1921 - 1924 Victor Acoustic Recordings of Wagner by
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
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Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Wagner Acoustic Recordings
of 1921 and 1924
Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Stokowski's Love of Wagner
Wagner was a feature of Stokowski's concerts and particularly
of his recordings, from the Rienzi Overture recording of 1919
until his 1974 recording of Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine
Journey from die Götterdämmerung. Many of Stokowski’s
acoustic efforts to record Wagner were unsuccessful. In
fact, their first effort to record the Tannhauser
Overture was in May, 1919 at the time of the successful
Rienzi Overture recording.
Then in both November and December, 1922
in Camden, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
tried unsuccessfully to record the finale of
Götterdämmerung. Interestingly, this is the same
Stokowski’s final Wagner recording in November, 1974
with the London Symphony Orchestra (although of course
the acoustic side would have been heavily cut).
This had followed
equally unsuccessful recordings of the Lohengrin Prelude
Act I in April, 1922. In May, 1923, Stokowski and the
Philadelphia Orchestra attempted the Transformation
Music from Parsifal, which is the theme of Parsifal's
arrival at the Holy Grail from the end of Act 1.
This is music of such delicacy that it is
not surprising that the result was judged
unsatisfactory. This is a loss, since Stokowski
did not record this Parsifal Act 1 music later,
commercially, although the same theme occurs in Act 3,
which he did record.
Speaking of the Parsifal Transformation Music, there is
a fine performance of this music by Fritz Reiner and the
Philadelphia Orchestra from 1931. This was
captured by the Bell Laboratories experimental
recordings (described in
Leopold Stokowski, Dr. Harvey
Fletcher and the Bell Laboratories Experimental
Recordings) captured live from a November
28, 1931 concert.
Given this early recording date, this is the earliest surviving
Fritz Reiner recording yet issued. The performance is
included in the Philadelphia Orchestra - The
Centennial Collection Historic Broadcasts and Recordings
1917 - 1998 issued by the Philadelphia
The Wagner which Stokowski did successfully record
acoustically remains for me both successful and moving,
as living performances, and not just curiosities from a
distant past. Have a listen to them.
Wagner - Rienzi Overture
The first successful Stokowski Wagner recording was also
the Philadelphia Orchestra's first recording of a work
over more than one side. This was the Rienzi Overture,
recorded May 8, 1919 and issued on two 12 inch Victor
Red Seal disks 74602 and 74603, matrix numbers C-22815-3
and C-22816-3. At this time, Victor did not
release Red Seal recordings on double sided disks.
This is a spirited and generally fine sounding recording, remarkable
for 1919. However the impact of the electrical recording process
in permitting 1920 audiences to experience the full impact of Wagner's
orchestra may be heard by clicking the link below. This gives a
contrast of this 1919 acoustic recording with Stokowski's 1926 recording,
made in the Academy of Music with the new Westrex electrical recording
system. as fine as the 1919 recording was for its period and
the technical limitations, it is but a pale image of what we can hear
from the 1926 performance.
Click here to listen to a Rienzi excerpt recorded in 1919 and in 1926
by Stokowski and the PO
The Rienzi Overture was a featured work throughout Stokowski's career,
included not only in his third season in Cincinnati, but also during his
first season in Philadelphia in 1912. In fact, the Rienzi overture was
one of Stokowski's most played works in Philadelphia during this period,
featured in every season from 1912 through 1924, excepting only 1913 and
1922. His love of this music shines through his several great recordings
of this work. Even given the ancient acoustic of this 1919 recording,
it continues to give a profound vision of this famous early Wagner work.
Click here to listen to (download) the Wagner Rienzi Overture of 1919
1921 - Wagner - Die Walküre - Ride of the Walkeries
The Ride of the Walkeries from Die Walküre was recorded by
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra March 25, 1921
in Camden. They had previously
unsuccessfully attempted this work in the May, 1920
sessions which produced the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody and
Dvorak New World largo recordings.
This music in standard performance usually takes between
5:30 and 6:00 minutes, so this side is necessarily
heavily cut, although the performance is brisk and
The Ride of the
Walkeries was issued on a 12 inch Victor Red Seal
record, Victor 74684, matrix C-24987-4.
Click here to listen to (download) the 1921 'Ride of the Walkeries'
1921 - Die Walküre Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music
Also from Die Walküre in 1921 Stokowski was successful in
recording Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music from the
conclusion of Act 3. This music must have been
particularly difficult to record in the acoustic
process. The beginning brass instrumentation was
ideal for acoustic reproduction, but the later high
strings and flute music was at the edge of the acoustic
frequency range. In fact this music was difficult
to record, as witnessed by the fact that it took 12
takes in this recording session to produce a
satisfactory disk. Of course, this is also a heavily
cut version of this music. Cuts were normal in the
acoustic era to fit music on the 4 minute record sides, but
this performance is cut far more than is usual.  Music
usually taking between eight to sixteen minutes in concert
(depending on where you begin) has
been cut down to one 4 minute 78 RPM side.
The performance is noble and broad and captures the full
spirit of this dramatic end of Act 3 of Die Walküre,
when Wotan places Brünnhilde into a deep sleep and
surrounds her with fire. This is the Magic
Fire that will deter all but the bravest hero from penetrating
the ring. Wotan then departs in sorrow. Imagine
the impact of this recording in the 1920s on virtually
all who would hear it - people for whom access to
any opera performance, let alone the rare and difficult
staging of an opera such as Die Walküre would require a
trip of many hundreds of miles.
Victor Red Seal 12 inch disk 74736, matrix number C-24124-12 was
recorded December 5, 1921.
Click here to listen to (download) 1921 - Die Walküre - Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music
1921 - Wagner Tannhäuser Overture (Dresden Version)
Stokowski and the Philadelphians finally produced a
successful Tannhauser Overture recording, after the
unsuccessful May, 1919 and March, 1921 sessions.
This was on November 7, 1921 in the Camden
Church studio sessions. This recording was
of the original Dresden version of the
Overture, which preceded the revisions of the Paris
This recording was issued in August, 1922 on three 12 inch Victor Red Seal
discs, Victor 74758, 74759, and 74768 (matrix numbers
C-22808-10, C-22814-7, C-24999-2). In Britain, the recording was
issued by the Gramophone Company on disks DB 286 and DB 387.
Click here to listen to the 1921 Wagner Overture to Tannhauser
Three disks were just barely sufficient to record the complete
Dresden version of the overture, which takes more than 14
minutes to play. Most previous versions were
only on two sides, and were therefore far less successful in capturing
the Wagner scoring. It is interesting to contrast Stokowski
and the Philadelphians in 1921 with the very early 1907
recording by Carlo Sabajno and the La Scala Orchestra on
two Gramophone single sided disks, 050540 and 050541, of
which 050540 is reproduced below. Yet, this Sabajno recording
is a surprisingly noble interpretation, given the limits of
recordings made by this very early technology.
Click here to listen to (download) Sabajno's 1907 recording of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture
1924 - Wagner - Festival March from Act 2 of Tannhäuser
Another successful Tannhäuser recording from Stokowski's
acoustic legacy was the Festival March from Act 2, Scene
IV of the
opera. The introduction to this scene is the march
in which the knights, the ladies and the invited guests
enter the grand hall of the Landgraf.
Berlioz wrote of this music
"...[the music] assumes a style that is knightly, proud,
strong. We are certain, without seeing the
performance of this scene, that such music accompanies
the movement of men who are valiant, strong, and
equipped in shining armor..."3.
The interpretation of
Stokowski made April 28, 1924 fully realizes this
description of Berlioz. Victor published the as
Victor 6478, matrix C-29051-6.