Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra
Tchaikovsky Acoustic Recordings 1919 - 1924
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1919 - 1924 Victor Acoustic Recordings of French Music by
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
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.
Stokowski's first issued Tchaikovsky recording was of the third movement (Marche scherzo) of Tchaikovsky Symphony no 6, opus 74 "Pathétique". This movement was recorded 18 April 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 acoustic recording.
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 Pathétique.
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, 1921.
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 musicians.
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.
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 a 1923 performance and see if you are not moved by the profound Stokowski vision of this movement of the Symphony no 5.
The 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.
Stokowski also recorded other Tchaikovsky fragments, including one issued side from the Nutcracker. This is the 'Dance of the Flutes' ("La Danse des mirlitons"), recorded February 13, 1922, and issued on a Victor ten inch disk 66128, matrix B-24938-6.
As was previously mentioned, Stokowski had attempted recordings of the Dance of the Flutes and the Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker numerous times in February, 1921 and February and April, 1922 but none of these sides was issued.
This performance of the Dance of the Flutes demonstrates Stokowski's graceful, yet emphatic style with this suite of Tchaikovsky dances, which was to be demonstrated in the highly successful complete Nutcracker Suite electrical recording of November 10, 1926.
One of the last acoustic recordings made by Stokowski and the Philadelphia was of Tchaikovsky, from the piano work, "Song Without Words" ("Chant sans paroles"), opus 40. This was recorded in December, 1924, but was not issued until late 1925 at the same time that the new Victor electrical recordings were being issued.
Not only did this Tchaikovsky "Song Without Words" recording have to compete with the new electrical technology recordings, but it was further hampered by not being a very successful example of the Victor acoustic process. This recording was also never listed in the Victor disk catalogue. Probably for these reasons, this recording was never a robust-selling disk, with the result that Victor 1111 is one of the rarer Victor acoustics.
The Chopin Prelude in e minor which was the disk mate of this Tchaikovsky recording was also not a big draw, apparently, contributing to the disc's scarcity. The 10 inch (25 cm) Victor Red Seal disk 1111 was issued November, 1925 and the matrix number of this side is B-27065-7.
The Tchaikovsky "Song Without Words" being a piano work, this performance was of course one of the orchestral transcriptions done by Stokowski. Stokowski recorded this transcription as late as 1972, with the London Symphony Orchestra (nearly 50 years later !). The result in this 1924 acoustic recording is, however, less than impressive sonically compared with some surprising results Stokowski achieved in the acoustic era. Also, to my ears, there is less in musical interest in the work itself, and it has a superficial, sentimental leaning that is not lessened by Stokowski's interpretation.
In short, this may well be Stokowski's least successful released acoustic side. Click below and judge for yourself!
A Note on listening to the Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings
The recordings in this site are files in mp3 format (mostly, 128 kbps) encoded from my recordings. 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 Chronological Discography 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. For each recording listed in the Discography table, there is a MP3 link on the right-hand side which, when clicked, also will download the recording.
The mp3 files in this site are encoded usually at 128 kbps. This means that the files are of different sizes, according to the length of the music. For example, the second Stokowski electrical recording, the April 29, 1925 Borodin Polovetzki Dances is small (3.6 Mb). In contrast, the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large. Le Sacre part 1 is 14 Mb and Le Sacre part 2 is 16 Mb.
Consequently, 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 (which means 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.
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
3 Bolig, John R. The Victor Red Seal Discography Volume 1: Single-Sided Series (1903-1925). Mainspring Press. Denver, Colorado. 2004. ISBN 0-9671819-8-4
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