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Wit & Wisdom

Music & Musicians

  • (Asked why he chose the piano over the violin) “You can’t rest a glass of beer on a fiddle.”
  • “I like all music—as long as it’s in proper proportion. Proportion is important. For example, I like one highball very much. But a dozen of them…I couldn’t stand it.”
  • “To what do I attribute my success as a conductor? Well, I permit those who work with me to think I am cuckoo. Then I have found I can have my own way.”
  • “Manufacturing is not inspiration. You can’t make music in a test tube.”
  • “I am like Diogenes. All my life I search for an honest musician. I find Arturo Toscanini.”
  • “Music is a bridge on which any of us can walk.”
  • “If an artist sways too much, that bothers me. You can arrive at a point where he becomes a clown. On the other hand, he may be stiff and have a poker face.”
  • “People are always asking me which is my favorite composer. I just say ‘music.’”
  • (About an orchestra’s rendition of Mozart) “Excuse me, no! Is too fairy! Mozart was very MAN!”
  • “This story about the difficult life of an artist, I don’t like. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I do it because I like it.”
  • “Music is my life, not my career.”
  • (Asked how he came to write Pequeña Danza Española) “I was in Paris performing a series of four sketches by Manuel Infante—but he only gave me three. So I improvised a fourth sketch. Later I wrote it down. That was Pequeña.”
  • (About Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B-flat) “I’ve played it many times—and conducted many times. But you know, it’s not something you can get tired of. It never loses its freshness.”
  • “I don’t carry Carnegie Hall on my back.”
  • “Life is a meal, and music is the roast beef. But who can eat only roast beef? One must have one’s brandy and dessert and cigar. And so I must have my boxing and my airplane and my motorcycle.”
  • “I don’t wake up every morning sad because Beethoven died.”
  • (To a violinist) “Above all else, your violin must sing. Music is song.”
  • “I intend to make good music and there is nothing sensational about that.”

Movies & Radio

  • “In 1933 I had in my hand a check for $35,000 to make a movie. But they wanted me to kiss girls and a lot of other foolishness, so I tore up the check.”
  • “Movies are great. They let me keep all the suits I wear. I haven’t bought a new suit in five years.”
  • “Radio is difficult. In the movies you can fix it. Everything is perfect in films. And at least on stage they can see you and know you’re trying. When you make a mistake in radio, boom!”
  • “I always play myself, so how can a director tell me I’m doing it wrong?”


  • (Asked where he lived) “At thirty-two thousand feet.”


  • (Instructions to a barber) “Shorter! I don’t want to be taken for an artist.”
  • (Another time, when asked why he needed to get a haircut) “Do you think I want to look like a musician?”


  • “You never realize you have a reputation until you find out you’re not living up to it.”
  • “An existentialist believes life is only a series of disasters.”
  • “I try to be sincere. I do my best. I work like a horse.”
  • “Music is inside humanity. All life is art. To live honestly and courageously—that’s being an artist.”
  • “Be independent, even if you are wrong. The time has come to stop leaning on teachers.”
  • “The formula we apply is ‘Feel at home, but don’t break things.’ That means, in moderation. Moderation—I don’t like this word. Equilibrium is a better word. But it doesn’t exist, so it is a Utopia.”


  • “I feel no different (at age 70). It is like looking at the sun. You can see it in the sky, and it does not appear to be moving. But if you go away and come back to look at it, you can see that it has moved.”
  • “I will play only as long as I feel I can play. In that regard I have an artistic conscience.”
  • “You’re thinking about people. You think, He’s getting on. He must be 73. Then you say to yourself What about you? You’re 80!”
  • (Asked about his youthfulness at the age of 82) “Some people are old all their lives. Some are young.”


  • (On the end of Prohibition) “Well, I am glad to hear it. But on the other hand, it is sad. One will miss peeping through the little holes and carrying these attractive little flasks on the hips.”
  • “I love America. It has been good to me.”
  • “America has been brought up on the star system. It overpays its artists and makes gods of its conductors.”
  • “The thing I admire about the American is his feeling of selection. If you ask him about a certain composition, he will admit it if he’s unfamiliar with it. But if it is worthwhile he will hurry out and listen, and study, and learn of its history, and tomorrow when you meet him he can tell you all about it.”
  • “America gives one that unique feeling which no other country in the world can produce. I do not know why, and cannot explain it, but this country can be home to everyone.”
  • “Here (America) is my Fountain of Youth.”
  • “I have traveled all over the world, and there is no country except the United States where a foreigner doesn’t feel like a stranger.”