‘Toscanini and the Fascists’


You might think that conducting an orchestra would be a safe profession, but at times a conductor can fall into a life-threatening situation. So it was with Arturo Toscanini in Bologna,Italy on May 14th, 1931.

Toscanini had accepted an invitation to conduct two concerts in Bologna. The purpose was to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the birth of composer Giuseppe Martucci, and Toscanini insisted on conducting for free. But a celebration of a different sort was also scheduled — a Fascist Party festival. The Deputy Mayor told Toscanini that two government officials would be attending the first concert and that he should therefore begin the performance with the royal march and the Fascist favorite “Giovinezza.” Since the concert was supposed to consist entirely of music by Martucci, Toscanini declined to play the two anthems, not wanting to turn the concert into a political event.

When Toscanini arrived at the theater he found himself surrounded by Fascist youths. One of them asked him whether he would play “Giovinezza.” When the conductor refused, the Fascist hit the 64-year-old conductor in the face and neck and shouted insults while the crowd added taunts of their own. Toscanini’s wife and chauffeur and a friend managed to pull him into a car while the national police stood by in their plumed ceremonial hats. The Toscaninis sped back to their hotel.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

When it was announced in the packed theater that the concert would be postponed because Toscanini was ill, there were shouts of “It’s not true!” The black-shirted guards panicked and shut the exits, but as the surge of humanity became irresistible they were ordered to reopen the doors, and the crowd poured out into the streets.

Toscanini sent a disgruntled telegram to Mussolini. Although Mussolini never replied directly he reportedly said, “He conducts an orchestra of one hundred people; I have to conduct one of forty million, and they are not all virtuosi.”

Related Stories