During the Philadelphia Orchestra's acoustic recording period
from 1917 to 1925, Stokowski recorded a number of works
by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and by French composers.
In the case of Tchaikovsky, given the side limits of acoustic
78 RPM disks of not much more than 4 minutes of
recording time, Stokowski was necessarily limited to
movements of symphonies and excerpts from other of
Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works. Even these movements were
usually cut from the necessities of fitting on one or
two 4 minute 78 RPM sides.
Stokowski attempted to record selections from the
Nutcracker in 1917: the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
and the Trepak. Also, four times during 1921 and 1922,
Stokowski attempted to record the Dance of the Flutes
and the Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker, none
of which he approved to be issued. He also attempted
the third movement of the Symphony no 4 in 1921.
1921 - Tchaikovsky Symphony no 6 - Mvmt 3 (Marche scherzo)
Stokowski's first issued Tchaikovsky recording was
third movement (Marche scherzo) of Tchaikovsky Symphony
no 6, opus 74, the 'Pathétique'. This movement was
18, 1921 in the Camden Church Studio. The recording is a
fine performance; open, balanced, and
detailed. Stokowski had previously rejected recording
sessions of this movement in 1917, 1920 and the previous
month in 1921. In fact, the 1917 effort was of the full
third movement, rather than this heavily truncated
version. Even with this selectivity as to takes, the
issued recording was of take number 11 of a total of 12 different takes made
that day in April, 1921.
It is somewhat unusual that 11 takes of this side were
necessary for a successful release. However, we
should also consider the many hundreds of acoustic sides
which were recorded, yet never released. This is a
testament to the difficulties and unpredictability of
It is interesting that two years later in April, 1923,
Willem Mengelberg recorded movements 2 and 4 of this
Tchaikovsky Symphony no 6 for Victor. These movements
recorded with the New York Philharmonic were issued as a
double faced Victor Red Seal 12 in disk catalog 6374.
This gave Victor customers of the acoustic era 3 of the 4 movements of the
Compared with the full orchestra recordings of 1917, by
1921, only 44 musicians were used in this recording.
This recording was issued as a single sided 12 inch Victor
Red Seal record 74713, matrix number C-24628-11.
It was released later that year, in November,
Click here to listen to the third movement of Tchaikovsky Symphony no 6 of 1921
1923 - Tchaikovsky - Symphony no 5 - Mvmt 2 (Andante cantabile)
The third movement from the Tchaikovsky Symphony no 6
'Pathétique' was edited down to only one 78 RPM side
of less than 4 minutes, compared with the 9 minutes usually
taken in performance.
However, on April 30, 1923 for the first time, Stokowski recorded
a full, unedited symphonic movement. This
also seems to be Victor's first recording of a full
orchestral movement. The recording was of the
Tchaikovsky Symphony no 5 second movement (Andante
cantabile). Stokowski and the Philadelphians used three 78 sides, which
allowed the full movement to be accommodated.
However, given the grand orchestral scoring used by
Tchaikovsky, this recording of this Andante cantabile
movement of the Symphony no 5 used is even more of a "chamber
music" sized orchestra, than previous 1919-1922
recording sessions. For this April, 1923 session, only
Philadelphia 34 musicians used.
The clarity that Stokowski and the recording engineers were
apparently seeking to achieve in the Pathétique Symphony by the
reduced forces is simply too much reduced here to retain the
impact of the music as scored by Tchaikovsky.
Also, the augmentation of bass strings by a tuba and a bass
clarinet is particularly noticeable. It may be that there
are no string basses at all in this recording. This is particularly
audible because of the thin orchestral forces in this
recording. Also more apparent is that certain players,
including the bass clarinet are out of tune. The
cramped seating and repeated efforts to record a
successful side must have put extra pressure on the
The result, however, is certainly
as good as acoustically as similar efforts elsewhere in the US and in
Europe in the acoustic era of orchestral recording. In
fact, listening to the many surviving acoustic recordings of
the leading orchestras, I would risk the generalization that
the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Stokowski showed
superiority in playing and in musical character and communication
compared with even the famous European orchestras of that
era. One interesting comparison is this 1923 Stokowski
recording with the Albert Coates recording of this movement
made about 6 months earlier on November 3, 1922 in Room no 1 of the Columbia
Graphophone facilities in Hayes, Middlesex, UK.
Albert Coates in the 1920s
Albert Coates (1882-1953), although perhaps forgotten today was one of the
best of the pioneering recording conductors, and almost exactly a
contemporary of Stokowski (Coates born 5 days after Stokowski in April,
1882). Coates Russian background
(born in St. Petersburg of a British father and Russian mother), and his
training at the Leipzig Conservatory and under Artur Nikisch may provide
background for his excellence in Russian and Austro-German music. This
1922 recording (it was of all four movements of the Tchaikovsky Symphony no
5, although cut) shows both Coates vigorous performing style, and also the surprisingly
poor level of performance of what is said to be a scratch orchestral group
from London's leading orchestras. Compare the prominent French horn part
of the London player with the beauty and subtlety of Anton Horner's
playing. The poor oboe intonation of the London musician would be
surpassed today by a community orchestra. Then there follows the
embarrassing bassoon. Presumably, this gives an indication of the usual
performance levels in the London orchestras of the time.
Click on the link below to hear the first few minutes of this movement as
played first by Coates and then by Stokowski and judge for yourself.
Click here to list to the beginning of the Tchaikovsky
Symphony no 5 mvmt 2 by Coates then Stokowski
Beyond these technical and acoustic considerations of this 1923 Stokowski
recording, listen through the sound to the
performance itself. It is sometimes said by critics that Stokowski conducts to
gain the most beautiful orchestral sound. Beautiful sound
does seem to have been a major Stokowski objective, but this
commentary seems to suggest that depth of interpretation was sacrificed
to achieve a superficially beautiful sound. Listen to this old, faded image of
performance and see if you are not moved by the
profound Stokowski vision of this movement
of the Symphony no 5.
recording was issued as two double faced Victor Red Seal
12 inch disks, 6430 and 6431, taking up three sides, with the
Rimsky-Korsakov Dance of the Tumblers from Act 3 of
Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) taking up the fourth side.
The matrix numbers are C-27904-1, C-27905-1, and
C-27906-2, and these disks were issued in February, 1924.