The Arturo Toscanini Tours and His Wider Repertoire December 18 2020

The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was one of the most acclaimed musical figures of the late 19th century, and through to the mid 20th century. His career included spells as director of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the NBC Symphony Orchestra - the last appointment leading to the maestro becoming a household name, particularly in the United States, through numerous radio and television broadcasts.

Born in Parma, Italy in 1867, Toscanini studied at the local conservatory as a cellist, and in 1886 joined the orchestra of an opera company touring South America. When the company arrived to perform Aida in Rio de Janeiro, the locally engaged conductor didn't know the work adequately, and the general manager was tasked with finding a replacement, a new conductor for the orchestra. Two substitutes didn't work out, and the singers suggested their assistant chorus master in the cello section - Toscanini, who was part of the tour - who knew the work from memory. With no conducting experience, the 19-year-old Arturo Toscanini led an intense and accomplished reading of the work and conducted a further 18 operas that season to great acclaim.

The young Toscanini kept up a dual career when he returned from a tour to Italy, conducting the premiere in Turin of the revised edition of Catalani's Edmea, and also sitting in the cello section of La Scala, playing in the world premiere of Otello by Verdi in 1887. However, his growing reputation as an operatic conductor meant that the cello career was set aside, and he was entrusted with several important premieres, including La Boheme and I Pagliacci. By 1898, he was Principal Conductor at La Scala, a position he stayed in for the next decade, and where he returned as Music Director from 1921 to 1929.

The Italy/USA tour

In 1920, Arturo Toscanini brought the orchestra of La Scala to the United States for an extensive and ambitious concert tour, during which he and the orchestra made their first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

The Italian and American tour showcased the orchestra's particular skill, and began with 32 concerts in Italy, moving on to a further 59 concerts in the United States, and another 39 concerts back in Italy. The programming was ambitious, and although some has been lost, much has been reconstructed by Arturo Toscanini collector Luciano Crivello, who has painstakingly assembled the statistics below.

Crivello's reconstruction of around 114 concert programs is a labor of love that has taken countless hours and several years. Sadly, no record has been found for the program at La Spezia (November 8, 1920), although there is some question over when this particular concert happened. Additionally, no data has been found for Springfield (January 4, 1921), Providence (January 9, 1921), New Haven (January 22, 1921), Rochester (February 1, 1921), Columbus (February 9, 1921), Springfield (February 11, 1921), Grand Rapids (February 11, 1921), Minneapolis (February 17, 1921), Hutchinson (February 21, 1921), Wichita (February 23, 1921), Trenton (March 16, 1921), and Reggio (June 6, 1921).

Thankfully, the rest of the tour has been reconstructed with the help of images and newspaper articles and reviews, amounting to around 200 pages.

Crivello's endeavors have also led to a more expansive reconstruction of Arturo Toscanini's musical activities, again from print media including images and reviews, and thus bringing back to light orchestra programs that had been completely forgotten, such as one 1897 concert at the Sala Benedetto Marcello in Venice.

One complaint leveled at Toscanini over this period is that he didn't conduct much opera. However, from his debut with Aida on international tour in Rio in 1886 to 1929, he conducted a raft of operas, including many history-making premieres and first performances of pieces that are still a part of the repertoire today. Those important works included La Bohème, Fanciulla del West, and Turandot, where he famously laid down his baton at the end of the music Puccini had completed at his death and explained to the audience that that was where the maestro had died.

Arturo Toscanini was a master for the great composers and in particular Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner, Debussy, Schubert, and Schumann. However, his musicianship for the orchestra and character shine through in performances of lesser-known works by famous composers, as well as those by lesser-known composers.

Some of these include performances of music by Giuseppe Martucci, Atterberg, Bach, Bazzini, Borodin, Bossi, Bruckner (Symphony No. 7, January 27, 1935), Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Copland, Creston, Enesco, Fernandez. Franchetti, Geminiani, Gershwin, Gilbert, Gillis, Goldmark, Graener, Grieg, Griffes, Kalinnikov, Kennan, Liszt, Loeffler, Mancinelli, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Mignone, Pizzetti, Roussel, Tommasini, Siegmeister, Sinigaglia, Stravinsky, Strong, and Wolf-Ferrari.

The repertoire lists

In Robert C. Marsh's book "Toscanini and the Art of Orchestra Performance", he details the music which Arturo Toscanini performed the most, including Beethoven Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (52), Debussy La Mer (53), and the Meistersinger Overture (54). Marsh's book covers the period from the beginning of Toscanini's tenure with the New York Philharmonic orchestra in 1927, but Crivello's research painstakingly details the number of performances of repertoire since Toscanini's career as a conductor began in 1886 (all numbers are approximate).

  • Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod (208)
  • Wagner: Meistersinger Overture (193)
  • Verdi: Falstaff (complete) (166)
  • Wagner: Tannhauser Overture (148)
  • Puccini: La Bohème (complete) (136)
  • Puccini: Tosca (complete opera) (97)
  • Wagner: Parsifal Good Friday Music
  • Meistersinger: Prelude to Act III (94)
  • Puccini: Madame Butterfly (complete ) (93)
  • Bizet: Carmen (complete opera) (92)
  • Wagner: Tannhauser, overture and bacchanale (87)
  • Wagner: Meistersinger (complete) (86)
  • Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (complete) (85)
  • Debussy: La Mer (84)
  • Brahms: Symphony No. 2 (84)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (83)
  • Boito: Mefistofele (complete) (80)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (81, with possible further performances in 1920/21)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (78)
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 (74)
  • Wagner: Lohengrin Prelude (74)
  • Debussy: Iberia (74)
  • Mendelssohn: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream (72)
  • Ponchielli: La Gioconda (complete) (70)
  • Franchetti: Cristoforo Colombo (complete) (68)


It's also interesting to note the relative paucity of some more standard repertoire works:

  • Liszt: Les Preludes (2)
  • J. Strauss: Blue Danube (2)
  • Roussel: Symphony No. 4 (2)
  • Schubert: Symphony No. 5 (2)
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 (2)
  • Debussy: Dance & March Ecossaise (1)
  • Dvorak: Cello Concerto (1)
  • Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue (1)
  • Haydn: Symphony No. 92, Symphony No. 104 (1)
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 (1)
  • Mussorgsky: Night on a Bare Mountain (1)
  • Puccini: Requiem (1)
  • Rachmaninov: Isle of the Dead (1)
  • Rimsky Korsakov: Antar, Sheherezade (1)
  • Stravinsky: Firebird (1)


His list of first opera performances is staggering:

  • 1892 - Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci
  • 1892 - Franchetti: Cristoforo Colombo (from the third performance)
  • 1892 - Gnaga: Gualtiero Swarten
  • 1894 - Canti: Savitri
  • 1895 - Lozzi: Emma Liona
  • 1896 - Puccini: La Bohème
  • 1897 - Buzzi Pecca: La Forza d'amore
  • 1898 - De Leva: La Camargo
  • 1898 - Mancinelli: Ero e Leandro (second premiere)
  • 1900 - Galeotti: Anton
  • 1900 - Leoncavallo: Zaza
  • 1901 - Mascagni: Le Maschere
  • 1901 - De Lara: Messalina (second premiere)
  • 1902 - Franchetti: Germania
  • 1902 - Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust (Italian premiere)
  • 1903 - Smareglia: Oceana
  • 1905 - Gnecchi: Cassandra
  • 1907 - Cilea: Gloria
  • 1908 - Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande (Italian premiere)
  • 1911 - Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
  • 1915 - Giordano: Madame Sans-Gene
  • 1922 - Pizzetti: Debora e Jaele
  • 1924 - Boito: Nerone
  • 1924 - Giordano: La Cena delle beffe
  • 1925 - Zandonai: I Cavalieri di Ekebu
  • 1926 - Debussy: Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien (Italian premiere)
  • 1926 - Puccini: Turandot
  • 1928 - Pizzetti: Fra Gherardo
  • 1929 - Giordano: Il Re


As you can imagine, the market in memorabilia for the great conductor Arturo Toscanini is lively and varied. Orchestra programs and playbills are readily available as are signed photographs from various stages of Toscanini's life.

Toscanini, Arturo - Original Trunk from the NBC Orchestra Tour!

We recently sold (summer 2020) a trunk used in the NBC Orchestra tour! We had it restored professionally, and listed it on our site!. 

Read more here: Toscanini, Arturo - Original Trunk from the NBC Orchestra Tour!

Toscanini was, without doubt, as much one of the creators of much of the standard Italian operatic repertoire as the composers and those that premiered the roles.



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- Concert Programs Signed by Conductors at Tamino



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