Music: Underground Toscanini

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Back in the 1950s, when Clyde J. Key was a high school student in Fort Towson, Okla., most of the kids looked up to musicians like Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley. Not Clyde. His idol was Conductor Arturo Toscanini. In 1957, when Toscanini died at the age of 89, Clyde had a dream in which he came upon the old man's weeping, grief-stricken ghost in a desert.

"Why are you so unhappy, Maestro?" asked Clyde.

"Because I see my lifetime of service to music being swept away by the winds of time," came the spectral reply.

"Don't worry, Maestro," said Clyde, reassuringly, placing his hand gently on Toscanini's shoulder. "I won't let that happen."

Off the Air. Now 32, Clyde Key is doing his best to keep that promise. For years he has scoured the U.S. and Europe for off-the-air transcriptions of Toscanini broadcasts. Key now owns 5,000 transcriptions (all transferred to tape) of hitherto commercially unreleased material—a complete catalogue of broadcasts by the Maestro between 1933 and 1954. It also includes about 50 concerts that were never broadcast, but which were recorded surreptitiously by engineers supposedly testing their equipment. Last year Key launched the Arturo Toscanini Society. A private, nonprofit club based in Dumas, Texas, it offers members (about 500 so far) five or six recordings annually for a $25-a-year membership fee. Key's first package offering: Brahms' German Requiem, Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88 and 104, Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, all NBC Symphony broadcasts dating from the late 1930s or early 1940s. This year's batch will include Sibelius' Symphony No. 4, Mendelssohn's "Scotch" Symphony, dating from the same NBC period; and a Rossini-Verdi-Puccini LP emanating from the post-World War II reopening of La Scala on May 11, 1946 with the Maestro conducting.

Future offerings may include a number of Beethoven symphonies recorded with the New York Philharmonic during the 1930s, a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 on Feb. 20, 1936, at which Rudolf Serkin made his New York debut, and one of the most celebrated underground Toscanini recordings of all—the 1940 version of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, which has better soloists (Zinka Milanov, Jussi Bjoerling, both in their prime) and a more powerful style than the 1953 recording now available on RCA.

Because the Arturo Toscanini Society is nonprofit, Key believes he has successfully bypassed both copyright restrictions and the maze of contractual ties between RCA and the Maestro's family. Last week, RCA's attorneys were looking into the matter to see if they agree with Key. As long as it stays small, the Toscanini Society appears to offer little real competition to RCA. But classical-LP profits are so low these days, and piracy by fly-by-night firms so prevalent within the industry (an estimated $100 million in tape sales for 1969 alone), that even a benevolent buccaneer outfit like the Arturo Toscanini Society has to be looked at twice before it can be tolerated.

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