TOSCANINI by George R. Marek


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Marek, an RCA executive and a veteran observer of the musical scene, knew Toscanini during his final years with the NBC Orchestra. Naturally, he thinks this the peak of Toscanini's achievement, but his connection with the company does not hinder him from some fairly unsentimental judgments of the RCA-NBC setup. He treats Toscanini's life with no attempt at biographical completeness, merely outlining major events. The burden of his account is a gemuetlich blend of rumination, anecdote and eulogy. It is a frankly adulatory popular treatment, much given to courtly literary flourishes and the use of classy words like ""nubilous"" and ""torrefying""; it is not the most substantial of musical discussions. The informed will find little perspective -- for example, we are repeatedly told about Toscanini's celebrated fidelity to the written score with no reference to the history of performance practice; about his rhythmic sense (""flowing, virile, strong, never slack, and steady within a dozen subtle variations"") with no comparison to any other distinctive approach (say, Furtwaengler's ""agogic"" beat); about the ""perfect"" balance he achieved between orchestral choirs with no contrast to the balances favored by other conductors. Some people will be disappointed that Marek has chosen to write on a plane somewhat below his own level of musical sophistication, but his book is more accessible than Samuel Antek's This Was Toscanini (1963) or B.H. Haggin's The Toscanini Musicians Knew (1967). Marek's particular forte is a sense of enthusiasm; he makes even the skeptical want to go out and listen to Toscanini recordings.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1975
Publisher: Atheneum