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The Earliest Toscanini Letter to be Offered at Auction in at Least 50 Years

Signed by Arturo Toscanini

Item: 21300
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TOSCANINI, ARTURO. (1867-1957). Italian symphonic and operatic conductor. ALS. (“Arturo Toscanini”). 2pp. 8vo. N.p., N.d. [December 1897]. In Italian with translation.

“Illustrious Prof. Antonio Orfi [?]

In my letter from the other day I asked you if you could provide me with the parts of the Scandinavian symphony by Cowen, of which I would like to execute two parts in Sunday’s concert, in Turin. I would need a note from you for the archivist who has this music – Would you be so kind to do this for me? Tomorrow morning I am leaving for Turin and I would like to bring with me the parts. I beg you to forgive me for this inconvenience and to accept my deepest thanks and my warmest regards… I thank you for the invitation that you kindly sent to me with your courteous letter but unfortunately I could not take advantage of it – this Saturday I will remain in Turin to start the rehearsal of the concerts.”

Trained as a cellist, Toscanini first took up the conductor’s baton in 1886, at the age of nineteen, during a performance of Aida in Rio de Janeiro when a conflict between the conductor and the orchestra had reached an impasse. Lacking any previous conducting experience, Toscanini astounded the musicians and audience by conducting the entire work from memory.  Upon his return to Italy, Toscanini began his conducting career in earnest, soon becoming Italy’s, and one of the world’s, most famous conductors.

Photo of Arturo Toscanini

Arturo Toscanini

Our letter refers to Toscanini’s preparations for a concert in Turin that included the two middle movements of British composer Frederick Hymen Cowen’s (1852-1935) Scandinavian Symphony. Premiered in England in 1880, it soared in popularity over the next decade, earning the composer international recognition. Toscanini is known to have conducted the work twice, once on Sunday, December 12, 1897 and, again, on Thursday, September 8, 1898. According to Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs “there is no further evidence that he gave further performances of” works by Cowan, (“Leone Sinigaglia, 1868-1944,” Mahler Foundation website,

Toscanini’s reputation grew rapidly after he joined the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1908, where “for seven years Toscanini ruled over one of the most dazzling constellations of singers in the history of opera (among them Caruso, Scotti, Farrar, Destinn, and Martinelli) and to a remarkable extent succeeded in imposing his unique discipline on them,” (The New Grove Dictionary). In 1928, Toscanini became the New York Philharmonic’s principle conductor and two years later, CBS won the rights to broadcast the orchestra’s performances, making Toscanini “arguably the best-known symphonic conductor in the world… the relationship lasted until 1936, when Toscanini retired… the withdrawal of the colorful and temperamental Toscanini meant a loss both to the music world in general and to radio, CBS in particular,” (Music of the Great Depression, Young and Young). In 1937, NBC created a symphony orchestra especially for Toscanini and under his 17-year direction, the weekly broadcasts, numerous recordings and world-wide concert appearances only increased his already outsized reputation.

An extremely early letter from the twenty-year-old conductor. The only other example of an early letter written by Toscanini was one penned in 1918, more than twenty years after ours.

Folded and in very fine condition.

The Earliest Toscanini Letter to be Offered at Auction in at Least 50 Years

Signed by Arturo Toscanini

$900 • item #21300

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