To continue of series of OTF posts on the music of Lent, I wanted to discuss an event that took place at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 27 January 1951, 50 years to the day after Giuseppe Verdi’s passing.

On that evening, the NBC Radio Network presented a one-time performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem with soloists Herva Nelli, Fedora Barbieri, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Cesare Siepi, the Robert Shaw Chorale and the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini.

In a past OTF post, we discussed Toscanini and his relationship with Verdi. In North America, it is safe to say that Toscanini conducted all of Verdi’s operas, with Aida and La Traviata being presented in broadcast performances on the NBC radio and television networks.

What also needs mentioning, is that Toscanini presented at least two non-operatic works by Verdi during his tenure with the NBC Symphony, both of which were broadcast and have gained notoriety in their own right for different reasons…

In late January 1943, Toscanini mounted a performance of the seldom heard Hymn of the Nations, a work that Verdi wrote in 1862. For this musical work, Verdi utilized the national anthems of several European nations. From Time Magazine, February 8 1943:
If Benito Mussolini had dialed in on NBC's short wave lengths last week, he might have heard Italy's greatest conductor direct some uncomfortably prophetic music by Italy's greatest composer. On Arturo Toscanini's Sunday afternoon broadcast, the Westminster Choir boomed cheerfully (in Italian) these words from Giuseppe Verdi's Hymn of the Nations:
Hail, England, Mistress of the Seas,
Hail emblem of liberty,
Oh France, who shed your blood for a land enslaved,
Hail!
Oh, Italy betrayed*
May merciful heaven watch over you,
Until that day when free again,
You stand upright in the sun.
The performance was later issued as part of an Office of War Information documentary about the role of Italian-Americans in aiding the Allies during World War II. Toscanini added passages to include arrangements of The Star Spangled Banner for the United States and The Internationale for the Soviet Union and the Italian partisans. Joining Toscanini in the filmed performance in NBC Studio 8-H, were tenor Jan Peerce, the Westminster Choir, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

As it turns out, the performance was later edited to exclude The Internationale, and it is in this form that the performance is found on the 1944 documentary (also entitled Hymn of the Nations). Here is the two-part clip of the uncensored version, preceeded by a short documentary sequence featuring Toscanini, narrated by Burgess Meredith:





This 1951 performance of the Requiem is, therefore, the second non-operatic Verdi work offered by Toscanini. As I said earlier, the event commemorated the 50th anniversary of Verdi’s passing, and this performance is probably the most listened-to performance of the mass – still today, having been visited over 200 000 times on YouTube. As a taste, the beginning of the iconic Dies Irae section:



It is not surprising that RCA, the operator and owner of the NBC network, issued the Requiem on vinyl. It should be noted, according to many, that Toscanini’s NBC performance is not only one of the recordings he made of the mass, but is probably not his finest recorded performance of the work. That may all be well and good, but the solemnity of the event, and the high quality of the recording make it a substantial document none the less. We may all have some favourite Verdi Requiems (I, myself, am partial to Abbado’s 2001 version, recorded for the centenary of the death of Verdi) but this recording still gives me the chills!
Another interesting factoid: there is a stereo recording of the 1951 Toscanini Requiem! (http://newyorklawschool.typepad.com/...scanini.html):
Over time, a forest of microphones had accumulated above the stage of Carnegie Hall, as broadcasters and record companies had placed them there for various occasions and not always taken them down. The story goes that when a major renovation was undertaken and all the microphones were removed, some were totally unaccounted for -- helping to explain the many pirate recordings emanating from Carnegie Hall concerts and rehearsals. It stands to reason that sooner or later multiple recordings of the same concert might show up, taken down with microphones spaced somewhat apart and pointed in slightly different directions at different angles. If such recordings could be synchronized, the result could be something like a stereo recording.

Two such tapes of the NBC broadcast from January 27, 1951, came into the possession of Andrew Rose, proprietor ofpristineclassical.com, a website specializing in carefully remastered digital releases of historic classical recordings. One tape is from NBC, which broadcast the concert; the other from a Carnegie Hall microphone. […]
The release from Pristine Classical is thus faux-stereo, as the reciording session was not engineered as a stereo session (with microphones strategically placed), but rather a superposition of audio recorded from two distinct vantage points to give the impression of a stereo audio “image”. I myself have not heard the results, but the reviewer I quoted above was “hooked” and believes the record achieves a vintage stereo sound.
MONO:

STEREO:



Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Messa da Requiem, for four soloists, double choir and orchestra (1874)
(In memory of Alessandro Manzoni)
Herva Nelli - soprano
Fedora Barbieri - mezzo-soprano
Giuseppe di Stefano - tenor
Cesare Siepi - bass
The Robert Shaw Chorale (Robert Shaw, chorus master)
NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini
Recorded 27th January, 1951, Carnegie Hall, New York City
http://www.mqcd-musique-classique.co...ead.php?t=5053

March 9th, 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "Organ and Orchestra" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentary March 9 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.