What musical intimidation really sounds like

October 27, 2017 by norman lebrecht


Following the recent case of a university conductor who was dismissed for alleged intimidation of his players, this is the real thing – with English subtitles.

Comments (56)

  1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    What a dick …

    1. Sue says:

      Arguably one of the most over-rated conductors in history!! And a man who’d had the complete charisma bi-pass.

      1. Cubs Fan says:

        Based on what? Did you hear him live? Me neither. But based on reports of people who did and his recorded legacy, both NBC and bbc, I think you’re wrong. Must have been extraordinary and I’m sorry I never experienced it.

      2. Pianofortissimo says:

        Overrated? – surely no, but many of his late recordings are bad, especially the vocal music – he worked mostly with very bad (American) singers after about 1940.

      3. Hosentrompete says:

        JEG got into some bother over a trumpet player in the LSO or was it a trombone.

      4. Heinz Guderian says:

        I think if I were an orchestral player I would rather be conducted by Friedrich der Grosse!

      5. Olassus says:

        Overrated? Like Meryl Streep perhaps?

    2. Pianofortissimo says:

      According to his biographers he had a very busy one, keeping one or two mistresses in every city with an opera house or symphony orchestra worth to conduct. Surely a real male pig but a great conductor.

      1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        And that’s exactly why people adored and worshiped him. No sarcasm at all. People always get the leaders they deserve. Just take a look at the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors around the world, they, almost without exceptions, nicely summarize what their “folks” are.

        1. Pianofortissimo says:

          Your assertion that Toscanini’s sexual life made him “adored and worshiped” is ridiculous. In his time people did not care about it as far as one was discrete. Toscanini was respected and his behaviour towards the orchestra generously tolerated because he could make even mediocre orchestras sound great, he could make a provincial opera orchestra sound “symphonic.”

          1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

            I wasn’t talking about his sexual life … What I was referring to was his “alpha-male-ish” leadership style, a.k.a. bully and a**hole.

  2. fierywoman says:

    NBC Orch ? In the US? Why is he speaking Italian, in that case? If that’s the case, most of the musicians don’t speak Italian, can “get” his rage (scary), ma non capisconno un cazzo…

    1. Alexander Platt says:

      I am sure that most of the NBC Symphony chaps in the 1940’s knew basic Italian, it was a different world back then. Those guys had been hand-picked from the finest orchestras in America, and they were among the highest-paid musicians in the land. Toscanini was by then in his 70’s, between his previous tenures at the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic he was a completely known quantity, I am sure that everyone knew what they were getting into.I studied viola with Frank Brieff, who had been a member of his viola section at the NBC and he had nothing but reverence for him.

  3. Robert Holmén says:

    The big difference… those musicians are at least being paid to put up with him and were hired on the premise that they were up to his demands, unlike college students who are paying for what should be useful, useable instruction and are admitted to an ensemble after clearing a much lower level of expectations.

    Anyone know how many NBC players actually, truly got fired by Toscanini?

    1. Heini says:

      So it’s ok to be bullied, insulted and abused by your boss so long as you are being paid? Especially if you are an orchestral musician? Just think about what you wrote and imagine yourself in that position!

      1. Robert Holmén says:

        So you think being a paid professional and a paying student are the same thing??? Oh, dear!!!

        I can do that false logic, fake umbrage stuff too, Heini.

        1. Heini says:

          In that they are all human beings, yes. It’s not fake umbrage, I’ve been a professional orchestral player for over 30 years so I can empathise with those players. I haven’t ever seen or heard any reports of what the players thought of Toscanini but would very interested to know if they despised him for this behaviour or thought that the results justified it. He would be loathed and mocked these days for losing it like that.

    2. NYMike says:

      As far as I know, Toscanini never fired anyone. Away from the podium, he was pleasant. Today, union rules and orchestra committees would prevent such behavior. BTW, Koussevitsky also put on quite a show at rehearsals, walking off the stage in a huff and having to be begged back to finish the rehearsal.

      1. NYMike says:

        Copied and pasted from another site:

        Cesare Civetta
        7 months ago
        Only Toscanini was permitted to misbehave like that. Stokowski, for example had a rehearsal suspended because of his offensive words to a player and it couldn’t continue until the union representative showed up and Stokowski had to apologize to the player.
        The NBC Symphony musicians accepted Toscanini’s screaming because they understood it wasn’t mean spirited. They refused any mis steps from Reiner and Szell, for example. It should be mentioned that Toscanini did travel twice to Palestine to establish what is now the Israel Philharmonic, gratis, in solidarity with the young Jewish refugee musicians. And he gave affidavits and helped musicians fleeing the Nazis, gain entry visas, homes, and jobs in the U.S. And despite his crazy behavior, he never fired an NBC musician in the 17 years of the orchestra’s existence. His will stipulated that his wife, should he predecease her, continue his funding of Verdi’s Rest Home for Aged Musicians in Milan. And in the 1920s at La Scala she had standing orders that if a musician from the orchestra ever approached her in hardship, she was to give them monetary assistance, no questions asked

        1. harold braun says:

          Szell and Reiner were much more dangerous….

      2. Alexander Platt says:

        Precisely — which was why in Boston, his successor Charles Munch was seen as such a relief…..on the other hand, as much as I adore CM’s recordings, he was not the most ardent disciple of the act of rehearsing….no conductor is perfect.

  4. Ungeheuer says:

    “What musical intimidation really looks like”

    Argerich gives Dutoit the look of death on a couple of occasions. Even says something (unintelligible) to him. Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned.

    1. Sue says:

      The Charlie and Martha show; where she get to bang out her frustration at the keyboard.

  5. John Borstlap says:

    Toscanini was a peasant, and like some peasants he liked screaming at his cattle.

    Another demonstration:

    1. Sue says:

      Yes, he WAS a peasant. You are absolutely right. Mind you, ‘the screaming skull’ wasn’t much of an improvement!!

      1. Alexander Platt says:

        By “screaming skull” do you mean Sir George Solti, the man whom many here in Chicago still worship as the former maestro of the CSO? And that Wagner “Ring” Cycle wasn’t so bad either

      2. Stephen says:

        Sir Georg Solti was and remains my favourite conductor. He never abused players and got astonishing results from an unpromising Covent Garden orchestra. In Chicago there was no need for shows of temper.

        1. Furzwängler says:

          Wasn’t Solti known as the Screaming Skull by his London band?

          1. Olassus says:

            He had two.

    2. Pianofortissimo says:

      Peasant or not, his recorded legacy is an undeniable proof of his capacity. Maybe just the fact that his formal training was as orchestra musician (violoncellist) not as conductor can explain his significance – he as a rule made the orchestra play what the composer had written – thus his Beethoven interpretation scandalized conductors like Furtwängler who had dedicated theirs lives to learn from the previous generations the correct way to (miss)read the scores and give them a personal interpretation. In this sense his approach is very “modern” and he inspired HIP-conductors as well as Riccardo Chailly (his Beethoven cycle in Leipzig is as Toscanninian as it could be).

  6. Itsjtime says:

    Otto Werner Mueller was abusive to his students on a regular basis. It was tolerated because he brought a discipline that serves musicians well for their careers.
    This discipline was often terrifying and was excused because it came from a place of “caring for the music”.


    1. Robert Holmén says:

      I wonder, did Otto-Werner Mueller’s abusive nature serve Otto-Werner Mueller well?

      Aside from academic posts he seems not to have had a significant conducting career himself.

      1. Cubs Fan says:

        Those who can, do…Those who cannot, teach…

        1. Stephen says:

          That is a silly quip from GBS! Good teachers need special skills.

      2. Simone says:

        I asked Claudio Abbado to give me conducting lessons. He told me “I am a good chamber music teacher, but I don’t know how to teach conducting. For conducting you should go to Otto-Werner Mueller. His students are among the best prepared conductors I know”.

    2. Alexander Platt says:

      Otto Werner Mueller is generally regarded as the greatest American conducting pedagogue of the later 20th century. Among his students was Alan Glibert, who recently wrapped up his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

      1. Robert Holmén says:

        So… does Alan Gilbert deploy similar screaming and abuse as his tools, now that he is on his own? It was so valuable?

        1. Alexander Platt says:

          I witnessed four years of Otto Werner Mueller rehearsing at Yale, and personally I never saw that kind of behavior. After his departure from Yale, the music school took a nosedive from which it took well over a decade to recover; many people had applied to YSM in order to play under him. His conducting career outside of his teaching is not relevant; Wisconsin, Yale, Curtis, the Juilliard — his calling was to be one of the great pedagogues of his time. Alan Gilbert undoubtedly took the best from his maestro’s teachings, and from that built a major career.

  7. trolley80 says:

    Ah yes, the old “your teachers were treated like garbage and disrespected by famous ***holes, so you should have to put up with it to” excuse. Thanks for trotting that one out, I hadn’t heard it in a long time.

  8. Elizabeth Owen says:

    I hate you for you ruin my dreams said Toscanini to his orchestra.

  9. Alexander Platt says:

    This is all undeniably true; and the atmosphere of the old NBC Symphony boys, then perhaps the best-paid orchestra in the US, could not be more different from that of a modern Ivy-League school. But let’s not forget that Toscanini had the courage to stand up to Mussolini, at real personal risk, and was a founding force behind what is now the Israel Philharmonic; whereas the ever-amiable Sir Thomas Beecham, whose Delius and Sibelius recordings (even his somewhat wayward Brahms 2) I shall always cherish, was more than happy to work in Berlin as late as 1938, and couldn’t wait to rehabilitate the image of Richard Strauss after the War.

  10. Patrick says:

    Different time. Different culture.

  11. John Borstlap says:

    To compensate for the tantrum stories:

    “The more experience he gained, the less willing he was to accept complacency. He could rehearse patiently for hours if he sensed that his musicians and singers were working at maximum capacity, but if he suspected otherwise he would become a fury, breaking batons, screaming obscenities, tearing up scores, knocking over his music stand, and hurling insults at the offenders. Singers sometimes emerged from his coaching sessions in tears, and orchestra players left rehearsals wrung out from tension and exhaustion.”

    1. Pianofortissimo says:

      Thank you for the link, that’s a very positive review of Harvey Sachs latest Toscanini biography. The following passage is especially interesting: “In 1934, some nine million people—over 7 percent of all American men, women, and children—tuned in to his New York Philharmonic concerts on Saturday nights.”

  12. harold braun says:

    My dad had violin lessons with Edwin Bachmann,principal 2nd violin of the NBC.The musicians adored him.After the beginning of the 20th century Toscanini almost single handedly created professional standards in opera performances.Before him,opera houses were more kind of circus or vaudeville establishments,without a rehearsal system,with standards no one would tolerate today.
    Like his legacy or not,he did for conducting what Kreisler did for the violin,Casals for the cello,Caruso for singing.He created new standards.To read the childish,stupid,uninformed comments of some narcisstic self appointed “music experts”above their heads here,makes me cringe.
    On more thing…There are conductors,who can be intimidating,short tempered and moody still today,yes.As long as they are inspiring and have personality,musicality,conducting skills,and a 200 percent vision of what they want,and how they get it,i can live with that.It´s not as bad as a nice chap who can´t conduct himself out of a paperbag.
    What i do nevertheless witness quite often,is the arrogant,rude,selfish,boorish,bullying behaviour among many opera directors.I have more than once seen opera directors calling singers silly cows,screaming at and insulting us,the repetiteurs and rehearsal pianists(we are seated well below the salt,you know).But no one seems to bother

  13. Robert Holmén says:

    People are going, “Ah, see how the truly great conductors scream. It is the mark of their Olympian standards!”

    But there’s no way they could scream all the time or even most of the time, and there’s no evidence that the screaming was any more effective than directions made with normal speech.

    In that Toscanini clip, his rant is 9 parts venom, 1 part information. Wise use of rehearsal time?

    1. harold braun says:

      The thing is,those outbursts took place very rarely,only once in a while,as many NBC musicians testified.But sensation seeking press and marketing people made and still make them appear having been the norm,thus contributing to some kind of myth…

  14. harold braun says:

    And,let´s not forget about one of today´s greatest maestri who sometimes screams like hell at players(and singers,for that matter)….

    1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      Please first tell us who she is then can we try not to forget.

  15. Naomi Sanders says:

    Toscanini atoned for his sexual dees denouncing Mussolini, the way the Indian stallion buys his indulgences criticizing the Israeli majority and government,

    1. Stephen says:

      Toscanini’s sexual encounters were consensual – women found him irresistible so he had no sins to be pardoned for. Furtwangler had two women brought to his dressing-room during concert intervals.

  16. Tim Alexandroff says:

    Toscanini this disgusting dead white male!
    Regarding his sexual prowess having “at least one or two mistresses in each town…..we should remember that like in tango, it takes (at least) two!
    Cuckolds get what they deserve!

    1. Stephen says:

      A silly post, young man – from beginning to mercifully rapid end.

    2. John Borstlap says:

      Toscanini would have been quite surprised to be informed that he was a dead white male.

      1. Furzwängler says:

        Are you sure he’s dead? I mean, he could be up there somewhere practising law.

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