Musician of Conscience

Harvey Sachs (Author, Curtis Institute of Music)

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On the 150th anniversary of his birth comes this monumental biography of Arturo Toscanini, whose dramatic life is unparalleled among twentieth-century musicians.

It may be difficult to imagine today, but Arturo Toscanini—recognized widely as the most celebrated conductor of the twentieth century—was once one of the most famous people in the world. Like Einstein in science or Picasso in art, Toscanini (1867–1957) transcended his own field, becoming a figure of such renown that it was often impossible not to see some mention of the maestro in the daily headlines.

Acclaimed music historian Harvey Sachs has long been fascinated with Toscanini’s extraordinary story. Drawn not only to his illustrious sixty-eight-year career but also to his countless expressions of political courage in an age of tyrants, and to a private existence torn between love of family and erotic restlessness, Sachs produced a biography of Toscanini in 1978. Yet as archives continued to open and Sachs was able to interview an ever-expanding list of relatives and associates, he came to realize that this remarkable life demanded a completely new work, and the result is Toscanini—an utterly absorbing story of a man who was incapable of separating his spectacular career from the call of his conscience.

Famed for his fierce dedication but also for his explosive temper, Toscanini conducted the world premieres of many Italian operas, including Pagliacci, La Boheme, and Turandot, as well as the Italian premieres of works by Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy. In time, as Sachs chronicles, he would dominate not only La Scala in his native Italy but also the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He also collaborated with dozens of star singers, among them Enrico Caruso and Feodor Chaliapin, as well as the great sopranos Rosina Storchio, Geraldine Farrar, and Lotte Lehmann, with whom he had affairs.

While this consuming passion constantly blurred the distinction between professional and personal, it did forge within him a steadfast opposition to totalitarianism and a personal bravery that would make him a model for artists of conscience. As early as 1922, Toscanini refused to allow his La Scala orchestra to play the Fascist anthem, "Giovinezza," even when threatened by Mussolini’s goons. And when tens of thousands of desperate Jewish refugees poured into Palestine in the late 1930s, he journeyed there at his own expense to establish an orchestra comprised of refugee musicians, and his travels were followed like that of a king.

Thanks to unprecedented access to family archives, Toscanini becomes not only the definitive biography of the conductor, but a work that soars in its exploration of musical genius and moral conscience, taking its place among the great musical biographies of our time.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • June 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-271-6
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 944 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverToscanini: Musician of Conscience


Endorsements & Reviews

“Extraordinary . . . . Indeed, I cannot think of another biography of a classical musician to which it can be compared: in its breadth, scope, and encyclopedic command of factual detail it reminds me of nothing so much as Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker. . . . Never before has [this] history been told so well.” — Tim Page, New York Review of Books

“[A] monumental new Toscanini biography. The most riveting pages are devoted to the nineteen-thirties and forties, when the conductor converted his favorite repertory—Beethoven, Verdi, and Wagner—into emblems of the fight against Fascism. I couldn’t help wondering: What would Toscanini have done if he had been confronted by geomusical snarl in Hamburg? He might have had something to say.” — Alex Ross, The New Yorker

“Without doubt the most engaging, the best-written and certainly the most comprehensive Toscanini yet to be published.” — Rob Cowan, Gramophone

“A very engaging and at times gripping chronicle of music and society, all of it devoted to the unending drive and conscientiousness that made Toscanini’s performances so riveting—and, to some, so repellent. . . . What comes through in Sachs’s long chronicle is the extent of Toscanini’s role, witting and unwitting, in transforming the way that classical music was produced and consumed in the twentieth century.” — David Denby, The New Yorker

“Sachs’s account is persuasive and compelling in the important ways. . . . . Today, Toscanini is receding from our consciousness, notwithstanding his many records. . . . Creative geniuses can survive for centuries, even millenniums; interpreters inevitably go over the cultural cliff. But that doesn’t detract from the crucial—the central—role Toscanini played in our musical culture for well over 60 years. Nor from the almost universal regard he was held in as a man.” — Robert Gottlieb, New York Times Book Review

“Toscanini’s significance as a superb artist and a key figure in the international arena is brilliantly captured in Harvey Sachs’s absorbing biography Toscanini: Musician of Conscience. . . . [Sachs] paints a captivating portrait of the conductor, from his birth in Parma in 1867 to his final days in New York 89 years later. . . . [A] feast for those drawn to music, culture, and politics.” — Jonathan Rosenberg, Christian Science Monitor

“As a study of the life and times of one of the greatest conductors of all time, this book will not soon be bettered.” — Economist

“What cannot be denied is the fact that this new biography constitutes a tremendous achievement for which both fans of the conductor and music lovers in general will be eternally grateful. . . Sach’s new biography looks to be the most authoritative work on Toscanini that we are likely to see.” — David Hurwitz, Classics Today

“'Sachs’ own dedication to this force of nature has been fulfilled in a book which ranks among the best of 2017.” — Philip Borg-Wheeler, Classical Music

“No other musician had as great an impact as Arturo Toscanini on the performance of opera and symphonic music in the twentieth century. With tremendous passion and stubbornness—and thanks to his extraordinary talents—he reshaped our ideas about what a conductor’s goals should be and how to achieve them.” — James Levine

“Sachs examines not only the artistic aspects but also the political, social, and private aspects of the man whom many consider the greatest conductor of his time. A reading of this biography helps us to understand this inflexible man, this musician who was so severe, also with himself, this conductor who represents a legend of the musical world, past and present. ” — Riccardo Muti

“Arturo Toscanini was a gigantic figure in the history of musical performance…Harvey Sachs’ new biography is the most complete and involving story ever written about this amazing life.” — Plácido Domingo

“Arturo Toscanini was not only one of the twentieth century’s towering figures of classical music and opera, but an inspirational figure as the world-renowned Italian artist who stood up to fascism. In this monumental biography, Sachs artfully weaves together both of these stories, offering rich insight into music and politics across an extraordinary life.” — David I. Kertzer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Pope and Mussolini

“Considering the great impact Arturo Toscanini had on my family—and certainly my father, Carmine Coppola, his first chair flute during the ’40s—I would say that Toscanini’s powerful personality brought a unity to his conducting…He was the music he was conducting, the interpretive being…I am reminded of all of this in reading Harvey Sachs’s comprehensive new biography, which dramatically re-creates both the conductor’s musical genius and the politics of a distant age.” — Francis Ford Coppola

“An astonishing story of how Toscanini became a musical giant…The unbelievable detail in this book re-creates vividly the musical environment from the late 1800s onward.” — Antonio Pappano, music director, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

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