Maestro would have been 100 today

Maestro would have been 100 today


norman lebrecht

April 27, 2020

The prodigiously gifted Guido Cantelli was born in Novara on April 27, 1920.

He was widely regarded as the natural heir to Toscanini and had just been named music director at La Scala when, eight days later, his plane crashed moments after takeoff from Orly Airport in Paris on November 24, 1956.

Only one person survived out of 35 passengers and crew on board.

Cantelli was 36.

A conducting competition in his memory has been revived this year by the Teatro Coccia di Novara, subject to Covid restraints.



  • David K. Nelson says:

    Cantelli and William Kapell remain in our memories for “just think what could have been.” His (Cantelli’s) incomplete Beethoven 5th Symphony is a perfect example of that sense of loss.

    And his recording of the Franck Symphony lets us know what the NBC Symphony sounded like in real stereo – a reminder that many maintain there could have been some Toscanini stereo recording sessions had the maestro shared, say, Stokowski’s curiosity about the recording process as a thing in itself.

    • Amos says:

      Do you know if the story is true that prior to GC’s first rehearsals with the NYPO the musicians were skeptical if he was all hypo or not? They became convinced when early he managed to stab his left hand with the baton but kept conducting while bleeding until the orchestra stopped of their own volition. Supposedly Toscanini was never told of the plane crash and when he’d ask about Cantelli he was told he was conducting overseas.

    • Karl says:

      I love that Franck recording.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    The death of Cantelli was a punch to the gut. He was a masterful conductor when he died; given a lifespan as long as Toscanini’s, he may very well have surpassed The Maestro.
    Imagine Cantelli conducting Verdi at La Scala!
    Listen to his live recordings with the NBC Symphony and the NY Phil – they give a better view into his volatile and passionate art than the excellent but rather reserved studio recordings with the Philharmonia for EMI.
    Novara is just a few km from where my father and grandfather were born, in Lonate Pozzolo. Bravo, Teatro Coccia di Novara, for helping to keep Cantelli’s name alive.
    Evviva Cantelli!!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    PS to my earlier comment: I raise the Italian flag in front of my house for important Italian anniversaries. It’s going up tomorrow (I’m writing on the 26th) for Cantelli.

  • Don Clark says:

    Love Cantelli. Temperamental as I have read but he spoke to me. Have most, if not all of his recordings on CD and vinyl. What a loss.

  • batonbaton says:

    I love his Tchaikovsky symphonies 4,5,6 – such urgency and fervour in those recordings… as with Kertesz, one can only imagine what might have been had these vital musicians not been silenced far too early.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    There exists a longer documentary than this fine one: Guido Cantelli: Tra Conquista e Destino.

  • Pedro says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Cantelli was a true genius. Warner has just issued a box of his complete official recordings in remastered versions. It’s worth buying even if you own the previous set. There are also some terrific performances in Testament and Music and Arts among others. The celebrated Così from Piccola Scala is available in the Stradivarius label. Hard to find and poor sound but unforgettable.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Thank you so much for bringing to our attention this new release. Do you have an opinion on how its sound quality compares to the old “icon” set?

  • Adi says:

    Cantelli may well have become the foremost conductor of his times. The Italian domination of conductors in the 20th century would then be quite apparent. First half Toscanini, then Cantelli… Sometimes there is hype when a famous artiste dies prematurely and young. But not so with Cantelli, he was truly exceptional. It is tantalising what might have been in opera. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf is reputed to have said that their Cosi together at La Scala (1956) was the finest she had ever participated in. A friend of mine who heard him conduct a Beethoven symphony in Munich already ranked him with Toscanini. Another friend who heard him in 1956 doing the Verdi Requiem in London said it was a totally shattering experience. Probably the most memorable concert he ever attended !

  • Alceste des Combrailles says:

    …. and what an accompanist : Beethoven 4th Piano concerto Wilhelm Backhaus, New York 1956 :
    Someone else better ?….

  • Adi says:

    On the subject of great artistes dying prematurely I would also like to refer to the cellist Emanuel Feuermann. He died in 1942 aged 39 after a botched operation. The passing of Cantelli and Feurmann were most probably the greatest musical artistes of the 20th century to have have had early deaths. Heifetz stated that a musician such as the latter appears only once in a hundred years. Toscanini and Rubinstein said that Feuermann was the greatest string player they ever associated with ! Now these three gentleman were normally known for not expressing such lavish praises ! However, Toscanini felt the same about Cantelli.

  • Novagerio says:

    A tremendous loss, like with Jacques Thibaud and Ginette Neveu.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Ginette Neveu (1949), Jacques Thibaud (1953), Guido Cantelli (1956), William Kapell (1953): four unspeakable losses to the music world within seven years, all due to air crashes. Powerful anecdotal evidence on how much safer airplane travel later became.

  • Jay Shulman says:

    Cantelli conducted the first performance 1/20/52 of my father’s “A Laurentian Overture” with NYPO and the 2nd with NBCSO 3/1/52.
    Text of 11/24/56 cable to Iris Cantelli: “Our broken hearts share your grief. The world has lost a great musician and man. We have lost a beloved friend. Sophie and Alan Shulman”

  • Herbert Rakatansky, MD says:

    I recall seeing Cantelli conduct the Boston Symphony (Thchaikovsky 5) on one of their trips to Providence in 1952. It was a seminal experience for me, then a young person just getting acquainted with the classical repertory. I still have a cd I made from a tape of the WGBH broadcast of the live Cantelli Thchaikovsky 5 given in Boston that weekend. Wonderful and it sets the standard for me.

  • Kenneth Berv says:

    My father, Jack Berv, of the NBC Symphony horn section (with his brothers Arthur and Harry), respected Cantelli immensely. He said he had a better “ear” than AT. Of course Toscanini was 68 in 1938 when the Bervs joined the orchestra, and in his 80’s when Cantelli, who was in his 30’s conducted the NBC. Dad also said Cantelli conducted the “modern” rhythms like Stravinsky, that AT did not.

    Is it true that the Maestro was never officially told of his protegee’s death? A scheduled radio concert did not occur, but AT did not ask about it?

    • Adi says:

      Yes ,Toscanini was not about Cantelli’s death but his family sent a wreath.

    • Amos says:

      I think it is in Harvey Sach’s book on AT that the family opted to hide the fact from him.

      • Petros LInardos says:

        Was Toscanini senile in the last weeks of his life?

        He couldn’t have missed Cantelli’s death if he followed the NYPO, who held a memorial concert for Cantelli, or read the New York Times (I see in their archives three articles that mention Cantelli in late November and early December 1956).

        Cantelli died on November 24, 1956. Toscanini reportedly had a stroke on new year’s day 1957 and died a few weeks later.

        • Amos says:

          Are you really this ignorant? Toscanini was shielded by his family because he thought of GC as more than a protege but a combination adopted son and musically almost a reincarnation of himself. What family member in their right mind wouldn’t try to keep such a tragedy from him? Just a scintilla of humanity is in order rather than a snide remark.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            Amos: I have personal experience of hiding news from an elderly (and long since deceased) close relative. So while I can easily empathize with the intentions of Toscanini’s family, I do not understand your condescending tone.

            I am asking a question which can be answered with facts. Here is perhaps a better formulation.

            How was Toscanini’s mental condition in the last weeks of his life? If he actively followed the news or listed to NYPO broadcasts, he could have easily found out about Cantelli’s death.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi, Mr. Berv. Hope you’re staying well…
      Yes, it’s true. AT’s family decided it would be in Maestro’s best interest to keep the news of Cantelli’s death from him, and there’s no available evidence that shows he ever found out about it.
      And in terms of conducting modern rhythms, Cantelli conducted the NBC Sym. in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra and Music for String Instruments, Percussion, and Celesta. (I have the live concert recordings.) Toscanini is on record as saying he didn’t understand the latter.

  • Rob says:

    All evidence points to a run of the mill conductor with run of the mill interpretations.


    • Jack says:

      Funny how your critical appraisal has found absolutely no validity in virtually every other historic evaluations of his recorded work by critics and historians not named ‘Rob’.

    • Not Rob says:

      The above evidence points to a run of the mill dismissal that contributes absolutely nothing to the ongoing discussion. Next!

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      “all evidence points to…” What is that supposed to mean? -run-of-the-mill empty rhetoric.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Eloquent tributes and memories of the enormously gifted Guido Cantelli. Adi’s to unforgettable Emanuel Feuermann also, and Greg Bottini’s as always. Novara, eh? Father and Nonno? Sapristi! Keep your Italian flag flying!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi, Edgar.
      Yes, Lonate Pozzolo is very close to Novara. It’s near Malpensa Airport – the joke in Lonate is that if a pilot who lands there forgets to put on his brakes he ends up in Lonate.
      Some years ago, my wife and I spent a lovely week in Lonate with my Dad visiting all his old haunts, including the house where he was born. The old part of town, according to my Dad, hadn’t changed a bit.
      The Novara region, and Lombardy as a whole, is sadly the most hard-hit Corona virus area in Italy. My heart breaks for the Lonatesi and all the Italiani.
      Keep washing your hands Edgar my brother!

  • NYMike says:

    On successive weekends in Spring ’54 NY @ Carnegie Hall, I heard Cantelli conduct Beethoven 7th with the NYP and Toscanini conduct La Mer with the NBC SO. Wow – what history.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    Cantelli’s studio recordings of Brahms 3 and Schumann 4 with the Philharmonia are the best I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard many), and they set an exceptionally high standard. It was actually Cantelli’s performance of Brahms 3 that made me realize there’s a great piece of music there, because no other performances I’d heard ever really reached me. I can only imagine what great music-making Cantelli had ahead of him. A huge loss.

  • violin accordion says:

    My first LP at 11. Mozart 29 and Musikalischer Spass.
    An incredible inspiration to a life of music.

  • Ilio says:

    Would he have been able to change his podium personality? Musicians wouldn’t have put up with his tantrums by the 60s.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      They might have put up with it…Szell kept going into the 1970s. And he might have learnt to mellow a little.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Another early loss that should be mentioned is that of the pianist Dinu Lipatti.

  • Julian Jacobson says:

    I’ve always felt that Cantelli, already a great conductor, would have taken his place among the elect and been one of the most famous musicians of the 20th century.