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Much has been written about Arturo Toscanini the greatest Conductor - the man who defied Mussolini, refused to conduct for him and Hitler as well. While on Tour we had many opportunities for conversation where we learned his great regard for liberty and democracy that he inherited from his father, a follower of the Italian patriot Garibaldi.

I will now humbly endeavor to relate my impressions of Toscanini the Conductor as well as humanitarian as I perceived them from behind my Kettle-drums.There were many outbursts of temper to individuals and to the entire orchestra, accompanied by profanity. These tirades sounded vicious and vindictive, but I believe they were neither. All was soon forgotten by us and Toscanini as well. He showed interest in the welfare of his friends and in many cases of the men of the orchestra. From1908 to 1915 he conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and made many friends. He went back to Italy during the first World War. On his return to America when he heard of the serious illness and dire financial straits of a member of the Metropolitan Orchestra, his secretary was immediately instructed to do everything possible to help his old friend.

When we arrived in Buenos Aires all instrument and wardrobe trunks were delivered with the exception of my wardrobe trunk. I wore a nile green pinstripe suit on arrival and since my wardrobe trunk was not on hand, I was compelled to play the opening concert with a nile green pinstripe suit, a borrowed white shirt and a black bow tie, I knew from a former trip to Buenos Aires, that the Teotro Colon audience was an elite and fashionably dressed one, that worried me. The huge stage was tiered for our orchestra and I was placed alone on the top tier . I had to step in front to climb up to the top tier in full view of that great audience. The Maestro heard of my dilemma, he came up to me, grabbed me by my lapels, vigorously shook them and me at the same time and said: "Caro this does not play the Tympono."

Prior to the initial concert of our South American tour, one of our men was fatally crushed under a bus in Rio de Janeiro. At the concert Toscanini noticed the empty chair and inquired the reason for his absence. Our manager told him that the player was ill. After the concert we boarded the ship for our return. When Toscanini was told of the fatal accident, he refused to come to the dining room for three days.

The NBC Symphony was founded in 1937 especially for Toscanini. Rehearsals and preliminary concerts were under Conductors Monteux and Rodzinski who warned us at every stop at rehearsals "WAIT TILLToscanini comes". The page boys took it up also and the operators of the elevators "WAIT TILL Toscanini comes" became a nightmare for us. The great day came. We stood at attention and through out minds came the words. "WAIT TILL Toscanini comes" . He came, lightly mounted the steps to the podium, a benign smile on his lips, raised his arms in greeting and said "B-r-rahms" --"WAIT TILL Toscanini comes" was never heard again.

Our First Concert was Christmas night 1937 and so started musical culture for millions of people at home and abroad over the NBC network and shortwave stations. The Personnel Manager gave us orders that no one should stop to talk to Toscanini on entering the building nor intrude into his studio and dressing roorn. On hearing of this order the Maestro had it rescinded immediately. That is the first time I heard him say "STUPID ."

At rehearsals the players were addressed by their instrumenfs for instance- Primu Trumpet- Arpo Corno. Likewise the composition to be rehearsed was always the composer's name only. On our transcontinental tour, encores were constantly demanded and Toscanini graciously responded. The final encore in the South, was always Dixie, and Stars and Strips Forever elsewhere. In Los Angeles, when encores were exhausted, the audience stood and roared for rnore, looking at one of the players nearest him, he asked for a suggestion, the player answered "Stars and Stripes Forever." Toscanini said "no, no, we play Sousa!"

Not very often did he praise one for a good performance. just "BeneBene"'. Opening the Brahms Tragic Overture is the Tuba Solo. He asked the tuba player to repeat it three times. He was fearful that he wasn't playing well -- then Toscanini told the orchestra that in all his experience he had never heard it played so well.
The camaraderie between the Maestro and the men of the Orchestra was evident on board ship or train stops. He was always surrounded by groups, graciously posing for camera fiends and always engaging in excited conversations. It was not always music, world conditions and the politicals causing them were always excellent material for a tirade as only the Maestro could command -- accompanied by gesticulating arms Italian style.
We stopped for a rest from our Transcontinental Tour at Sun Valley. Arriving about 6:30 in the morning, there was a High School Band to greet us. Heated wine, which was customary in that region was served. He was very pleased with the reception and made a speech to the Band tellling them how pleased he was with the development of music in America. He enjoyed every minute of his stay with everything the resort had to offer. He took the ski lift up Mt. Baldy. I was coming down and met his lift halfway. When he saw me, he smiled, raised his arms and conducted me-- saying Tympano-Tympano-Tympano one to the bar as is done in the Scherzo-Beethoven 9th·

At the conclusion of that tour, we and our wives were invited to his home in Riverdale. All our wives were agog at meeting the Maestro. My wife suggested she would like to meet him before the crowd arrived. We were there before all others were ushered in and found him standing at the stone wall surrounding the huge patio facing his garden. He was an impressive figure immaculately dressed, snowy white hair, bristling white mustache, with that wonderful smile --walking toward us. I greeted and thanked him for the invitation to his party and then introduced my wife as Senora Tympano. He took her hand, shaking it vigorously all the time looking at me and said. " Is she in tune? Has she rhythmos and never t-o -o -o-o loud?"

He was the personification of sincerity in every respect. Honest in his convictions of World Aftairs, faithful and sympathetic to old friends and family and his approach to all composers in rehearsals was the same -- for a Sousa March - Opera - or Symphony. I marveled at his stamina for his age. He always rehearsed standing up, never rested in a ten minute break, forever talking to those nearest him. I was farthest from him and never got into those jam sessions with those fortunate to be near him.

We were finished with a strenuous rehearsal, the men packing their instrurnents and going for the locker room when we heard that famous voice roar. "Seniori , Seniori! Ancoro Ancoro Da Capo ." He wiped the perspiration from his brow and face, tied a red bandana around his neck and down came the Baton on "Da Capo Senori!" He was impressed with the compositions of Gershwin and Grofe. After a Concer t of the Grand Canyon Suite he graciously invited Grofe on stage amid tremendous applause. He also liked The Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris by Gershwin. Rehearsing An Arnerican in Paris, he was displeased with the spirit in which we played it.. Time after time, he sang the way he wanted it played .Then with a roar he said D-o-o-o-n't sleep. D-o-o-o-n't sleep!!."Senori". Then he dropped his Baton to the floor. We were amazed and didn't know what was coming next when he said. .."You don't krow what is there in Paris -- NO-N0? Be alive, Don' t SLEEP'-- Some day I die No? When I come back.... I will not be Conductor-- I will be a doorkeeper In Bordello and not one of you will be allowed inside!!! No, No, Not one of you" and he laughed with us.

It is true there was sometimes a great deal of profanity and I firmly believe it was never intended to be vindictive nor vicious or personal. Just his way of arousing the Orchestra to be alive.. " don' t sleep Dio Santi . The following are a few Bouquets he threw at us.. Asino --Stupid ...Tutti Musicanti il Ignoanti·:. Vergognio ... CorpoDelVestroDio·.. Dio Sonti
Capa de Asino.. Molto Pistacio ... Be Intelligent .. Cantari Cantari .. Non Solfegiato Canta Canta-.. Tutti Orchestra Del Monso Asino.., Ance Toscanini- Brava Brava! .. Zuccini!.. Nonc'e male - Put one drop of blood in your playing, First biting it his baton then breaking it... See there is more blood in my stick!- Dio Santi.!"

I will never forget the Spring of 1954, we were called to a meeting of the Orchestra by our Personnel Manager. It was held in as dingy storage room, amid boxes, trunks, dust, and trash. just one tiny electric light bulb above. There he told us that the orchestra would be disbanded after the final concert of the season. I saw tears in his eyes. We walked away stunned. I was told the reason for disbanding the Orchestra was financial. That NBC had in view a Grand Spectacular Show which would take our place. In order to recoup their losses, The Spectacular Show was put on-- and soon was known in the vernacular of Broadway...a Total Flop.

To have disbanded the NBC Symphony Orchestra in such a way was to me as if one would take an axe and destroy a valuable Stradivari a crime against culture and an everlasting discredit to NBC.

Karl Glassman
Tympanist 1937-54
NBC Symphony

Music in the Mail - P.O. BOX ONE - BRIGHTWATERS, N.Y. 11718 Classical Music CDs Music Articles, Audio History Explored!