Toscanini-The Man Of Tempered Steel
Toscanini. By Paul Stefan. (Heinemann, 7s. 6d.)
Reviewed by G. CONWAY
When Toscanini was but a beardless youth-he was always referred to as such by the Italian critics-there was only one thing about him that displeased his fellowcountrymen. He would never allow encores when he was conducting an opera. This was a startling innovation in those days 'when to the imperative booms of Bis! Bis! not only arias but whole scenes had to be repeated.
But Toscanini changed all that, even though once he had to fly for his life and actually shed his blood in the process. It was at La Scala. " The audience was so determined to have its way and became so menacing that Toscanini left his desk to seek safety. He was caught behind a glass door which his pursuers promptly bolted upon him. He smashed the windows with his fist, butted his head through the opening. His hand and face bled freely and his persecutors were forced to let him go. Next day he sailed from Genoa to Buenos Aires and remained there as conductor. The Scala did not see him again for three years."
On another occasion in Palermo, when he was being similarly threatened for sticking to his principles, the chief of the Mafia sprang to the young man's side, offering his protection. There was no encore!
In this delightful book Mr. Stefan shows how this frail looking genius is really as strong as tempered steel. He works like a galley slave and he makes his orchestras do the same. He does not know the gleaning of the word " compromise." Either a thing is worth doing or it is better left alone. Perhaps that is why he has dived down into the sea of Verdi's mind and brought to the surface jewels that others have never discovered. His performances of some of Verdi's operas give the lie direct to the latter-day school who shiver apprehensively whenever Verdi's name is mentioned.
He approaches the composers as a servant, never as a master; as a votary, never as a high priest and nothing but the best will do for them. Mr. Stefan's book is a worthy tribute to one of the most remarkable men of our time.
Music's Handmaid. Harriet Cohen. (Faber & Faber, 5s.)
Reviewed by ERNEST MOSS This book is a detailed record of how Miss Cohen plays certain selected piano pieces from Elizabethan music, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Manuel de Falla, and Arnold Bax.
It is evident that Miss Cohen brings concentrated thought to her performances, but since her book is a document of individual taste, any slavish adherence to its opinions by students would make the book worse than useless. Nor does Miss Cohen desire such a use of it.
At times her suggestions are fanciful. It would defy anyone's ingenuity to give objective existence on the piano to music " played in a very quiet manner with the melody. that is the Choral, sung out somewhat piercingly, although of course always very soft. and with a melancholy tone."
Miss Cohen has extracted some delightful musical disputes from Johannes de Muris's Speculum musice, John IV of Portugal's A Defense of Modern Music, and other sources.