The conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957), the sesquicentennial of whose birth is commemorated this year, combined unsurpassed passion with refinement in musical performance. Despite his renown for fidelity to the written notes, Toscanini always conducted from memory, as he was too myopic to perform without glasses and too vain to wear them in front of audiences. He was also not averse to gingering up scores to achieve what he felt were composers’ real intentions.
Adhering to demanding standards for his orchestras and himself, even as a young maestro he readily discharged musicians who could not keep pace. The ensembles he created, especially the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which he led from 1937 to 1954, comprised virtuosi, many of whom merit and have received individual biographies.