Review by Choice Review
Toscanini (1867-1957) was the foremost conductor of his generation. His immense talent, phenomenal musical memory, and demanding leadership style made him an icon not only for connoisseurs but also for the broad musical public. His reputation for performances literal to the composer's intention, yet rousing in their appeal, was not questioned until some time after his death (see Joseph Horowitz's Understanding Toscanini, CH, Jun'87). As the author of the major biography of the maestro (Toscanini, CH, Sep'79) and its sequel (Reflections on Toscanini, CH, Sep'92), Sachs is in a position to provide considerable essential information about the correspondents whom Toscanini addressed and perspective on the content of the letters. Many of the 700 letters collected here only recently became available and are published for the first time. They cover the gamut of Toscanini's life: his family, friends, mistresses, and professional correspondents. The information they reveal confirms rather than changes prevailing views of Toscanini's volatile personality. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Major music collections supporting work at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. W. K. Kearns emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
When Sachs wrote the standard biography of the great conductor (Toscanini) 20 years ago, he said that Toscanini's letters were "relatively few and often uninformative." Years later Sachs unearthed hundreds of communications from Toscanini held by members of his family, private collectors and official archives. This collection, meticulously edited and spanning Toscanini's entire working life from a letter of apology for an infraction at music school in Parma when he was 18 years old to the last feeble scratchings of a very old man in 1954 helps fill out a picture of this formidable personality in his very own words. That is particularly valuable as Toscanini (1867-1957) left no memoir, shunned interviews and was notoriously private for so public a figure. While everything that became familiar about him is here on extravagant display (e.g., his perfectionism, his ill temper), the impression that emerges above all from these pages is one of enormous vitality. A player in political events of the day, his stern anti-Fascist stance put him at odds with many fellow musicians and ultimately exiled him from Bayreuth, Salzburg and eventually his beloved Italy, ruled by what he called "the great Delinquent" (Mussolini). He was also sexually voracious, and some of the most remarkable letters here are his passionate ones to Ada Mainardi, wife of a celebrated cellist, whom he pursued avidly through his early 70s, when she was half his age (and she was only one of countless liaisons). It goes without saying that as an observer of the musical scene between 1890 and 1950, the man who actually conducted the premiere of La Bohme has remarkable riches to offer. This will be catnip to music lovers. (Apr.) Forecast: Toscanini has never lost his hold on the public imagination. Wide review attention, as well as the sensational nature of some of the material here, should ensure sales above what such a volume might normally inspire. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A rich and vivid collection of the great conductor's correspondence. Music historian Sachs (Rubinstein, 1995, etc.) learned of these letters after publishing his definitive biography (Toscanini, 1978), and while they contain no startling revelations, they give us a much better understanding of a man who famously refused all interviews and wrote no memoirs. In his introduction, Sachs predicts that Toscanini's numerous affairs will garner the most attention, and there are indeed many, many pages of "erotic, pornographic ravings." After a while, this seemingly ageless adolescent's ardor grows wearisome, and we are grateful that he also wrote copiously about more interesting matters like music. The letters reveal the constant battles Toscanini (1867-1957) waged to tighten performing standards and to reproduce practices of the baroque and classical era by using reduced forces and correct instrumentation. The most entertaining and amusing sections detail his cruel assessments of colleagues, particularly second-rate ones. "Our poor Bernardino [Molinari], who boasts of having two big, hard b[alls]," he writes, "is really the victim of the disproportionate weight of his accessories, because the blood, exiting from his brain and infiltrating down below, leaves his intelligence very anemic." Or, of prolific but minor composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: "He is forever the victim of a continual musical dysentery. And he writes music that grips no one, it runs off you just like it runs out of his . . . pen." Toscanini is most vitriolic when it comes to colleagues who served Hitler and Mussolini. He broke with Wilhelm Furtwdngler, a serious rival he had previously respected deeply, when Furtwdngler elected to stay in Hitler's Germany, declaring that he preferred "not to mix music with politics." Toscanini was among the first of his contemporaries to grasp that when it came to collaborating with the Third Reich there was more than "politics" involved. Music, history, and gossip from a master musician and letter-writer. (7 b&w photos)
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