For generations of Americans, Arturo Toscanini was the greatest conductor of their time, perhaps of all time. He set new performance standards and enforced a style of following a score as literally and faithfully as possible, an approach that still draws adherents.
He turned millions on to classical music with his Saturday evening NBC broadcasts, starting in 1938 and ending with his retirement in 1954.
Toscanini's rise to stardom is the stuff of movies. He was a 19-year-old cellist playing in a performance of Verdi's "Aida" in Rio de Janeiro in 1886, he took over after the conductor was booed off the podium.
He was so successful, he went on to lead the rest of the season as well, and after returning to Italy, his career swiftly rose.
Blessed with a photographic memory, he would have made his mark in history simply by giving the world premieres of Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" (1892) and three Puccini operas — "La Boheme" (1896), "La fanciulla del West" (1910) and "Turandot" (1926).
In addition to tenures at La Scala, Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic, he led the NBC Orchestra, which was formed especially for him by the network's mogul of moguls, David Sarnoff.
His last concert with the NBC Orchestra, was an all-Wagner performance, on April 4, 1954. After the concert his retirement was announced through the letter he had written a few days earlier to Sarnoff.
"Now the sad time has come when I must reluctantly lay aside my baton and say good-by to my orchestra."