Friday, May 3, 2013

May Day: Toscanini and the American ban on the Internationale

Here Arturo Toscanini conducts "the Internationale" on the fall of fascism in Italy and here the "Hymn of the Nations" in Verdi's composition. These are short, and in honor of May 1, the day when many ordinary people all over the world march for and think about less rapacious regimes...

Toscanini himself is an example of what Thoreau names, in "Civil Disobedience," a "majority of one." He left Mussolini's Italy for America sooner than support fascism. He was first beaten up and then his passport was taken away and restored only through international protest; he defied a personal invitation by Hitler to conduct Wagner at the Bayreuth festival and instead, conducted an orchestra of exiled German musicians, especially Jews.

I had two other posts to get up first, so my apologies that the spirit and music are of May 1 but the commentary late.


During the Cold War, the United States government banned this version of "the Internationale" from being played, defecting as it were from the fight against fascism (it embraced many "former," that is, unreconstructed Nazis and current authoritarians during the Cold War; when I came to the University of Denver, for example, the case of the track coach Edgars Laipenieks, a Latvian emigre who was assistant coach for the US team at the 1968 Olympics, was working its way through the courts. He was at last notorious as a secret CIA officer, one of several hundred Nazis resettled in the United States during the Cold War, who had been employed by the Agency to recruited Olympic athletes from other countries, and had earlier been the Nazi police office known as the "Butcher of Riga." He was deported after several years of contestation - h/t Doug Vaughan whose journalism in Denver Magazine revealed the truth. For some background as well as controversy (the agency raised some smoke), see also here and here.


The censorship of Toscanini as well as of an exuberant performance marking the joy of Italians and all decent people marking the fall - just at that moment - of fascism in Italy is one of the many disturbances - falsifications - in the history of American Empire.


The tape of Toscanini conducting "the Internationale," with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the Westminster Choir, was then "lost" for many years. It has now been recovered.


"In 1944, to honor the Allied victory in Italy, the great Arturo Toscanini--a refugee from Fascism in his home country--decided to conduct a performance of Verdi's "Hymn of the Nations". "Hymn" is a composition that Verdi originally built around the national anthems of Britain, France, and Italy. In order to honor all four of the major Allies, Toscanini decided to add "The Star Spangled Banner" for the U.S. and "The Internationale" for the Soviet Union. The music was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with the Westminister Choir and the great tenor Jan Peerce as soloist; conducted by Toscanini. It was filmed as a featurette to be shown in movie theaters, and was narrated by Burgess Meredith.

In the early 50's, at the height of the Red Scare, U.S. censors excised the portion of this performance that featured the "Internationale".

For years the sequence in the original featurette was considered forever lost. But recently a copy of this missing piece of film was rediscovered, and now this rousing rendition of the Internationale--together with chorale and orchestra under the direction of a legendary conductor--can now be enjoyed again."


Below is Steven Lendman's brief account of Toscanini who had run as a fascist on an election ticket with Mussolini, but was then horrified by the March on Rome, and repeatedly stood up, as a great artist and at the cost of beatings by fascists, for decency.


Against Nazism, Toscanini also conducted a symphony with Jewish musicians and other exiles from Germany and went to perform with Jews in Palestine. This was before the creation of Israel (marked by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians rather than working out, even with coercion, some less barbarous settlement...).


"Toscanini the Anti-Fascist

As a conductor and anti-fascist, Toscanini was uncompromising. This section covers the political philosophy of a non-political man who was fiercely democratic. It emerged when the Maestro publicly denounced Benito Mussolini after he led his National Fascist Party's march on Rome in October, 1922 declaring himself Il Duce or supreme leader. Toscanini thereafter refused to play the Fascist anthem Giovanezza he didn't consider fit music and wanted nothing to do with the Fascist dictator.

When Italian King Emmanuel III declared himself Emperor of conquered Ethiopia in 1936, Toscanini wrote: "Cursed Rome. Mussolini, the Emperor-King, and the Pope. Pigs, all of them." In a letter to Berlin in 1941, he wrote: "You are too poisoned by the atmosphere that surrounds you, you are all living now too much amid shame and dishonor, without showing any sign of rebellion, to be able to value people like me, who have remained and will remain above the mud, not to give it a worse name, that is drowning the Italians."

Earlier in 1938, he wrote: "I've never been and will never be involved in politics; that is, I became involved only once in '19, and for Mussolini and I repented....I've never taken part in Societies, either political or artistic....I've always believed only an individual can be a gentleman....Everyone ought to express his own opinion honestly and courageously, then dictators, criminals, wouldn't last so long."

In February, 1941 Toscanini intervened on behalf of fellow Italian and anti-fascist, Claudio Alcorso. He'd been arrested because of his nationality in allied Australia in July, 1940 and held for what became a bitter three and a half year confinement. It was because Australia judged Italians during the war the way the US viewed Japanese Americans. It made Alcorso believe "a dogmatic mentality was not the sole prerogative of German and Italian Fascists." Toscanini's efforts failed despite repeated efforts, though Alcorso was finally freed after Mussolini and his Fascist party fell in 1943.

While Mussolini ruled as Italy's dictator, the Maestro refused to perform in his native country including at the famed Milan La Scala opera house. He publicly stated: "Never! I refuse to turn La Scala into a market place for Fascist demonstrations. They have the square outside and also the Galleria nearby for that, but while I conduct the Scala orchestra, it will remain the home of opera and never will it become a propaganda platform." Mussolini gave his brazen response: "Never will my feet cross the threshold of La Scala until Toscanini, the anti-Fascist, goes from there. How dare he refuse to play Giovanezza (the Fascist anthem)?"

Toscanini condemned Mussolini for his comments telling La Scala's directors: "I will conduct Giovanezza never and for nobody!" He stood resolute by his word. He deplored dictatorships and never played in Czarist or Stalinist Russia as well. He was an implacable enemy of tyranny. In Weimar pre-Hitler Germany, he was the first non-German to appear at the Wagner Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, but refused to return in 1933 after Hitler came to power. He denounced the Nazi's treatment of Jewish musicians in protest. He also refused to conduct at Austria's Salzburg Festival because noted Jewish conductor Bruno Walter's performances there weren't broadcast in Germany. Later in 1938 and 1939, he conducted, without compensation, at a Lucerne, Switzerland festival with an orchestra entirely composed of musicians who'd fled German persecution.

During WW II, Toscanini said: "Italy will certainly have a revolution as a result of the current war; the Allies will either favor and help it, or hinder it. The Allies' attitude will determine whether the revolution will, or will not, result in an orderly democratic government...." If he were still living, Toscanini would be outspoken about today's world and the ugliness Washington injects in it. He'd denounce fascism's rise in America and the power of wealth and privilege driving it. He was a democrat and patriot whose influential views had weight.

Today the Mawstro [better: those who follow in the spirit of Toscanini] would be in the artistic forefront leading the struggle for the same freedoms he believed in when fascism earlier engulfed Europe, Asia and North Africa in its greatest of all wars. In words and stunning music, he'd be in the lead to prevent it happening again so the spirit of equity, social justice and peace on earth could prevail for all above the darkness of tyranny now threatening everyone in the age of George Bush's America.

Toscanini conducted his last concert on April 4, 1954 as mentioned above. Always one to surprise (as he did two and a half months earlier choosing Un Ballo in maschera over Rigoletto for his final opera performance), he eschewed his native Italy and chose an all-Wagner program for the occasion. He died of a stroke at age 89 on January 16, 1957. His extraordinary music and democratic spirit are sorely missed but not forgotten.

Throughout the year, many Toscanini commemorative concerts and events were and are still being held in the US, his native Italy and elsewhere. Most notable was the New York Public Library's showcase exhibition of rare Library material on the Maestro's legacy that ran from February 21 through May 25, 2007. It was called Arturo Toscanini: Homage to the Maestro. It included rare rehearsal and performance recordings and unique documents on Toscanini's multifaceted persona. Among items on exhibit were photographs, annotated scores, letters, and many seldom ever seen unpublished materials donated by the Toscanini family to the Library's Music Division. Through these and other documents, the Maestro's memory, spirit and music remains alive.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at"


Exhibition Shows Toscanini as Musician and Anti-Fascist
Published: November 16, 1987

Arturo Toscanini's influence on 20th-century orchestral works is assured; now, with the opening today of the exhibition ''Arturo Toscanini, 1915-1946: Art in the Shadow of Politics,'' the outspoken record of his anti-Fascism is fully documented.

The exhibition, at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, includes original material that has been assembled for the first time in the United States. The great conductor's musical life and political life strike a strong common chord.

Among the astonishing material on display is a transcript derived from a wiretap on his hotel room in Milan that was made by Fascist political police. There are letters from President Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler and a number of contemporary composers and conductors; libretti and posters of legendary performances in the great opera houses.

A rare photograph shows the exterior of La Scala, taken right after Mussolini's fall but while the German Wehrmacht still patrolled the streets of Milan in occupied Italy, plastered with furtive signs saying: ''Eviva Toscanini,'' ''Ritorni Toscanini'' (''Long live Toscanini,'' ''Come back Toscanini'').

Open Resistance to Fascism

While the exhibition includes Toscanini's whole musical career, the highlights cover his open resistance to Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Not only did he refuse to raise his baton and play their tune, but he publicly defied both dictators as well.

In 1931, Toscanini was slapped across the face for refusing to perform the Fascist party hymn before a concert in Bologna. He vowed not to return to Italy until the fall of Fascism and the monarchy. He remained in exile until 1946, when he returned to reinaugurate the newly restored La Scala.

One document, passed along by an anonymous informer in 1931, included a note appended to it in Mussolini's hand saying to send it to his Foreign Minister, Dino Grandi. The informer reported that after Toscanini declined to go to a reception organized in his honor, the conductor said that he was not attending ''because he was an anti-Fascist, because he held Mussolini to be a tyrant and oppressor of Italy, and that rather than break these convictions he was prepared never to return to Italy.''

The wiretapped transcript of a conversation held in 1938 by Toscanini with a woman friend was found among the papers in Mussolini's file. Part of it expressed Toscanini's disgust at the anti-Jewish laws: ''Jewish children can't go to school. This is medieval stuff!'' Legible at the top of the first page is an annotation made by Mussolini's police chief: ''Which proves what we already knew, that Toscanini is indomitable.''

Protested German Policies

The bottom of the transcript bears the words: ''By order of the Duce take away Toscanini's passport.''

In the exhibition is a letter from Berlin, signed by Adolf Hitler in 1933, sent to the ''Highly Honored Maestro'' in New York, saying that he, as Chancellor of the German Reich, looked forward to ''the hour when I shall personally be able, in Bayreuth, to thank you, the great representative of art and of a people friendly to Germany, for your participation in the great Maestro's work.''

''With sincere admiration,'' it closed, ''your most devoted A. Hitler.''

Two days before this letter was written, Toscanini had headed a list of illustrious musicians in the United States who had signed a statement cabled to the German Government protesting German racial policies in general and the ostracism of Jewish musicians in particular. The Bayreuth Festival hung in the balance; but Toscanini refused to conduct there, despite Hitler's flattery."

1 comment:

g.n. nagaraj said...

informative and inspiring

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