UNDERSTANDING TOSCANINI by Joseph Horowitz

UNDERSTANDING TOSCANINI

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A rich, erudite sociological analysis of the 20th-century ""New World"" cult worship phenomena as symptomatic of American ""cultural populism."" Horowitz builds his study around the legendary Arturo Toscanini, whose multidecade reign as the musical Messiah for the ""uplifted masses"" inspired a cult responsible for worship of their idol, ""fetishism,"" image packaging, and his lionizing for posterity. This intricate, multilayered intellectual picture carefully surveys the tradition of musical journalistic hyperbole; America's smug embrace of a self-made, high-principled ethos (exemplified in the conductor's lowly roots and workingman's antifascism); the growing ""mass music appreciation"" of the ""classics"" through radio and TV broadcasts; and the staggering influence of promotion in the building of idol worship. He even covers the various ideological views of our ""greatest hits"" mentality in America's ""commodity society,"" where vulgar consumerism ravenously gobbles up music like a ""mass opiate"" processed for ""effortless consumption."" As his preface indicates, this isn't a musical life, but a detailed examination of an idol's enshrinement by a newly ""cultured"" society. Horowitz does cover the important threads of the Toscanini legacy: the years with La Scala, the Met, the NY Philharmonic and his own NBC Symphony; these are peopled with the loving sycophants, laudatory journalists and promoters (particularly David Sarnoff of RCA, seen in the tradition of the great Barnum) who helped create the legend. He offers a profile of the ""real"" versus the ""deified"" personality of Toscanini, a thoughtful portrait of his rival conductors and an educated perspective on his musical technique, as well as an informative discography. Horowitz's palette is dense, at times straying to obscure sociological terrain, e.g., ""Marxism's understanding of culture as an epiphenomenal topping to dialectical-material truth."" And his relentless intellectualizing might test even the zealot's patience. But for the very serious devotee of American cultural history, an impressively weighty, very highbrow study.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf