Composers Datebook®

Toscanini and Copland

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 14, 2023


On today’s date in 1942, on a radio broadcast by the NBC Symphony, the 75-year-old Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini led a performance of El salón Mexico by the then 41-year-old American composer Aaron Copland.  Copland, who attended the performance, was amazed to see that Toscanini knew his score by heart, apparently unaware that the extremely nearsighted Toscanini always memorized the scores he conducted.

After the performance, Copland was invited backstage to the Green Room to meet Toscanini. “He addressed me as “maestro,” recalled Copland. “That was a shock. It was rather fun to be addressed as ‘maestro’ by the ‘maestro.’”

“But Toscanini seemed disturbed,” said Copland.  “I wondered what was bothering him and apparently the rhythmic complications of my piece had caused him considerable headache, trying to remember all these changes of rhythms in the piece by heart, and made him a little unsure of his memory.”

Years later, among Toscanini’s papers, a copy of Copland’s score was found, written out in Toscanini’s own hand, from first note to last, apparently made as an aide to – or test of – his memory. Copland asked Toscanini’s son Walter, for a photocopy, and it remained one of Copland’s prized possessions.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900 –1990) — El salòn Mèxico (NBC Symphony; Arturo Toscanini, conductor.)

On This Day


  • 1681 - German composer Georg Philipp Telemann, in Magdeburg;

  • 1727 - Baptism of German composer and keyboard virtuoso Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, in Danzig (now Gdansk);

  • 1804 - Austrian composer and conductor Johann Strauss, Sr., in Vienna;


  • 1734 - Handel: anthem "This is the day which the Lord hath made" in London at the French Chapel of St. James's Palace, for the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince Willem, the Prince of Orange (Gregorian date: March 25);

  • 1824 - Schubert: String Quartet in a (D. 804) in Vienna, by the Schuppanzigh Quartet; Published the following September, this was the only chamber work of Schubert's published in his lifetime;

  • 1847 - Verdi: opera "Macbeth," in Florence at the Teatro della Pergola;

  • 1885 - Gilbert & Sullivan: operetta "The Mikado," at the Savoy Theatre in London;

  • 1963 - Simpson: Symphony No. 3, in Birmingham, England;

  • 1975 - Ulysses Kay: Quintet Concerto for brass and orchestra, in New York City;

  • 1976 - Paul Creston: "Hyas Illahee" for chorus and orchestra, in Shreveport, La.;

  • 1986 - Harrison Birtwistle: "Earth Dances" for orchestra, at Royal Festival Hall in London by the BBC Symphony, Peter Eotvos conducting;

  • 1996 - Leo Ornstein: Piano Sonata No. 6, at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, by pianist Marvin Tartak;

  • 2000 - David Maslanka: Wind Quintet No. 3, in Columbus, Mo., by the Missouri Quintet;

  • 2001 - Danielpour: Cello Concerto No. 2 ("Through the Ancient Valley"), by the New York Philharmonic, Kurt Masur conducting, with soloist Yo-Yo Ma;

  • 2002 - Previn: Violin Concerto, by the Boston Symphony with the composer conducting and soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter;

  • 2003 - Jim Mobberley: "Vox Inhumana" for live and prerecorded sounds, in Kansas City, by the NewEar ensemble.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®