For most music lovers, the phrase “Italian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries” means first and foremost OPERA composers.
But during the 1920s and 1930s, when the great Italian opera conductor Arturo Toscanini was music director of the New York Philharmonic, American audiences heard many non-operatic, symphonic works by modern Italian composers.
On today’s date in 1929, for example, Toscanini led the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere performance of the “Concerto dell ‘estate” or “Summer Concerto of the contemporary Italian composer, Ildebrando Pizzetti.
In addition to premieres by Pizzetti, New York audiences heard recent Italian symphonic works by Respighi, Tommasini, Martucci, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Wolf-Ferrari, and others.
Absent from Toscanini’s New York programs were new works by the rising AMERICAN composers of the day. There were no Toscanini premieres—or even performances—of works by Copland, Harris, or Piston. Those composers had to look to the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky if they wanted a hearing.
The American composer Daniel Gregory Mason complained in 1931 that the Philharmonic was run by (quote): “fashion-enslaved, prestige-hypnotized minds... totally devoid of any American loyalty to match the Italian loyalty” that was, as Mason admitted, “rather likeable” in the charismatic Italian maestro.
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