December 25, 1937…Toscanini Debuts The NBC Symphony Orchestra
At the link is an audio recording of that night’s performance.
Tom Lewis, in the Organization of American Historians Magazine of History, described NBC’s plan for cultural programming and the origin of the NBC Symphony:
David Sarnoff, the president of RCA who had first proposed the “radio music box” in 1916 so that listeners might enjoy “concerts, lectures, music, recitals,” felt that the medium was failing to do this. By 1937, RCA had recovered enough from the effects of the Depression for it to make a dramatic commitment to cultural programming. With the most liberal terms Sarnoff hired Arturo Toscanini to create an entire orchestra and conduct it. On Christmas night, 1937, the NBC orchestra gave its first performance…Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor in NBC’s Auditorium Studio, or what we now call Studio 8H.
Sarnoff devoted considerable resources to create an orchestra of the first rank for NBC. Artur Rodziński, a noted orchestra builder and musical task master in his own right, was engaged to mold and train the new orchestra in anticipation of the arrival of Toscanini. It offered the highest salaries of any orchestra at the time and a 52-week contract. Prominent musicians from major orchestras around the country were recruited and the conductor Pierre Monteux was hired as well to work with the orchestra in its formative months.
The orchestra’s first broadcast concert aired on November 13, 1937 under the direction of Monteux. Toscanini conducted ten concerts that first season, making his NBC debut on December 25, 1937. In addition to weekly broadcasts on the NBC Red and Blue networks, the NBC Symphony Orchestra made many recordings for RCA Victor of symphonies, choral music and operas. Televised concerts began in March 1948 and continued until March 1952. In the fall of 1950, NBC converted Studio 8H into a television studio, and moved the broadcast concerts to Carnegie Hall, where many of the orchestra’s recording sessions and special concerts had already taken place.
Toscanini led the NBC Symphony for 17 years. Under his direction the orchestra toured South America in 1940 and the United States in 1950.
Leopold Stokowski served as principal conductor from 1941-1944 on a three-year contract following a dispute between Toscanini and NBC. During this time Toscanini continued to lead the orchestra in a series of public benefit concerts for war relief. He returned as Stokowski’s co-conductor for the 1942-43 and 1943-44 seasons, resuming full control thereafter. Upon Toscanini’s retirement in the spring of 1954, NBC officially disbanded the orchestra, much to Toscanini’s distress, though it continued for several years as the Symphony of the Air. Toscanini’s final broadcast concert with the orchestra (recorded in both mono and stereo) took place at Carnegie Hall on April 4, 1954, and his final recording sessions were completed in early June 1954.
Thanks to Doug Gerbino for sharing this rare program from that night. Enjoy, share and Merry Christmas! -Bobby Ellerbee