Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
1917 - First Acoustic Recordings
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1917 - First Victor Acoustic Recordings by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Eighth Floor Auditorium of the recently constructed "Victor New Office Building no 2" in 1917, the location of Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra's first recordings
Until 1917, Victor had not successfully recorded a full symphony orchestra, nor did they have the recording location to do so. Raymond Sooy, with his brother Harry Sooy, were among the pioneer engineers of recording at the Victor Talking Machine Company. Raymond Sooy wrote of these efforts:
"...July 23, 1917: Mr. Pasternack [Josef A. Pasternack 1880-1940, Musical Director of Victor] assembled an orchestra consisting of 51 musicians.
The rooms in the general Recording Laboratory not being large enough to carry on this work, we were permitted to use the Auditorium on the eighth floor of the Executive Building.
Up until this time, Symphony Orchestra records had never been a success [for Victor], but it had always been one of our greatest ambitions, and with the untiring efforts of Mr. Pasternack on the above date, we felt we had a commercial Symphony Orchestra record, but at that time, the largest orchestra we could satisfactorily record consisted of about fifty musicians.
After the results of this engagement were heard, the Boston Symphony Orchestra was booked. October 2, 3, 4 and 5, 1917: First engagement of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Dr. Karl Muck directing. October 22, 1917: The first records of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Leopold Stokowski were made. These records were made in the Auditorium of the Executive Building..." 1
So, for the first Victor recordings of a full symphony orchestra in October, 1917, first the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Karl Muck were followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Further is written about the Muck - BSO recordings later in this web page.
The First Victor Acoustic recordings of Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra
On Monday, 22 October 1917, Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra boarded a ferryboat taking them from Philadelphia, across the Delaware river to Camden, New Jersey. They went to Camden because this was the home of the Victor Talking Machine Company, built and controlled by Eldridge R. Johnson, a key innovator in the phonograph industry. Victor had asked Stokowski to record as early as 1915 3. Although the Monday first recording sessions were not successful, the Orchestra returned to Camden on Wednesday, October 24 to produce its first two released phonograph recordings. With there first 1917 recordings, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra began an historic collaboration which over the next 9 years released approximately 67 acoustic 78 RPM Victrola sides of remarkable quality, given the available technology.
1917 Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings Eighth floor Auditorium - Victor Office Building The 1917 recordings were made in the eighth floor auditorium of the New Office Building number 2, the Victor Company's executive headquarters building which had been constructed in the previous year. Early in 1917, this large eighth floor auditorium had also been used for the famous Caruso, De Luca, Journet, Galli-Curci, Bada, and Egener sextet recording of the mad scene from Lucia Di Lammermoor (Victor Red Seal 95212). Also, a little more than two weeks prior to the Philadelphia Orchestra session, from 2-6 October, Karl Muck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra had spent a week in Camden making a very fine series of acoustic recordings in this same auditorium.
Also, earlier certain other American orchestras had recorded. In January 1917, the Cincinnati Symphony under their Music Director, Ernst Kunwald (1868-1939), who was Stokowski's successor at the Cincinnati Symphony, recorded Delibes and Halvorsen for Columbia Graphophone (Columbia A 5943). Even earlier, Frederick Stock, Music Director of the Chicago Symphony, recorded Mendelssohn's Wedding March from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' for Columbia Graphophone on May 1, 1916 (Columbia A-5844 matrix 48763) 4, with Grieg's 'To Spring' on the other side. This Chicago recording may have been the first U.S. orchestra to record under its permanent conductor. And of course, there are the famous Artur Nikisch recordings of Egmont and Oberon Overtures were made 25 June 1913 in the UK, and the famous Beethoven Fifth with Berlin Philharmonic of 20 November 1913.
However, one important difference between the Victor recordings of Karl Muck - Boston Symphony and Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra compared with the previous recordings of the Cincinnati, Chicago, Colonne, Nikisch and other orchestra recordings s was that the Muck and Stokowski recordings were of the full symphony orchestras of between 85 and 100 players. The earlier recordings were of reduced forces of perhaps 35 to 40 musicians. This is probably the reason that RCA Victor in its 2001 commemorative album "RCA Red Seal Century" (RCA 63861), RCA claims that the Karl Muck recording of 5 October 1917 was "...the first known commercial recording sessions with a full symphony orchestra...".
Karl Muck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1914
In the 1917 for the Stokowski - Philadelphia recordings, in order to accommodate the fully symphony orchestra, the chairs in the Victor auditorium were removed and two dome-like structures, described as being like igloos with an opening, were placed over the orchestra. This was to help direct their sound into the large recording horn. In these 1917 recordings, a full orchestra was used. In these two Brahms recordings, 93 musicians we used, essentially a full orchestral complement 5. As described below, this orchestra size of 1917 was greatly reduced by 1919 (Stokowski made no recordings in 1918.)
A recent reviewer of the 1917 recordings states '...One source claims that 90 Philadelphia Orchestra players made it under the horn. I simply do not believe it...'. The reviewer gives his opinion and explains why. However, the excellent Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) maintained by the University of California, Santa Barbara provides the documented information from the Victor ledgers 5. So, with a few internet clicks, opinion is not required. There were in fact 93 musicians: 16 first violins, 15 second violins, 12 violas, 10 celli, 8 double basses, 3 flutes, piccolo, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 5 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, 1 timpani, and 2 percussion.
Victor Talking Machine - Camden Church Studio in 1919
By the time of Stokowski's 1919 orchestral recordings, the recording location (called by the Victor engineers the "recording laboratory") was moved to Building no 22, the Camden Church Studio. This was also called the 'Trinity Church Studio', since the building was converted from the former Trinity Baptist church, adjoining the Victor buildings and purchased by Victor in 1918. (Click here to read about Camden Church Studio - Victor Talking Machine Recording Location ).
In Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology by David L. Morton Jr. 7, Morton states that Victor prior to the 1930s usually located recording studios on higher floors so that the recording mechanism could be powered by weights. During this period, prior to the 1930s when electric motors were developed that were both quiet and consistent in speed, the use of weights was preferred to drive the disk recording mechanism at a constant speed and with low vibration levels. Weights were also more constant in speed that spring driven motors.
These first two recordings were of the Brahms Hungarian Dances numbers 5 and 6, both in orchestrations by Albert Parlow, the originals being for piano four hands. Although orchestrations, these were not among the early Stokowski orchestrations of non-orchestral works for which he later became famous. Rather, the Brahms Hungarian Dances were a regular part of the concert repertoire in Philadelphia and of orchestras elsewhere, and had been recorded since the earliest days of recording.
These two Brahms recordings were released by Victor in 1918 on two single-sided 10 inch (25 cm) Victor Red Seal disks as Victor 64752 for the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 5 and Victor 64753 for Hungarian Dance no 6, matrix numbers B-20888-3 and B-20889-3.
According to the Robert M. Stumpf II excellent Stokowski concert registry 6, Stokowski does not seem to have played these pieces in concert since at least 1913. Also, it is striking that Stokowski never made any other commercial recording of these two Brahms works with any orchestra over the next sixty years of prolific recording activities.
It is interesting to contrast this first Stokowski recording of the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 5 with the very early Pathé recording of this work by Édouard Colonne, conducting his orchestra, l'Orchestre Colonne. Colonne was born in 1838 (when Chopin and Rossini for example were still active), and was therefore nearly 44 years older than Leopold Stokowski. Compared with his older Parisian colleagues, Jules Pasdeloup and Charles Lamoureux, Édouard Colonne is said to have had a less well developed conducting technique, but he had passion and power that Pasdeloup in particular was said to lack. From his stature and reputation, he seems to have been the earliest eminent conductor to have recorded disks which are available to posterity. He was also the earliest born.
Édouard Colonne circa 1890
It is also interesting that Stokowski made his conducting debut with the Colonne Orchestra in May 1909, only two or three years after Édouard Colonne and his orchestra made this Brahms recording.
This Pathé disk was recorded in Paris in about 1906 or 1907, and is therefore one of the earliest disks of a famous conductor conducting a work of unquestioned quality. (note - Although the Pathé ledgers seen not to have survived, researchers estimate the 1906 date as plausible.)
Click on the link below to hear this 1906 version of the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 5. Compare the result with the full Philadelphia Orchestra, recorded 11 years later. Note that the voice introduction of the recording, customary in the earliest acoustics, identifies the piece as being Brahms Hungarian Dance "number 1".
The same day as the recording of the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 5 in G minor on October 24, 1917, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra they recorded the Brahms Hungarian Dance no 6 in D Major (also as orchestrated by Parlow). It was also issued on a single sided Victor Red Seal 10 inch disk, catalogue number 64753. The matrix number was B20889-2.
Click below to listen to this second recording by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Although the Hungarian Dance no 5, and the Hungarian Dance no 6 seem to be the only commercial recordings of either work by Stokowski with any orchestra, Stokowski recorded the Hungarian Dance no 1 at least six times, the last time in 1975, more than 53 years after this first Stokowski recording.
Following these first two Stokowski recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, they made further recordings later in 1917 in this same Eighth Floor Auditorium of Victor Building no 2, before moving to the Camden Church Studio in 1919.
To read about and hear these other 1917 and 1919 Victor Red Seal recordings, click on this link: Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Other Acoustic Recordings from 1917 and 1919
1 Sooy, Raymond R. Memoirs of my Recording and Traveling Experiences for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Manuscript, not dated, but ending with events of 1931. An important contribution to the history of recording, the David Sarnoff Library edited and reproduced these memoires on their website. http://www.davidsarnoff.org/soo-maintext.html
2 Sooy, Raymond R. Memoirs of my Recording and Traveling Experiences for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Op. Cit.
3 page 304. Daniel, Oliver. Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York 1982 ISBN 0-396-07936-9
4 Rust, Brian and Brooks, Tim. The Columbia Master Book Discography. (4 volumes) Greenwood Press. 1999. ISBN 0-313-21464-6
5 Victor Talking Machine ledgers as reported by the The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR) by the University of California, Santa Barbara at http://victor.library.ucsb.edu
6 Stumpf, Robert M. II Leopold Stokowski Concert Register 1909 to 1940. 1995-2009 Classical Net. accessed 2009 at http://www.classical.net/
7 Morton, David L. Jr. Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology. (4 volumes) Johns Hopkins University Press. 2006. ISBN-13: 9780801883989.
If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site, please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note on listening to the Stokowski recordings
The recordings in this site are files in mp3 format (128 mbps) encoded from my collection. Links to the mp3 files are located in two places:
First - in the page covering the year of the recording. For example, links to a 1926 recording are found in the page: 1926 - Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings
Second - in the Chronological Discography page. For example, links to a 1926 recording are also found in the electrical recordings chronological discography page: Chronological Discography of Electrical Recordings This page lists all the electrical recordings from 1925 to 1940 made by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski and issued by Victor, including of course the 1926 recordings.
The mp3 files in this site are (usually) encoded at 128 mbps. This means that the files are of different sizes, according to the length of the music. For example, the second electrical recording, the April 29, 1925 Borodin ‘Polovetzki Dances’ is small (3.6MB). In contrast, the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large. Le Sacre du Printemps part 1 is 14MB and Le Sacre du Printemps part 2 is 16MB.
This means that a large file will take a longer time to download, depending on your internet connection speed. Please keep this in mind when you click to listen to - download a particularly music file. You may click the link to the music file, but need to wait a number of seconds or even minutes to listen to the file.
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