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Toscanini and anger management

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

I came across a collection of the letters of Arturo Toscanini recently, and in the 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.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.