Arturo Toscanini was born in the city of Parma, in Italy’s fertile Po plain, on March 25,1867. He was the oldest of four children and the only son of Paola (née Montani) and Claudio Toscanini. Both parents came from middle-class families, but Claudio had the temperament of an adventurer and had gone off in his youth to fight in Garibaldi’s forces during Italy’s wars of independence and reunification. Thereafter, he never managed to settle down seriously to domestic life, and his drinking, philandering, and general irresponsibility made life difficult for his wife and children. Arturo entered Parma’s Royal School of Music at the age of nine and graduated from it at eighteen, with maximum honors in cello and composition and with a reputation, among local musicians, not only for his virtually photographic memory and other remarkable talents but also for his wide-ranging musical interests and passionately held ideals. The following year, he was engaged as principal cellist and assistant chorus master of an Italian opera company that was to tour South America, and one evening, in Rio de Janeiro, the nineteen-year-old musician was called upon at the last moment to replace the ensemble’s regular conductor in Aida, which he led by heart. Thus began one of the most extraordinary careers in the history of musical performance. On his return to Italy, Toscanini immediately began to acquire experience by conducting one short season after another in many of the country’s opera houses. During one of those seasons, at Milan’s Teatro Dal Verme in 1892, he conducted the world premiere of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Three years later he became what would today be called artistic director of Turin’s prestigious Teatro Regio, where he conducted – among many works – the world premiere of Puccini’s La Boheme, the first Italian production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the local premier of Tristan und Isolde, and a host of new or recent symphonic pieces. In 1898, at the age of thirty-one, he assumed the directorship of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the most important opera ensemble in Italy. He spent seven of the following ten seasons there (1898-1903, 1906-08), conducting the first Italian production of Wagner’s Siegfried, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Strauss’s Salome, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and symphonic works by some of the most promising talents of his generation, including Debussy, Strauss and Sibelius. He also introduced Tristan, Puccini’s Tosca, Charpentier’s Louise, and works by Mascagni, Giordano,Cilea, Franchetti, and other leading Italian composers of the day to the Milanese public; initiated a series of revolutionary revivals of the Verdi repertoire; and undertook many important reforms in the theatre’s artistic and administrative sectors. Toscanini quickly established himself as the first Italian conductor of world-class talent who was as interested in foreign repertoire as in domestic works, in symphonic music as in opera, in the classics as in the moderns. He performed Wagner’s music with passion and intellectual rigor – in Toscanini’s student days Wagner had embodied Europe’s musical avant-garde – but he performed with equal passion and rigor the works of many composers whom Wagner had detested, notably Verdi and Brahms. In the lyric theatre, which had often been held hostage by star singers and their caprices, Toscanini gradually imposed a system in which solo voices, chorus, orchestra, stage movement, sets, costumes, and lighting were all given maximum attention in order to create what Wagner had called the Gesamtkunstwerk – the complete work of art. At the same time he began to demand more highly skilled playing from orchestra musicians than his predecessors had considered necessary. To his way of thinking, the sense and spirit of a piece of music could not be expressed if the notes were not played in tune, with their proper rhythmic values, at a tempo close to the one indicated by the composer, and in correct textural balance against all the other notes being played at the same time. All of this was merely a point of departure for achieving something much deeper and more valuable, but it was nevertheless a sine qua non. To achieve all of these goals Toscanini fought great battles, and his terrifying temper became a legend in the musical world. The result, however, is that most professional musicians from his day to ours – even those who disagree with his recorded interpretations – are direct beneficiaries of his lifelong struggle. Toscanini conducted four substantial seasons in Buenos Aires during the first decade of the twentieth century – seasons that included the Argentine premieres of Tristan, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and many other works. From 1908 to 1915 he was in effect principal conductor (together with Mahler, during the first two seasons) of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company, with which he led the world premiere of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, the American premiere of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and important revivals of works that ranged from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and Armide and Weber’s Euryanthe through the best-known mid-and late-nineteenth-century repertoire, to the most recent works of Giordano, Montemezzi, Wolf-Ferrari, and Dukas. During World War I, Toscanini stayed in Italy, conducting only military bands at the front and special benefit events in the cities. In 1920-21 he took the Scala orchestra on a marathon tour of Italy, The United States, and Canada,and masterminded the rebirth of his country’s most glorious opera company, which had been virtually defunct since 1917. In December 1921 he inaugurated the overhauled Scala ensemble’s first season, and he presided over the house’s fortunes with tremendous success almost to the end of the decade. This period was in many ways the culmination of his life as an opera conductor. Toscanini made his first guest appearance with the New York Philharmonic in 1926, and by 1930, when he took the ensemble on a history-making European tour, he had become its principal conductor. Also in 1930, Toscanini became the first non-German-school conductor to perform at the Bayreuth Festival, to which he returned in 1931; he canceled a further scheduled return in 1933 because Hitler had come to power in Germany. From then until the outbreak of the Second World War, Toscanini conducted a circle around Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (he had been attacked and hit in the face by Facist thugs in his own country in 1931 for refusing to play the ruling party’s official anthem at the start of a concert): He worked occasionally as guest conductor with Paris’s Orchestre Walter-Straram beginning in 1932, with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Stockholm Concert Society Orchestra from 1935 to 1939, and with the Residentie-Orkest in the Hague in 1937 and 1938. At the Salzburg Festivals of 1935 to 1937 he gave what proved to be his last performances of complete, staged operas, and in 1938, when he withdrew from Salzburg for political reasons, he helped to create the new Lucerne Festival by agreeing to conduct concerts in the Swiss city. But his most celebrated political gesture was his trip to Palestine, at his own expense, at the end of 1936, to conduct a new orchestra (later known at the Israel Philharmonic), that was made up largely of Jewish refugees from Central Europe. In 1937, a year after his retirement from the New York Philharmonic, the seventy-year-old Toscanini accepted an offer from the National Broadcasting Company in New York to conduct a new orchestra made up of musicians of the highest caliber, for weekly radio broadcast concerts and frequent recordings. He remained in the United States throughout the Second World War and returned to Europe only in 1946, to reconsecrate La Scala, which had been heavily damaged by Allied bombs in 1943. Thereafter he returned to Europe evey year, but his principal center of activity remained the NBC Symphony. Toscanini retired for good in 1954, at the age of eighty-seven, and died at his home in Riverdale (Bronx, New York) on January 16, 1957, a few weeks before his ninetieth birthday.