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Born in 1867
Inducted in 1998
Toscanini was perhaps the most widely respected of all conductors, during a long period in which there were more than a few giants on the podium. He began his professional life as an orchestral cellist, and made his conducting debut in June 1886, when he was 19 years old and playing in the orchestra of an Italian opera company touring South America: his colleagues drafted him on the spot to take over a performance of Aida in Rio de Janeiro when their regular conductor was indisposed, and he came through brilliantly, without a score. While he continued to play in orchestras after returning to Italy, within ten years he became one of the most important conductors of his time. He presided over the premiere of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci in Milan in 1892, and that of Puccini’s La Boheme in Turin in 1896; he also conducted the first performances in Italy of Wagner’s Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. From 1898 to 1903, and again from 1906 to 1908, Toscanini was chief conductor at La Scala. In 1915 Toscanini returned to Italy. He returned to La Scala as artistic director in 1920 and held that post until 1929; at the beginning of that period he took the company’s orchestra on tour in the U.S. and Canada, and at the end took the entire company to Vienna and Berlin. Toscanini’s glorious final period as a symphonic conductor began 1926 with his first guest appearances with the New York Philharmonic. In the following year he was named co-conductor with Willem Mengelberg; in 1928 the Philharmonic absorbed Walter Damrosch’s New York Symphony Orchestra to form the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, with Toscanini as its sole music director from 1930 to 1936. In 1930, Toscanini became the first non-German to conduct at the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. In 1936 he conducted the inaugural concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (known today as the Israel Philharmonic). As an outspoken anti-fascist, he had already defied Mussolini in his own country, and after Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 he stopped appearing at the Salzburg Festival. In that year and the following one, at the Lucerne Festival, he conducted an orchestra made up largely of refugees from the Nazis. In 1937 Toscanini was brought back to New York by the National Broadcasting Company, which created the NBC Symphony Orchestra for him. Toscanini died ten weeks before his 90th birthday; his family donated his private archive to the New York Public Library.