Arturo Toscanini

One of the greatest opera and concert directors of all time, Arturo Toscanini was internationally known for his forcefulness and style of conducting, which led to near-perfection in his work. He was, from the opening of the 20th century until his retirement in the '50s, the most prominent orchestra conductor in the world, his only peer being his longtime rival, Wilhelm Furtwangler. Born in Parma, Italy, in 1867, Toscanini began training at the Parma Conservatory when he was nine-years-old. There he studied the cello and musical composition. In 1885, at age 18, he graduated from the Conservatory with top awards for his cello playing, and only a year later he received an invitation to play with the Italian opera in Rio de Janeiro. On the night of a performance of Aida, the conductor was forced to leave the stage due to a hostile audience reaction, and despite his lack of experience at the podium, Toscanini was asked to replace him. It was one of those career-making moments that comes along once in a lifetime, as the cellist conducted the opera from memory, revealing a facility that would serve him well across the next seven decades. The performance received a standing ovation, and he was asked to remain as conductor until the end of the season. From that day, Toscanini's career path was set. Although he did return to the pit as a cellist for the premiere of Verdi's Otello (under the supervision of the composer), he soon made a name for himself as a conductor for his demanding perfectionism, and he subsequently directed the orchestra in the premieres of Puccini's La Boheme and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci over the final decade of the 19th century. He became the most renowned young conductor in Italy, a leading figure in the opera houses of Rome, Milan, and Turin, and, beginning in 1898, the chief conductor at La Scala. Amid all of this work in the opera house, Toscanini didn't get around to conducting his first orchestral concert until 1896. That program included the Italian premiere of Brahms' Tragic Overture, as well as works by Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner.

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