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oscanini: Musician of Conscience does not devote much space to close analysis of Toscanini’s interpretative choices and technical methods.
For the most part, Sachs shows us Toscanini’s art through the eyes of others, and the near-unanimity of the admiration of his contemporaries, whose praise is quoted in extenso, is striking, even startling.
In the words of the English bassoonist Archie Camden, who played under Toscanini in the BBC Symphony from 1935 to 1939, he was “the High Priest of Music,” a man “almost of another world” whose artistic integrity was beyond question.
And he was an extremely private person who refused to give interviews, appearing in public only in his capacity as a performer.
Yet most educated people, regardless of their level of musical knowledge, are at least aware that Toscanini was a famous conductor of the past, and a not-inconsiderable number of them also know that he is widely thought to be the greatest conductor who ever lived.
Despite its length and thoroughness, Toscanini: Musician of Conscience is not a pedant’s vade mecum.
Clearly and attractively written, it ranks alongside Richard Osborne’s 1998 biography of Herbert von Karajan as one of the most readable biographies of a conductor ever published.