Back to Catalogue

Rivalry in Music – Furtwängler vs. Toscanini

Arturo Toscanini Wilhelm Furtwängler

Two men without whom the profession of conductor wouldn’t be what it is today. Two men who couldn’t have been any more different from each other: Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler.

One of them was a visionary, rigorously faithful to the musical score, the other with his radical subjectivity was recognised even in his lifetime as being seemingly from a past century.

One was shockingly inhibited, scolding his musicians during rehearsals, even slapping them – the other was full of self-doubt.

In the first half of the 20th century the two behemoths were revered like todays popstars. When in 1931 both of them conducted at the Bayreuth Festival – for the first and last time – it was a magical moment, the stuff of legends. But soon the polite rivalry turned into bitter enmity. Both men were forced to take a stance on fascism in their respective countries – and chose radically different paths.

Toscanini, the hot-headed conductor who goes by the nickname “the dictator” bravely defies Mussolini early on. Furtwängler, a dyed-in-the-wool-conservative on the other hand, proclaimed that art is always apolitical and reluctantly makes a pact with the Nazis.

While Toscanini emigrates to the USA, becoming a media star, Furtwängler risks his neck conducting for the Hitler Regime.

The documentary not only opens up the different musical worlds of the two great conductors by re-tracing their careers in Milan, Bayreuth and New York – it also poses a question which today is more relevant than ever: What does art have to do with morality?


Prog. No.
Music genre
52 mins
Thomas von Steinaecker
3B-Produktion in co-production with ZDF
Production year