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James B. Meriwether Collection of Arturo Toscanini

Identifier: SCU-MUS-0027
The collection includes recordings in all formats, videos, rare radios, broadcasts, books, newsletters, periodicals, and photographs.


  • n.d.


3.33 Linear Feet (3 containers.)

Biographical / Historical

Toscanini, Arturo, Italian conductor; b. Parma, March 25, 1867; d. N. Y., Jan. 16, 1957. He entered the Parma Conservatory at the age of 9, studying the cello with Carini and composition with Cacci; graduated in 1885 as winner of the 1st prize for cello; received the Barbacini Prize as the outstanding graduate of his class. In 1886 he was engaged as cellist for the Italian opera in Rio de Janeiro. Returning to Italy, he was engaged to conduct the opera at the Teatro Carignano in Turin, making his debut there on Nov. 4, 1886, and later conducting the Municipal Orchestra. Although still very young, he quickly established a fine reputation. From 1887 to 1896 he conducted opera in the major Italian theaters. From 1921-1929 he was artistic director of La Scala. In 1926-1927 he was a guest conductor of the N.Y. Philharmonic, returning in this capacity through the 1928-29 season; he was then its associate conductor with Mengelberg in 1929-30; subsequently was its conductor from 1930 to 1936; took it on a tour of Europe in the spring of 1930. He conducted in Bayreuth in 1930 and 1931. Toscanini became music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937, a radio orchestra that had been organized especially for him.; he conducted his first broadcast on Dec. 25, 1937, in N.Y. He took it on a tour of South America in 1940, and on a major tour of the U.S. in 1950. He continued to lead the NBC Symphony Orchestra until the end of his active career, conducting his last concert in Carnegie Hall, N.Y., on April 4, 1954 (10 days after his 87th birthday), and then sent a doleful letter of resignation to NBC, explaining the impossibility of further appearances. He died a few weeks before his 90th birthday.

Toscanini was one of the most celebrated masters of the baton in the history of conducting; undemonstrative in his handling of the orchestra, he possessed an amazing energy and power of command. He demanded absolute perfection, and he erupted in violence when he could not obtain from the orchestra. what he wanted (a lawsuit was brought against him in Milan when he accidentally injured the concertmaster with a broken violin bow). Despite the vituperation he at times poured on his musicians, he was affectionately known to them as "The Maestro," who could do no wrong. His ability to communicate his desires to singers and players was extraordinary, and even the most celebrated opera stars or instrumental soloists never dared to question his authority. Owing to extreme nearsightedness, Toscanini committed all scores to memory; his repertoire embraced virtually the entire field of Classical and Romantic music. His performances of Italian operas, of Wagner's music dramas, of Beethoven's symphonies, and of modern Italian works, were especially inspiring. Among the moderns, he conducted works by Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, and among Americans, Samuel Barber, whose Adagio for Strings he made famous; he also had his favorite Italian composers (Catalani, Martucci), whose music he fondly fostered. In his social philosophy, he was intransigently democratic; he refused to conduct in Germany under the Nazi regime. He militantly opposed Fascism in Italy, but never abandoned his Italian citizenship, despite his long years of residence in America. In 1987 his family presented his valuable private archive to the N.Y. Public Library.

(Excerpted from Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edition. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York: Schirmer, 1991)

Physical Location

This collection is housed in the Music Library, which is located in the School of Music at 813 Assembly Street in Room 208 (on the 2nd floor).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Professor James B. Meriwether graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1949 with a double major in English and History. He received his M.A. in 1952 and his Ph.D. in 1958, in English, from Princeton University. He taught at his alma mater from 1964 until his retirement in 1990. He has held Guggenheim and American Council of Learned Societies Fellowships, and has three times been awarded Fulbright Professorships for teaching and research abroad.

Professor Meriwether began collecting recordings of classical music when he was in high school. His admiration for Arturo Toscanini began in 1935 or 1936, listening to Toscanini's radio broadcasts, conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with his mother, Margaret Babcock Meriwether. Then came the years of the NBC Symphony broadcasts (1937-1954), and the opportunity, when in graduate school, of attending Toscanini concerts in Philadelphia and New York.

Over the years, Professor Meriwether's collection of records grew steadily and benefited from mail-order catalogs, from graduate student years near the record shops of New York, army years near Boston, and most of all from trips abroad, especially to Europe and Japan, which permitted the acquisition of foreign pressings and issues of recordings unavailable in this country, or available only in sonically inferior forms. Today, the collection represents more than a dozen different orchestras, in many different countries, from 1920 to 1954.

In December 2009, the following items were purchased and added using funds from the Arthur Elliott Holman, Jr., Acquisition and Preservation Endowment: -1 Painting by Toscanini by Arturo Rietti, 1863 -1 8" x 10" autographed picture of Toscanini -5 programs of Toscanini concerts -33 photographs of Toscanini -2 audio cassette tapes, recorded at NBC Studios, 1946 -Letters from David Sarnoff, founder of NBC

Repository Details

Part of the Music Library Repository

813 Assembly Street, Room 208
School of Music, University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
803-777-1426 (Fax)

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