Working With Toscanini

“Several years ago,” says Mr. Haggin, “a musician who had played in the NBC Symphony with Toscanini observed that all the books about Toscanini had been written by outsiders [this was a year before the appearance of the superb book THIS WAS TOSCANINT,with text by Samuel Antek of the NBC Symphony and photographs by Robert Hupka], and that there was need of a book by the insidersthe musicians who actually rehearsed and played with Toscanini &emdash;that would provide future generations with an authoritative statement of what his greatness was.”Mr. Haggin has interviewed a number of those musicians, and has converted their statements, recorded on tape, into monologues, to be published as a book next spring. He writes on music for the HUDSON REVIEW and his most recent book is MUSIC OBSERVED (Oxford). William Carboni. whose monologue follows, now plays in the New York Philharmonic.

Edited by B. H. Haggin

William Carboni

I FIRST knew about Toscanini from my father, who used to go to all the operas in Philadelphia and New York and took me as a kid to hear Titta Ruffo and Caruso, He talked about Toscanini and music, and that’s how I got to play the fiddle. I remember the last concert Toscanini gave with the Philharmonic in 1936: I hitchhiked to New York and stood all day to hear it in the gallery; and I never thought I would play with him. I came to New York, and in 1940 I played in the substitute orchestra at NBC while the NBC Symphony was in South America with Toscanini; and when they came back I had an audition with the Old Man — the best audition I ever had. I played in Studio 3B — with my wife — a Brahms sonata for viola, and that was all. Spitalny, who was sitting next to Toscanini, asked him if he wanted to hear me play any Strauss or Wagner; and Toscanini said no, if a man could play a Brahms sonata alone, he certainly could play in an orchestra. Then he came over to me and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Bene, bene,” and put his arm around my wife; and she said it was the most exciting thing — she just found herself in his arms, you know? An old man! Seventy-something! And so I was in the orchestra.

Then I remember the rehearsals with the Old Man: two and a half hours, and they seemed like nothing. You know what the two and a half hours can be with some conductors: you go crazy; it never ends! But with Toscanini it was as though you had just sat down and played a few notes and it was time to go home! It was as though he had a built-in time clock that told him when the two and a hall hours were at an end. He would pull out his watch, but he didn’t have to. He rarely was off; and if he did keep us five minutes overtime, he was apologetic about it. It was because he knew how to apportion time in a rehearsal — knew what he could do in the time, and never began something he wouldn’t be able to finish within the time available.

You got a beat — you watched him — and you followed him. When he looked in your direction you just had to play, you couldn’t just sit there. Did we feel the force of his presence? Always, always! As soon as he walked in, it was just like a magnet.

Others may have had finer stick techniques — meticulous stuff, dividing everything; but I don’t think the Old Man was interested in that. He was interested in the line of the music, and it would come out by singing: he was singing all the time, and he made you sing on your instrument. Of course, his beat was always clear in its placing of everything in the measure: within the meter it was delineative. Sometimes in big climaxes it would go round in circles, but you still knew where you were. And he could make a beat last forever when he was prolonging something; you’d think his arm was a mile long. He didn’t have to stop and talk when he came to a change of tempo or change of meter: he was prepared; he knew before what he wanted to do; he didn’t have to talk about it, he did it; and you watched him and followed him. There are conductors— Cantelli was another — who don’t have to speak, but very few like the Old Man in that respect. You watched his arms and made the crescendos where they made them. He was excited; so you would get excited: in the Verdi Requiem your hair stood up.

I remember that many times we went through a slow movement, and he wasn’t satisfied with it, and said, “Da capo”; and we did the whole thing through again; and this time we began to get a feeling of line, of continuity — instead of stopping every two bars, with some conductors, and never getting to play the thing through. And I remember once, during a Brahms cycle, we went straight through a symphony from beginning to end at the first rehearsal. The Old Man stood there like a child: we had done what he wanted; he had nothing to say; and we still had two more rehearsals. So he said, “You know it, I know it; go home, I’ll see you at the concert.”

What he stopped for was little things — to get them exactly the way he wanted them. And it was when things didn’t go that the tantrums came.

If he knew something was difficult, he was patient, very patient. But something wrong that was stupid or careless infuriated him. He couldn’t stand any sloppiness or casualness, because he wasn’t that way.

I remember his saying he was sweating and wet, and we had to be too: he was giving everything he had, and we had to give it.

I loved him even when he yelled, because he never yelled at me, after all: he yelled at the whole viola section; and when you’re taking only one twelfth of it, that’s all right. But when you’re a solo clarinet or English horn taking all of it, then it’s hard; and it was very hard on some of the men.

As for what the Old Man had that made you give everything — and what Cantelli had-a lot of conductors don’t have the personality or the magnetism to hold your attention; so you play with your head buried in the music, you see only by peripheral vision the beat going up and down, and as a result you fall in where you shouldn’t, or you don’t make the retards where they are wanted. But the Old Man and Cantelli got what they wanted because you had to look at them; and when you looked, you saw what they wanted and you had to do it.

In an orchestra there are always some men who don’t care, who give the bare minimum, just enough to get by. The Old Mian got more out of most men than they would ordinarily give to a conductor; and they gave it because they looked at what was up there and they had to. Some of them didn’t like it: they complained that he was a tyrant, that he worked us too hard; but if they had given at the beginning, he wouldn’t have had to. He told Cantelli, “Never say bene, bravo — never, never! Always say it’s not good enough, and maybe you’ll get something.” Once in a while he might say “Non c’è male—’not too bad. But after the rehearsal, or when you’d go out to his home, he was sweet, like a child. I loved the Old Man; and I think everybody did.

What he felt was right was right; and you could kill him, but it would still be right. He was a man; and I think he had the feeling that Beethoven was the same kind of man. I remember his saying once, “Beethoven was real man,” meaning no fooling around there, solid; and that’s the way he was. You knew he couldn’t be pulled or swayed by management — that it NBC didn’t do what he liked he’d stay home; for $6000 a concert he’d tell them to go to hell.1 Someone else would be influenced by the money, but it didn’t influence him; and so you had great respect for the Old Man. At rehearsal breaks he would talk to everybody, and get carried away and talk about programs he did long ago — always friendly, sweet, and kind; but you knew flattery would get you nowhere. And I think he was hardest on himself. Were you there when he slapped himself in the face? We had played something, and he said, “I listen to this performance: and I was stupido!”, and boom!, he knocked himself in the face.

Photograph by

You knew when he came in to do a work that he had studied it, that he knew it, and knew what he wanted. He never came to rehearsal unprepared — never. Everything was prepared thoroughly, including new works he didn’t know. He got the score of the Shostakovich Seventh on a Wednesday, and by Friday he had the whole thing memorized. (By the way, did you hear the story about that symphony? Just before the Old Man died, his son was playing records for him: and one of the things he played was the Shostakovich Seventh. The Old Man asked what it was; and when Walter told him, he said, “Did I play that?” Walter said yes; and the Old Man said: “I must have been crazy.” He was a little intolerant of modern stuff; but he was old. He always said, let a young man like Cantelli do new music: he did enough of it when he was young.)

No matter what happened at a performance, he would never show anything to the public on his face. But when he played the piece the next time, two or three years later, he’d say, “You remember when you played ?” (That was when he was

in good humor.) And he had no favorites: he would bawl out anybody; because the only thing he cared about was the music. One of the men came from the same town as the Old Man, Parma, and they were friends; but once when he played badly, the Old Man said, “If I see you on the street in Parma I go on other side!”

What I remember about his performances? The way he looked when he walked out on the stage — his meticulous appearance, with his shoes and pants and everything just perfect. Even before he came out, everybody’s eyes were watching that corner for his entrance; and when he walked out he was ready, and all extraneous things had to be forgotten. You could tell what the music was doing by his face. I often think of the start of the Brahms Second or the Brahms Fourth: how quietly and peacefully the Old Man would begin it, letting the music play itself: and here his skin was white. Then, when the music became excited, his blood went up, his lace got red, and he was singing away, yelling at the top of his lungs, his whole being “gone.” That’s when, if anything went wrong, everything was at the top, and his top blew off. What happened in quiet music was all right, nothing to get excited about.

And there was also the clarity. I remember a thing like Strauss’s Heldenleben, where there are passages of sixteenth notes that go on for bar after bar after bar: and with some conductors you get time to play only fifteen and a half sixteenths, and you lose the rhythm and begin to fish for the notes and can’t find them. With the Old Man the tempo was exactly right, and there always seemed to be room for the last sixteenth. It was always possible to play more notes with him than with anybody else. Other conductors, when they come to the concert, get excited and play the music faster, thinking that way it is more brilliant. But when the Old Man took a tempo at a rehearsal, you knew that when you played the piece at the concert it would be that tempo.

I don’t think the concerts were as good as the rehearsals in many cases. I remember I’d feel sorry for the Old Man: I knew the way he worked at things at rehearsals, and many times they didn’t go that way at the broadcast. One reason for the difference was the strain and tension on everybody’s part at the broadcast, because at NBC we played a program only once, whereas other orchestras would have played it two or three times. Also I think he was basically a shy man and may have been bothered by the audience, even though he didn’t have much respect for it, judging by the remark he’d make once in a while: “Anything you do is good enough for them.”

The performances I remember? The Otello: it was immense! Also the Aïda—and the Requiem. And I’ll tell you a performance that stands out in my memory -the Skaters Waltz: beautiful! And other things like that: the Boccherini Minuet, the Zampa Overture-the so-called junk stuff. When we went through the Zampa Overture the first time in 1943, he said he hadn’t done it in years and it was fun—let’s do it again; so we repeated it! Could he play the Blue Danube Waltz? And how! He knew all that stuff.

Yes, the Old Man’s performances did change: toward the end he knew he was getting old, and he was afraid of their getting draggy and heavy like Bruno Walter’s. As for the greater energy you speak of in the performances of the first NBC years, he was younger, and everybody in the orchestra was trying and working like crazy. Also it was a better orchestra in those years, with some of the woodwinds and those strings. Some of the old boys in the Philharmonic still talk about the Old Man and are convinced he was much better when he was there than when he was at NBC; but I suspect these things grow in people’s imaginations.

He hated recording. He would hate it even more the way it’s done today; but in the 78-rpm days he hated it because of the business of stopping at the end of a side. He felt that he should conduct the performance and the engineers should worry about getting it on the record. When tape came in, the difficulty was that once he started what was intended as a short test passage, he might keep going to the end of a movement and find out then that it hadn’t been recorded.

He gave no interviews, accepted no honors: he felt he was merely doing his job of serving the composer, and everything was owed the composer. That was why he could conduct a Strauss waltz. He did nothing for himself, and that was why we worked. He was working like crazy for the composer; so we worked like crazy with him.

I remember when we did the Grand Canyon Suite, he kept asking Grofé if the tempo was right and so on: after all, Grofé was the composer, and the Old Man always felt the composer was much more important than the conductor. Every time he asked Grofé anything he called him “Maestro”;

and Grofé was just in heaven. When it was all over the Old Man called him to the podium and asked him if everything was all right; and Grofé said yes and was so overcome as he backed away that he backed into the chairs and fell over them.

The Old Man just seemed more sincere than anyone else — trying to find what a man like Beethoven had put into his music. I remember what Hindemith said once, “Music has a face: leave it alone. If you don’t like it, don’t play it, but don’t change it.” The Old Man felt like that.

Reviewers of the Toscanini broadcasts of operas issued on records accused him of using only the inferior or inexperienced singers, who would submit to his tyrannical imposition of fast and rigid tempos that “thwarted” singers’ attempts to sing expressively, Jan Peerce, who sang in several of these performances, was hardly an inferior or inexperienced singer; and Mr. Hoggin asked him to tell what it was like to sing with Toscanini, and specifically, whether it involved submitting to a tyranny that prevented a singer from singing expressively.

Jan Peerce

Toscanini had heard me on the radio, and seemed to like my voice; and when he was going to do Beethoven’s Ninth in 1938 he asked Chotzinoll if he knew me, and Chotzinoff said yes. So Toscanini said, “I’d like to hear this boy personally,” and Chotzinoff called me and asked if I’d like to audition for Toscanini. After I d almost tainted, I said, “Of course!” Chotzinoff was supposed to play for me at the audition, and I waited in the lobby of the Hotel Astor, where Toscanini was living, but there was no Chotzinoff. Finally, I called the Toscanini apartment and was told to come up. Toscanini himself opened the door, greeted me very cordially, and shook hands. He asked me if I had brought my music with me. I replied, “Only the tenor part of the Ninth Symphony.” He laughed and said, “Ah, I wanted to hear you sing something more” — more singable, shall we say. And he said, “Do you know anything else?” I said I knew some arias; and the first one that came to my mind was “Una furtiva lagrima,” from L’Elisir d’ amore. “Oh,” he said, “you know ’Una furtiva lagrima.’ Come: I play for you.” And he sat down at the piano—without music, of course — and began to play; and believe it or not, he made a mistake — one of the very rare mistakes that Toscanini made! As you know, the two stanzas of “Una furtiva” begin the same but continue differently; and in the first stanza Toscanini played the continuation of the second. He stopped, but I went on with the first stanza; and after cussing himself out, he resumed playing, and we finished together. At the end, exclamations of “bella voce!"—he liked it very much — and he said, “Would you like to sing in the Ninth Symphony with me?” I said, “It would be the greatest moment of my life!” And he said: “All right, you sing with me,” and told me the date. And that was how my association with him started.

Oh, yes, I was at ease at the audition. The challenge was a challenge; but there’s the animal instinct of self-preservation: you fight back. The first moment was what I had expected, but when we shook hands, I found he was a human being who smiled and was very cordial and very sweet and very fatherly. I remember it began to snow as we were talking; and when I sang I concentrated on what I had to sing and on the snowflakes I could see through the window. Toscanini didn’t matter at the moment, until he made the mistake; and I guess he was impressed by the fact that I could keep going no matter what happened.

Leinsdorf prepared the singers; and by the time I came to the first piano rehearsal with Toscanini, I knew the tenor part pretty well. What struck me was Toscanini’s self-discipline, and the fact that when he sat at the piano the most important thing in the world for him was what was happening at that moment. If you pleased him by doing the music — no matter what it was — as written, if you gave the notes the right values and the words their right pronunciation and flavor, he was the happiest man in the world; and every time you sang a phrase that he liked you’d think he was finding a thousand dollars. And yet, in one performance of the Ninth Symphony — I don’t remember which one and who the soprano was — he changed the music for the soprano. This man who kept saying, “Canta, come è scritto” and “Is written this way; sing it the way is written” — this man changed the B-naturals in the last quarter for the soprano! I said to myself, “What’s this?” And that was one time when I realized, “Look, he’s a human being.”

With him it wasn’t just a piano rehearsal and then “Let’s do the performance.” You saw him for weeks — three, four times a week, as often as he felt; and the day you had a rehearsal with him, you made no other appointments. If he called for a three o’clock rehearsal, he might keep you until four, six, seven —there was no telling. We used to love it when he was happy after a good rehearsal and would offer us a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of cake and we’d sit around. Moscona. who sang with him many times, or Nan Merriman would know how to get him to talk: it was fabulous, the way he would give his opinions on everybody and everything. I’ll never forget: once the subject of coloratura sopranos came up, and he said: “Coloratura sopranos! If I had a daughter who wanted to be a coloratura soprano, I would cut her throat!” Or someone mentioned a fellow who said he had been Toscanini’s assistant at La Scala. “That pig!

I wouldn’t let him into my room!” He remembered everything. With me he remembered tenors. Once he mentioned Paul Althouse: “Was very good ve-e-e-ry good — good musician — good, good. Knew how to sing.” Then he mentioned a tenor who wound up badly — the poor fellow died on the stage — Aroldo Lindi, who toured with the San Carlo Company for years: Toscanini spoke in glowing terms of this boy in his early days. And that Italian, Pertile: he was musical —he knew what to do with a phrase.

At the rehearsals he was so dynamic, so forceful, so fiery that I couldn’t take my eyes off him — and this was true even after fifteen years: I had to watch the expression on his face as he conducted. And because he had this drive, this power, you just responded as if you had known exactly what he wanted. He had it not only over singers but over the men in the orchestra, It was a great orchestra, and these boys had played with everybody and knew everything backwards and forwards; but the way they responded to Toscanini was something! They wanted to please him: they knew he was so sincere in what he asked for that they were anxious to do the right thing. It’s been said that musicians played or sang over their heads for him; what I would say is that he got as much out of you as he could, and as much as you should have given, though he didn’t ask for anything but what was there in the score; in fact, I’m sure that if you had tried to overdo something, he would have said it was overdone. He wanted passion, but passion from within; he wanted warmth, but not manufactured warmth. And he wanted you to know what you were singing. He always said, “Say the words correctly, the tone will come” And it’s true — if you know what you’re saying, the meaning of the words will bring out the quality of the tone, provided you have the tone in your voice.

People ask, was he acting or was he sincere? and my answer is, he was he, Once he got on that stage lie was a different person; he was the musician, and he was an actor who acted what he felt. When we did Boherne, tears were coming down his face; and it wasn’t put on, nobody saw it, just us. We singers were more fortunate than the public; because all they could sec was his back and his arms waving, but we could see the man, and what the music meant to him, whether it was the Ninth Symphony or an opera.

That performance of the Ninth went off very well, and Toscanini was very happy. Of course, between you and me, what is there in the Ninth Symphony for the tenor? It’s no aria: you sing sixteen bars, then the tenor chorus joins you, and you’re inundated — you’re a thwarted man. Also, it’s a trying experience to sit there for those three movements, knowing you’re going to have to open your mouth and sing. I’ll never forget Pinza that first time: he kept clearing his throat, and finally he said to me, “I always promise myself I will never sing with that man the Ninth Symphony; but when he calls me I can’t resist him.” I said, “What’s the matter?” and Pinza said, “You have to sit for forty-five minutes, and then you have to start with ‘0, Freunde.’ ” He was afraid of that frog in the throat — which never happened, incidentally.

I sang Verdi with Toscanini the first time in a Verdi program in January, 1943: the Trio from I Lombardi and Hymn of the Nations, No, there was no special problem with the musical style. You see, when you came to Toscanini it wasn’t to learn something from the start: you were prepared by Trucco, and had a pretty good idea of what you were doing; so Toscanini didn’t have to tell you much. He’d sit at the piano; and if there was something to tell you, he’d say, “This is the meaning of this phrase.” Or he’d ask, “You know the meaning of this?” and if you were right, he’d say, “Yes. Now do it a little darker,” or “Do it warmer,” or “Do it with more heart.” He had ideas for everything, and everything he wanted seemed right. They say he didn’t let you hold high notes; but if you listen to the records, you find you held high notes — you didn’t overhold them and make the thing ridiculous. When I did Bohème with him I reveled in the sound, and he let me; and in Rigoletto—just the other day I listened to the quartet, and I held those B-flats, just enough, but I held them.

The Hymn of the Nations was something Toscanini felt very close to, because he was a warmly patriotic Italian, very proud of his background, and the piece was by Verdi, and it was written for a Garibaldi Day celebration. These things made Toscanini feel this was his piece of music, especially when he changed the words from “my beautiful country” to “my betrayed country” — “mia patria tradita.” He made sure that when “tradita” came along, you said it and meant it.

In another Verdi program in July, 1943, we did the fourth act of Rigoletto, which we did again at the Red Cross concert in Madison Square Garden in 1944. I had already sung Rigoletto—I started singing it about 1940, before I was at the Met— but Toscanini’s tempi and interpretation were different. I like the people who tell you he played something faster because he knew it had to fit on a record! He played it faster because he felt it should be faster. I’ll never forget when we did Traviata —the fast tempi in some places, the “Libiamo,” for instance. He said, “This is a drinking song on a festive occasion; you can’t go to sleep.” Or the gambling scene. He explained what’s going on, what’s happening with the girl and the boy —• he doesn’t really want to gamble, but is jealous. Toscanini said, “Verdi meant it to be exciting; and [here Peerce imitated Toscanini’s burlesquing of the usual tempo] that’s not exciting.” He sang it as it should go, making it live.

In the Fidelio of 1944 he worked us very hard. Mind you, he didn’t speak German well, but he knew every word and corrected our German and made us enunciate it clearly. His tempi were fast; but he could explain every one of them. Some of the singers had done Fidelio at the Met, and everybody had ideas and feelings in the matter; and they could talk to him. “Maestro, is there any reason special for this? Don’t you think we could do it a little slower?” And he would tell you why you couldn’t—what would happen if you did. He said, “How should this man act? If you sing it slowly, you will lose the intensity!” But he listened to you; he wasn’t the ogre he was painted. The only time he was a tough guy was when he got angry; and when would he get angry? When he thought you were betraying the composer, weren’t doing what the composer wanted. If you made a mistake once, he’d give you a look; but if you made it again, or made more mistakes, then there was hell to pay. In Fidelio one day he lost his temper with a singer who made a mistake he had made the day before, and it was terrible: the man stood there crying because of the things Toscanini called him.

I learned Fidelio for Toscanini. He made me learn it, because I didn’t want to: why should I learn a part I might never do again? He said, “You learn the part. You please me.” There were other things he wanted me to do which I wouldn’t do. He wanted me to sing a Wagner program with him once, and I’m sorry to this day that I didn’t. He wanted me to do the second half of the first act of Die Walküre. That was the first thing he heard me sing on the air when I was in Radio City, and what appealed to him, he told me later, was the fact that he was hearing a Siegmund who was not yelling, who was singing. I have a letter in which he wrote me when I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t do it, “Who told you that in order to sing Wagner you must not know how to sing?” That was his argument; but I refused, and even afterward he said to me, “You should have done it.” The other thing I refused to do was Aïda. I was careful about my choice of repertoire, because I wanted to be able to sing for a long time, and if you give too much, especially in your early years, when you don’t know as much about vocal technique as you do later, you can’t last; by the time the technique is part of you, you say, “Where’s the voice?” This is where the critics can be of service to a young singer: they can tell him he’s on the wrong track. Instead of only saying “Great performance,” they should question whether he should have done the part at all. I remember listening to a Toscanini broadcast of an opera while I was getting dressed for a concert in Cleveland, and saying to my accompanist about two of the singers, “They never sang like this before, and I predict they’ll never sing like this again.” They were fantastic, but they gave too much and got into vocal trouble afterward. Singing is like charity: you give, but you don’t give everything, so that you have nothing left for yourself; you have to be a little selfish. So I refused to do Aïda.

In La Bohème, in order to satisfy Toscanini we had to undo a lot of things we’d learned from others. And I remember how he spent hours with the baritone who tells Marcello at the end that Mimi has died “Marcello, è spirata” — how Toscanini spent hours to get this baritone, who was a great artist, a great actor, to speak the words the particular way he wanted-with a breathless quality that Cehanovsky just didn’t dig at the beginning. “No, no, Cehanovsky; no, caro; ‘Marcello [Peerce imitated Toscanini’s croaking whisper], Marcello’ -until he got Cehanovsky to do exactly what he wanted. The same with everybody: he had something to say to everybody, to give him the feeling for the interpretation of his part.

In the broadcast of La Bohème he sang along with me — in the aria especially; and in the third act, my God, he helped me cry. You can hear it on the record, and there are some people who say, “It spoils the record.” And I tell them, “Isn’t that funny; for me it makes the record.”

I suppose you know what happened at the end of the broadcast? No? Well, after Mimi’s death there is one beat of rest, and it’s a tradition that the conductor doesn’t beat that rest. Toscanini had explained to the orchestra that he wouldn’t beat the rest; but at the broadcast he was affected by the drama of the moment and was crying, and his hand made some sort of movement. Some of the brass thought he was giving them their first beat, and came in; but others didn’t, and there was bedlam. Of course it didn’t take Toscanini more than three beats to straighten them out, but for him the heavens fell, the world went black: he wouldn’t take a bow, he cried, he carried on, he sent for the brass section: “What did you do? What did you do? You’re sorry! What, sorry. You go home with your wife and have dinner: what do I do?”

You asked whether it was true that the next time I sang Bohème at the Met I was told to forget some of the things I had done with Toscanini. Sure. You know — those petty jealousies. I antagonized some people at the Met once when I was interviewed on the air—think by Tex McCraryand he said, “Your association with Toscanini was marvelous, of course. But who do you think, at this time, is rising to take his place?” And I said, “No one!” He said, “You mean to say that of all the people — ” And I said, “No! No one!” And there were five different conductors at the Met who thought, “Why no one?” There was only one conductor — only one, and the poor fellow died — Cantelli, who showed signs of that kind of greatness. Who else? Do you know anyone else? In another interview I said, “A lot of his imitators think that if they speak with a hoarse voice and cuss out musicians, that will make them Toscaninis. No. that’s not Toscanini: you have to be a genius.”So some of the conductors don’t like me so much !

I’ve already told you a few things about the Traviata. I remember another example there of Toscanini’s insistence that the notes must mean something. Merrill has a great voice, the greatest baritone around; but Toscanini wanted him to get a certain softness, a certain mellowness, and finally he said, “Merrill, Merrill; please, please, Merrill — be a father, don’t be a baritone.” He never yelled at me; but once l came near it in a Traviata rehearsal. I mispronounced a word. He looked at me, and his hands dropped from the piano: ”Un’ ultra volta. Again.” So I did the phrase again, and again I made the mistake. And he dropped his hands: “Peerce! You too?” I said to myself, “There has to be a first time”; and I tell you my heart sank: it would have killed me, to be the butt of his anger.

At one Traviata rehearsal he gave the orchestra a Geschichte. My wife, Alice, had never come to a rehearsal, and I told her, “You’re missing a lot if you don’t come to the rehearsals. They’re better than the performances. So she said she’d come, but it could be only on Friday. “Oh, come on!" 1 said.

“Friday is the dress rehearsal —just a final runthrough. Can’t you—” No, it had to be Friday. At the rehearsal on Friday Albanese said to me, “Oh, I see Alice.” All week there had been fireworks, Toscanini had really carried on; and I said to Albanese, “Today she comes, when he’ll just run through it.” So he starts the orchestra in the Prelude to Act Three; and he stops them: “Piano!” He starts them again, and stops them: “Piano!!!” And the third time: “Io voglio PIANO!!! PIANO!!!” And he broke his stick; he threw the score; he knocked over the stand; he stamped his feet. I saw my wife looking at me; and afterward she said, “I shouldn’t come Friday?” But the beautiful thing was that finally he cooled off and began to play with his mustache and said, “Next season, anybody who wants to play in this orchestra with me must have an audition.” At that point he saw Mischakoff, the concertmaster, looking up at him with that smile on his face like a little cherub’s; and he looked down at Mischakoff and said, “You too!”

There was one broadcast that he wanted me for, but I was booked for two concerts at some college that just wouldn’t release me; and I think that time he wanted to do Lucia. He loved Lucia. Most people, you mention Lucia, and they say, “Aah, Lucia! Kukuraku, kukuraku!” [a term of ridicule for coloratura singing]; but when you mentioned Lucia to Toscanini, he’d say, “Lucia! Che bell’opera!"; and if he was near a piano he sat down and played it for you. I said to him once: “You know, Maestro, I’d love to do Lucia with you — at least the Tomb Scene”; and he said, “Yes, yes, someday.” And I think he wanted to do it at that broadcast.

About Un Ballo in Maschera I had a whole thing with him, which I didn’t publicize at the time. I had been promised that Ballo originally — oh, yes, I had been promised it! —but there was some management political business, and all of a sudden I heard that my friend Bjoerling was to do it. When I inquired: “Oh, yes, there was a change.” “What do you mean, there was a change? I was promised this thing.” “Well, he had a change of mind.” “ Who had a change of mind?” And right away the people around him began to guard him; before that I could get to him any minute of the day, now I couldn’t. I was heartbroken, because I worshiped this man: for me he was someone who could do no wrong; and when this happened, I said, “I don’t ever want to see this man or talk to him, great as he is.” And if it weren’t for my wife, I would never have done it —which would have been terrible, because Un Ballo is one of the best things I ever did with Toscanini, and one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Walter Toscanini called my wife to ask her if I would talk to his father; and I refused at first, but she said to me, “What are you, crazy? Are you going to cut off your nose to spite your face?” So finally I said, “All right, I’ll talk to him.” So he got on the phone: “Peerce, Peerce — believe me, is not my fault.” And I felt miserable, because I knew he had been victimized; and to have him, a man like that, whom I loved so, apologizing — I felt so miserable, I cried. I said to him, “But Maestro, I haven’t done Un Ballo in Maschera in six or seven years, and I don’t remember it.” “Peerce, you will know it — you will know it.” This was just a week before the broadcast; I had a concert on Sunday and a performance at the Met on Tuesday; and he wanted me Wednesday for rehearsal with the orchestra. No piano rehearsal: I couldn’t give him a piano rehearsal. He said, “You don’t have to memorize it; you can hold the book.”

Well, I got to work with my accompanist and coach, and got the thing back in my system. When I came into Carnegie Hall for the rehearsal there was electricity in the air, with people who knew about all this wondering what was going to happen. I’d seen Toscanini upstairs for a minute, and he’d said to me, “Just sing. I follow.” “I’ll follow you, Maestro.” “No, no, you just sing.” We went through the first act without a mistake, and he called an intermission; but before he did, he jumped off the podium and threw his arms around me and kissed me. This was the side of Toscanini that seldom came out; and I felt just like a kid. And upstairs he said to me, “You afraid? You afraid? I told you, you just sing.” I said, “But Maestro, I was worried about not satisfying you.” He said, “Don’t worry. Just sing.” And it was a fabulous success. The fire he gave to it!

About a year ago a friend called me and said, “They’ve just announced they’re going to do the Toscanini Buhème on WOR.” So I turned it on and sat listening to it; and what it made me think was that at this late date —with the new sound, and stereo, and shmereo — this was still the greatest recording and made the greatest sound, greater than what you have on all the new ones. You get the quality of that extemporaneous performance. You know you’re listening to a real show. You didn’t walk into a studio where someone said, “We’ll start at letter D and make twelve bars, then we’ll cut and make fourteen bars after letter K.“ No, you went in and did a show; it was a living thing; and that’s the greatness of the performance. And I can feel proud of my singing in it; because it isn’t a patching together of one note here and another note there in the recording studio; it’s the real singing I did that day.

  1. Carboni is referring to Toscanini’s absenting himself from NBC during the season of 1941-1942 as a result of his discovery that the orchestra allegedly created especially for him had to play commercial programs under other conductors. This angered him because it affected the orchestra’s work with him; and his anger boiled over at a rehearsal of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in December, 1940, when he discovered that a number of musicians had had to sneak out because they had to play a commercial program. He stormed out of the rehearsal in a fury; and though he conducted the concert and completed his series of broadcasts that season, he didn’t return the next season.