Toscanini’s famous instruction to the musicians in his orchestra is just as relevant today as it was in 1937: “Abandon yourself to your heart.” 

Samuel Antek — first violinist with the famed NBC Symphony Orchestra for 17 years — captures what it was like to perform under Maestro Arturo Toscanini, who many consider to be the greatest conductor of the mid-20th century.

In This Was Toscanini, his musical memoir published in 1963, Antek shared his detailed observations of Toscanini’s unusual approach to making music, his mercurial mood swings, his demands on himself and the orchestra and his dedication to rendering an accurate interpretation of the composers’ works. The memoir took readers behind the scenes with an intimate look into the mind of a maestro.

Now, Antek’s daughter, former television producer Lucy Antek Johnson, has brought his magnificent book back into print with an enhanced edition. In This Was Toscanini: The Maestro, My Father, and Me (Brown Books Publishing Group), Johnson expands on her father’s original book, making Toscanini’s legacy accessible to current generations of students, musicians, music historians and classical music fans.

TESTIMONY OF GREATNESS

In the original This Was Toscanini, Antek described the subject’s passion for musical clarity and truth — to play and feel the music as the composer intended, ensuring “time-wearied shopworn pieces gained their original luster and shone anew — freshly minted coins.” As explained in the foreword by Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs, the Maestro developed the “golden rule” that musicians still adhere to; they should strive to reveal the composer’s intentions instead of using the music for their own self-expression. 

Antek, a master violinist, gives voice to his own experiences during hundreds of rehearsals, concerts, tours and rigorous recording sessions. He details personal visits with the Maestro as they discussed technique. Toscanini’s reverence for music was like reverence for a place of worship, both symbolizing religious experiences. Antek believed that playing under the Maestro was more like a “spiritual awakening,” often reminding him of “sitting in the sanctuary of a church, of participating in a solemn spiritual rite rather than performing at a concert.” The music was a living, breathing, beautiful thing.

Through Antek’s recollections, readers feel Toscanini’s devotion to the composers’ works and the tension in the orchestra’s attempt to achieve musical perfection. It’s as if we’re sitting among the players, meticulously rehearsing toward that transcendence. Illustrated by Robert Hupka’s insightful photographs of Toscanini, readers also experience the conductor’s intricate and frequently dramatic methods of making gorgeous music. We can almost witness him chiding his orchestra, “Any asino can conduct – but to make music… eh? Is difficile!”

Antek was at the epitome of his musical career when he died at the age of only 49. His manuscript not yet completed, Antek’s wife, Alice, and photographer Hupka edited and designed the first edition of the book, publishing it in 1963. Over the decades it has often been quoted, used as a reference for teaching and it remains the most comprehensive narrative about playing with the Maestro.

A DAUGHTER’S DEVOTION

Johnson’s commentary in the new edition details how her family’s musical journey inspired her to be her best self and live life with passionate joy. She gives readers a personal peek into her family’s experiences in the famous conductor’s orbit, bringing her father’s life and legacy into focus through her own memories, personal memorabilia, transcribed interviews, journals and her father’s papers archived at the New York Library for the Performing Arts. 

Johnson’s newly-written essays introducing her father’s original chapters highlight his own musical rise from first violinist to conductor and musical director of major American orchestras. She shares what it was like to grow up with such a gifted father and the impact that Toscanini had on their family and her father’s career, creating a remarkable contemporary look into a unique era in classical music history.

The Maestro’s passion for life filled the Antek home during Johnson’s youth, bestowing the Italian curses she loved to repeat with great enthusiasm. Toscanini’s fiery temperament invoked an intimate understanding and a passionate love of the music for every member of his orchestra. 

Now, more than ever, we need music to soothe our souls. No one understood this better than genius conductor Arturo Toscanini, who masterfully coaxed out not only the melody from the score but the truth between the notes. This Was Toscanini: The Maestro, My Father, and Me documents musical dedication passed down through three generations, allowing us to experience the joy of the art and observe greatness on an intimate scale.

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About Samuel Antek:

Samuel began his violin studies in Chicago and became a protégé of the famous teacher, Leopold Auer. He soon won a fellowship to attend the Juilliard Foundation and played solo concerts extensively. In 1937, Mr. Antek was selected to become a first violinist for the NBC Symphony, an orchestra created by RCA for the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini. He was a member of the orchestra for all of its 17 years, from 1937 to 1954. Antek also launched his own career as a conductor. While continuing to play first violin for NBC, he became musical director and conductor of the New Jersey Symphony in 1947 and the associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner.

After inaugurating his distinctive Young People’s Concerts series in New Jersey, Antek was named the director of all Young People’s Concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He guest conducted the NBC Symphony, Houston Symphony, and Buffalo Philharmonic, among others. Samuel Antek died suddenly at age 49 in January 1958. This Was Toscanini, his unique evaluation of the Maestro, was published posthumously.

Samuel Antek’s daughter was born and raised in New York City. After studying music, fine art and ballet, she was drawn to the world of television production and spent her entire career in the entertainment industry, working with such producers as Martin Charnin, Harry Belafonte, David Susskind and Roone Arledge. When she moved to Los Angeles in 1978, she produced movies for television, then joined NBC as a network executive. She soon worked her way up to senior vice president of daytime and children’s programs for CBS, a position she held for 14 years.

She paints, writes and every so often gets up the nerve to sit at the piano and play a favorite Bach or Chopin prelude.