Understandg Toscanini

Joseph Horowitz, Author
Joseph Horowitz, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (492p) ISBN 978-0-394-52918-9
Reviewed on: 02/01/1987
Release date: 02/01/1987
Basing his long, ambitious study on the mass- and mid-culture theories of Dwight Macdonald, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and C. Wright Mills, while not neglecting the epistemology of Hegel, Horowitz (Conversations with Arrau examines the Arturo Toscanini cult, its forebears (P. T. Barnum's glorification of Jenny Lind) and successors (Pavarotti in Madison Square Garden, PBS's Great Performances) and virtually the entire world of 20th century music. Along the way, he analyzes the work of earlier music critics (Krehbiel, Downes, Gilman, Haggin, Thomson); the differences in style and approach of conductors Theodore Thomas, Mahler, Toscanini and Furtwangler; the music-appreciation racket; attempts to cater to least-common-denominator audiences; the stranglehold of concert managers; and of course the orchestrated campaign by NBC's David Sarnoff and an inner circle of ""scribe-disciples'' to promote Toscanini (18671957) as the greatest conductor of all time. Horowitz marshals his evidence (rather repetitiously) and majestically lays down the law: the mass appeal of Toscanini's NBC concerts was ``a function of all-purpose performance excitement correlative with Verdian visceral mechanics.'' Contrary to what the conductor's deifiers claim, his objectivity, catholicity and artistic stature diminished during his NBC years (``The Great Purifier had become a vengeful Savonarola''). It was his ``thrilling personal attributes'' that contributed to his success: the aloof patrician and the human, informal Toscanini. To speak of his legacy is to speak primarily in extramusical terms, states Horowitz: his cult, with its ``unprecedented machinery and machinations,'' exerted a more lasting influence than Toscanini the conductor. And, concludes the author about today's legacy: ``Lincoln Center exudes the inherent sterility of new homes for old art,'' and the impact of TV musical culture is ``to maximize glamour and homogeneity, pabulum and praise, by manufacturing superconcerts crammed with superstars.'' Photos not seen by PW. (February 18)
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