The Letters of Arturo Toscanini
Compiled, edited and translated by Harvey Sachs
Faber & Faber, 2002
It is at the same time ironic and disconcerting that the most distinctive and famous features of Arturo Toscanini are anger and a propensity to insult, to which one of the most important conductors of the XX century was subject for his general intolerance and for a very high conception of himself. This bad temper, which was immortalized by a recording (it is in Italian, with only few phrases in English, but Toscanini’s mood is easy to guess), immediately emerges in his letters, here brought together in a collection that does not pretend to be complete and is edited by Harvey Sachs, Toscanini’s biographer. The author had not paid particular attention to Toscanini’s letters in his biography, however, and remind us in the introduction that they began to interest the scholars only in the last decades.
Sachs focuses on the musical aspects of the epistolary, cutting too long digressions or parts concerning little-known and historically irrelevant characters and focusing instead on much more interesting letters, as those sent or inherent to contemporary composers such as Giacomo Puccini, illustrious recipient of whom few letters survive, Pietro Mascagni, with whom Toscanini was often at odds, and also the less known Antonio Smareglia, contacted by the conductor to complete Arrigo Boito’s Nerone. There are also the letters sent to political figures, including a letter to Benito Mussolini in 1929, when Toscanini’s withdrawal from La Scala was already decided, and especially the letter to Theodore Roosevelt in 1943. This letter appeared as an editorial in Life magazine, entitled To the people of America, but Sachs reveals that this article has been written by two intellectuals less illustrious than Toscanini, who added only his signature and few corrections.
The book is accompanied by extensive and well documented notes, necessary to follow the condustor’s private and public affairs and to give a more objective view than that of the Maestro. Actually, Toscanini’s unflattering words and continuous retractions harm to his credibility and an external help is not only appreciated, but indispensable.