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Understanding Toscanini

How he Became and American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music

A socioeconomic study of the classical music industry and of the growth, through radio, recording, and television, of a musical mass culture



As America's symbol of Great Music, Arturo Toscanini and the “masterpieces” he served were regarded with religious awe. As a celebrity personality, he was heralded for everything from his unwavering stance against Hitler and Mussolini and his cataclysmic tantrums, to his “democratic” penchants for television wrestling and soup for dinner. During his years with the Metropolitan Opera (1908-15) and the New York Philharmonic (1926-36) he was regularly proclaimed the “world's greatest conductor.” And with the NBC Symphony (1937-54), created for him by RCA's David Sarnoff, he became the beneficiary of a voracious multimedia promotional apparatus that spread Toscanini madness nationwide. According to Life, he was as well-known as Joe Dimaggio; Time twice put him on its cover; and the New York Herald Tribune attributed Toscanini's fame to simple recognition of his unique “greatness.” In this boldly conceived and superbly realized study, Joseph Horowitz reveals how and why Toscanini became the object of unparalleled veneration in the United States. Combining biography, cultural history, and music criticism, Horowitz explores the cultural and commercial mechanisms that created America's Toscanini cult and fostered, in turn, a Eurocentric, anachronistic new audience for old music.


“A cri de coeur about the philistinism and commercialism of contemporary society” (Edward Said, The New York Times Book Review)


“One of the most forceful and original essay in the sociology of music I have ever encountered” (Rupert Christiansen, Spectator [UK])


“A socioeconomic study of the classical music industry and of the growth, through radio, recording, and television, of a musical mass culture. The book criticizes in depth the values of the society as a whole as exemplified in its selling or, rather, selling out of its musical culture. No one concerned with the fate of the arts can afford to ignore Joseph Horowitz’s courageous, necessary, and for the most part irrefutable cultural case history. American musical society, not only musical, owes a great debt to his incisive mind and humanist spirit.” (Robert Craft, The New York Review of Books)


“A landmark in musical socio-history” (Norman Lebrecht, Classical Music [UK])


“This absorbing examination of Toscanini, his cult, and the incredible promotional machine that grew up around him is a richly detailed, thoughtfully considered, vividly written study of a cultural phenomenon that could only have happened in America. Even more provocatively, Horowitz analyzes the long-term legacies of Toscanini worship in the increasingly cynical manipulation of mass media by today’s classical music powerbrokers and artistically bankrupt superstars. Required reading for anyone who cares for music and its future.” (Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine)


“A major achievement, the kind of detailed case-study of the role of serious music in a popular culture that has never been attempted before. The implications of Horowitz’s work are far-reaching and disturbing –- the book should be required reading for all arts administrators, critics, musicians, music lovers and people who care about artistic values. It maps a road we’d be fools to follow any further, but which we will.” (Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe)

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