be bashing Toscanini in order to promote her husband should rest easy. She states uncategorically that Toscanini was a great conductor, but explains that Furtwängler’s biggest complaint about him is that he didn’t impose his
on his interpretations. Furtwängler firmly believed that the recreative artist was just as important as the composer, thus to play his music pretty much as written—albeit with the tremendous emotional energy that Toscanini put into it—had no quality, and he was always dismayed that Toscanini’s performances spoke more of the composer’s vision than the conductor’s own.
Elizabeth Furtwängler also explains Wilhelm’s rationale in not leaving Germany: “We are Germans, we don’t do these things [like the Nazis do].” But when, after the war, he learned of all the atrocities that “real Germans” did, he felt deeply ashamed and carried that melancholy with him for the rest of his life. “We can never be happy again,” he told her.
As for Toscanini, much of the real person behind the scores and the public image comes through. He really loved his family, particularly his grandchildren, who he had more time to get close to than his own children. Having been raised in a household where his own parents were not really cruel but emotionally cold, he knew what it was like not to receive love, and he did his utmost to reach out to them. “Grandfather didn’t write often,” Emanuela di Castelbarco tells us, “but when he did, his letters were very emotional and filled with love.” The long-running affair he had with Ada Mainardi is alluded to but not explored very deeply except to say that when he had such affairs they were very deep for him, never shallow. He probably only saw her personally three or four times, but in between he wrote letters to her for years in which he poured out his deepest feelings about music and life. Several of these letters are quoted without explaining that they were sent to Ada. A surprise guest in the film is former American soprano Anne McKnight, who sang with Toscanini in the 1946 broadcast of
and the 1948 telecast of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. She tells an amusing story about how the clinking glasses in the opening of act III were off pitch from the orchestra. Toscanini sent a few of his musicians to shops in New York to find glasses that would clink in E?!
In the end, the Countess wonders aloud why Toscanini still commands such a high position in the pantheon of conductors, considering that his best work generally predated 1948 and he hasn’t conducted in more than a half century. I can answer that. It’s because, although he didn’t really project his own personality through his performances, he did project his incredibly intense
There exists in his performances, even the fastest and least modified or inflected of them, a tremendous life force that one simply doesn’t hear in the work of most others with the exception of Furtwängler, Munch, and Carlos Kleiber. Moreover, Toscanini radically changed the world of classical conducting towards a style that was leaner in sonority, more transparent in texture, and less fussy in tempo and phrasing modifications, which aligns very well with the historically informed movement. Toscanini also believed that art music was an important and vital component of everyday life, of maintaining one’s spiritual balance, and you can feel that in his recordings. This DVD is recommended for his legion of fans.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Region: 0 (All)
Duration: 63 minutes
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0
Format: NTSC 16:9 Read less
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Various
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