By Esther Morales
As one of the world’s most renowned and respected conductors of the 20th century, Arturo Toscanini became a household name while acting as the musical director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra beginning in the 1930s.
On Oct. 23, the Sarnoff Collection showcased a new, two-week, pop-up exhibit, giving visitors a chance to view artifacts from Toscanini’s time at NBC and his friendship with its president, David Sarnoff.
Florencia Pierri, the Sarnoff Collection curator and historian of technology, shared the exhibit’s origin.
“The Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra exhibit was done in conjunction with the College Art Gallery and its residence artist, (Yixuan) Pan,” Pierri said.
Pan is an artist based out of Philadelphia whose work specializes in conducting with an anti-disciplinary approach.
As part of Pan’s project, she looked at materials in the Sarnoff Collection about broadcasting, radio and communication.
“Her work is conducting, so we decided we would do a conducting exhibit,” Pierri said. “This is more traditional conducting than what Pan works with, but it’s about Arturo Toscanini, who was a famous Italian conductor.”
Starting his career at the age of 19, Toscanini became known for conducting without musical scores, entirely from memory due to his poor eyesight.
In 1908, Toscanini became the musical director of the New York Metropolitan Opera. He also conducted the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra from 1928 to 1936.
“He retired and went back to Italy but he was still probably the best conductor around,” Pierri said. “When NBC wanted to create a radio Orchestra to bring classical music to the radio-owning public, NBC really wanted to get Arturo Toscanini to come out of retirement.”
NBC highly sought Toscanini, and on Dec. 25, 1937, he gave his first broadcast performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
“Toscanini struck up a friendship with David Sarnoff, who was the chairman of (Radio Corporation of America), but also the president of NBC,” Pierri said.
The small exhibit displays not only personal artifacts that Toscanini gave Sarnoff over the course of his life, but also several artifacts from Tosacanini’s career.
Visitors are able to view the conducting baton and a set of keys in the form of a jackknife that Toscanini gave to Sarnoff. The exhibit also includes an early NBC orchestra record and seven-inch tape from Toscanini.
“While he did just conduct for the orchestra, a lot of his scores were recorded and sold as records and we have some of those early records. (The early NBC orchestra record) is from 1939,” Pierri said.
While the exhibit has come to an end, Pierri was glad to have Sarnoff Collection display the legendary composer’s work.
“(Toscanini’s) works and the work that he conducted are still considered to be quite good examples of classical music of the era,” Pierri said.