Victor de Sabata and the critics

Although de Sabata was acclaimed by both the audience and the orchestra the critics really panned him, especially the right wing newspapers.

It really all started after Sir Thomas Beecham had formed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Added to that there were one or two communists in the orchestra who didn’t go down too well in certain quarters. At that time it was being rumoured the Russians would march to the French North Coast thereby putting Great Britain in danger, and it was the beginning of the anti-Russian crusade that eventually led to the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Leningrad (as it was named then) was in dire straits, there was a shortage of beds and hospital supplies, so the London Philharmonic Orchestra members donated money for hospital supplies and a bed named after them which pleased the Russians but not the critics.

After one particularly damning critique it was proved that the critic wasn’t even at the concert!

De Sabata was most upset, he came for another season or two then quit.

I had to give an audition for Walter Legge, the Founder and Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra. I arrived at his house and played the Dragonetti Concerto. He was very pleased with my playing but didn’t think the Dragonetti was much of a piece musically. Afterwards he thawed out and we chatted for quite a while. I ventured to ask him if he would consider bringing over de Sabata to conduct the Philharmonia. He replied that he had offered him any fee, any programme, any location, any date and that he, Legge would go over personally in a private plane to collect him, but de Sabata refused. It is ironic that one critic wrote that de Sabata couldn’t be considered to be a world class conductor as he never appeared with the Philharmonia!

Some time later I was playing at La Scala, Milan, von Karajan conducting, and I was invited to a reception given for Arturo Toscanini. I happened to be introduced to de Sabata’s wife and daughter. His wife was, as usual with elderly ladies dressed in black, but his daughter was a beautiful girl, immaculately dressed and, I thought, very intelligent. I asked her why her Dad wouldn’t come to London as both the orchestra and the audiences loved him. She replied simply, ‘It is the critics’.


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