I came across a collection of the letters of Arturo Toscanini recently, and in thē introduction the editor writes, “A whole psychology textbook could be written about Toscanini and anger.” Well all I can say is that if there had been such a book, Toscanini should have read it. He may have been a great conductor, but he was also an ill-tempered tyrant. Because in his day conductors had absolute power over their orchestras, Toscanini never had to control his temper the way most people have to in civilized society. He could indulge it, in fact, and he did – often screaming at orchestras and treating orchestra musicians with great cruelty. Was he the only conductor to act this way? Certainly not. There’s a long list. Is such behavior indeed a symptom of psychological problems, of unresolved neuroses? I believe it is. Always. But let’s be clear: cruelty to musicians may once have been tolerated, but it’s not necessary for great music-making, and it never has been.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.