Music and politics were close to Arturo Toscanini’s heart, and he is a perfect example of artists and musicians who fight back against injustice and dictatorships. The most famous musician of the 20th century, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini joined Bronislaw Huberman in his effort to save Jewish musicians from persecution by the Nazis. By associating himself with Huberman’s project to start a new orchestra in Palestine, the conductor drew welcome publicity to the cause. He volunteered to conduct the first season of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in 1936-37. His reactions to the public’s reception of the orchestra are included in “The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro” (2012) by Cesare Civetta.
Toscanini was very popular in Germany, particularly for his appearance at the Bayreuth Festival, but once Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, Toscanini refused to return as his rebuff to Fascism. Hitler even wrote to Toscanini personally in hopes of convincing him to appear at the festival, but Toscanini would not change his mind. “It is my duty to fight for the cause of artists persecuted by Nazis,” said Toscanini. The world-famous musician was equally outspoken against Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship in Italy.
Orchestra of Exiles premieres Sunday, April 14 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.