Menuhin on Toscanini

As a teenager, violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto under the baton of the volatile Arturo Toscanini. While they rehearsed in Toscanini’s apartment, the young soloist was treated to perhaps the calmest, quietest temper tantrum of Toscanini’s life. As he described it later:

It was during the preparation for this performance that Toscanini showed me what it meant to be sure of oneself. In his apartment at the Hotel Astor on Times Square–which had an Italian proprietor and no doubt reliable pasta–we had reached the middle of the slow movement where, after the second tutti, the sound marked perdendosi [dying away] hangs by a thread, when the telephone rang.

Naturally I ignored it; so did my father in his unobtrusive corner; so fumbling at the piano (for he was not a great pianist) did Tocsanini. There was a second ring. We went on playing, I at least tensely aware that the pressure in the room was boiling up to a reaction.

At the third ring, Toscanini stopped, rose from the piano stool, and with light quick determined steps walked not to the telephone, but to the installation in the wall and jerked the whole thing bodily out, wooden fitting, plaster, dust, severed dangling wires; then, without a word uttered, he came back to take up where we had stopped, in total serenity.

When the third movement ended there was a timid knock at the door. Relaxed, unembarrassed, amiable, Toscanini gently called, Avanti!–his first word nice the incident–and the door opened on an abject trio, his wife, the hotel proprietor and an electrician, all  promising to do better another time.

I couldn’t find a picture of young Menuhin with Toscanini, but here he is with Bruno Walter.


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