1931 Recordings of

Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra

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Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra

Recordings of 1931

  Charcoal Sketch of Stokowski late 1920s

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1931 - Reduction of Victor record sales during the economic depression of the 1930s

 

During the 1930s, Victor experienced a dramatic drop in record sales as people cut back in spending, due to the great economic depression.  This was not only for the higher priced Victor Red Seal recordings of classical music, but of all record sales.  In fact, as can be seen in the following data, record sales in the mid-1930s dropped as low as only one-tenth of the sales level of the 1920s.  These data show that record sales of Victor (and of other record companies) did not recover to the pre-depression levels until 1940.  Record sales did not start to grow again until the economic stimulus which resulted from World War 2.  Consider the following table which shows the dramatic sales reductions in Victor record sales during the 1930s:

 

Year

Number of records sold

1927

37,625,429

1928

37,764,906

1929

34,493,447

1930

17,710,520

1931

7,093,917

1932

3,119,049

1933

3,635,713

1934

4,439,235

1935

4,751,219

1936

7,676,526

1937

10,494,610

1938

13,205,366

1939

24,248,789

1940

35,558,487

1941

56,268,433

   2

 

In the face of this collapse in sales, it is fortunate that RCA Victor was a subsidiary of the economically strong (although also suffering) Radio Corporation of America.  Victor's long-time rival in the U.S., Columbia Phonograph for example, after being separated from its British parent in 1931 was sold to a now-forgotten company Grigsby-Grunow.  Grigsby-Grunow in turn went bankrupt in 1934, at which time Columbia Records was sold to the American Record Corporation (ARC) for the distressed price of $75,000.  (ARC had also leased the Brunswick label in 1931, and had acquired a number of other famous labels in the US market.  ARC was in turn purchased by William Paley's Columbia Broadcasting System on January 1, 1939 for $700,000 3.)   Victor was indeed fortunate to have had RCA as its 'rich uncle'.

 

1931 - Victor moves the Philadelphia Orchestra back into the Camden Church Studio

 

After the lean recording year of 1930, Victor management decided to cut back still further in recording the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1931.  This resulted in two actions:  first was to move recording of the Orchestra from the Academy of Music, back to the Camden Church Studio.  The Philadelphia Orchestra in that era did not own the Academy of Music, so previously, Victor had to hire the hall for each recording session in the Academy.  The second action by Victor was to greatly reduce the number of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians used in each recording session.  Victor had also used reduced forces during the acoustic recording era in the 1920s.  However, this reduction in 1931 was for economic reasons, rather than because of the physical limitations of the acoustic recording process.

   The Camden Church Studio, also called Victor Building 22

 

Fortunately, as described below, Stokowski was able to mitigate these negative effects through his programming of music and because of his interest in acoustics, microphone placement, and the recording process.

 

A negative consequence of this move back to the acoustically 'dead' Camden Church Studios number 1 and number 2 was the reduction of clarity and lack of ambience of the recorded sound.  However, the good news was that Victor continued to record Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra at all during the 1930s.  Other great Victor stars, such as Fritz Kreisler, were not asked by Victor to record during the economic depression.

 

In addition to these reductions, only four Victor recording sessions were conducted in the Camden Church Studio in 1931:  These were on March 17, April 3, 4 and 18, 1931.  Also a special recording session was held on July 17, 1931 in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for Victor's new 33 RPM long playing recording system. In this July 17 session, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the Beethoven Symphony no 5. 

 

After 1931, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra typically participated in two series of recordings: one in the Spring and another in the Autumn, corresponding to the Orchestra's annual concert season.  However, in 1931, there were no recordings made of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the second half of 1931, likely reflecting economic pressures.  However, as was noted above, in spite of the economies, the Philadelphia Orchestra was still recording during 1931, which was not the case with such stars as Fritz Kreisler or the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky.

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1931 - Bach - 'Little' Fugue in g minor BWV 578

 

As described above, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to Camden, New Jersey on Tuesday, March 17, 1931 for their first Camden recording session since 1926. The first work they recorded was Stokowski's orchestration of the Bach 'Little' Fugue in g minor, BWV 578.  Stokowski had first performed this orchestration with the Philadelphia Orchestra on December 19,1930 9.  During his career, Stokowski made at least two transcriptions of this work, one with large orchestra, and the other recorded here with a reduced orchestra of strings and winds.  Stokowski also recorded this work in his movie The Big Broadcast of 1937.

 

The choice of this work by Stokowski in this orchestration may have been influenced by the reduced orchestra of only winds and strings, better suited to the smaller scale of the Camden, New Jersey recording location.

 

This transcription begins with solos by the two leading oboes of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Marcel Tabuteau, and either being either Louis DiFulvio or Robert Bloom (probably Bloom).  The beautiful English Horn solo was by Max Weinstein (1907-1983), who was English horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra for only two seasons, 1930-1932.  Weinstein came immediately from his graduation from Juilliard.  During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Stokowski seemed to be continuously in search of an English horn soloist who suited him.   During 5 of the 6 seasons from 1925-1926 to 1930-1931, Stokowski appointed a new English horn soloists each season. 

 

  Max Weinstein, English horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra 1930-1932

 

Also demonstrating his dissatisfaction with his various English horns during this period, Stokowski often requested Marcel Tabuteau to play English horn in key Philadelphia Orchestra recordings, such as the 1929 Sibelius Swan of Tuonela.  However, by 1930, contemporary accounts make it clear that Tabuteau no longer wished to double as English horn back-up.  By the end of the 1931-1932 season, Stokowski also became dissatisfied with Max Weinstein, and did not renew his contract.  It was with the appointment of Robert Bloom as English horn solo beginning 1932-1933 that Stokowski finally found an English horn that met his requirements 1.

 

Stokowski performed his arrangement of the 'Little Fugue' BWV 578 frequently, and included it in his film 'The Big Broadcast of 1937'

 

This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 12 inch (30 cm) disc Victor 7437 matrix CVE-64077-2, coupled with the April 4, 1931 Bach Chorale Prelude "Christ lag in Todesbanden" BWV 718.  In Europe, this disc was issued on Gramophone Company HMV 1952, also using matrix CVE 64077-2.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Bach 'Little' Fugue in g minor BWV 578

 

[Note: this recording has some distortion in the last one minute]

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1931 - Wagner - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Prelude to Act 3

 

Only one other short work was successfully recorded during the March 17, 1931 recording session in Camden.  Perhaps Stokowski and the Orchestra were still becoming re-acquainted with the recording conditions in the Camden Church Studio after being away for five years.  This work was the Wagner Prelude to Act 3 of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  This Prelude, less famous than the Prelude to Act 1 of this opera introduces Act 3 Scene 1 in Hans Sachs' workshop, where Sachs contemplates the world's madness with his monologue Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn! (Delusion! Delusion! Above all, Delusion!).

 

The recording is less than totally successful, particularly sonically, perhaps because both Stokowski and the orchestra were was coming to terms with the Camden Church Studio, after 5 years absence, as well as the Victor recording engineers who had not recorded a full orchestra in this studio in recent years, either.  As with the Bach Little Fugue, Stokowski used a reduced orchestra of only 46 musicians.

 

This Wagner recording of 6 1/2 minutes was released on the two sides of a 10 inch Victor Red Seal disk number 1584, matrices BVE 64078 and BVE 64079.  The recorded sound on this disk, and the Bach Little Fugue has a tendency to be somewhat thin and shrill, a result that Stokowski, the Orchestra, and the Victor engineers were able to improve in the later recording session of April 4, 1931.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude to Act 3

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1931 - Brahms Symphony no 4 in e minor (unissued)

 

After the relatively limited recording session of March 17, 1931, Stokowski and the Philadelphians returned to the Camden Church Studio for recording on April 3 and 4, 1931.  First, they attempted a major work usually requiring a larger orchestra of about 95 musicians.  This was the Brahms Symphony no 4 in e minor.  This was a mysterious choice and (at least to me) a mysterious recording project.  Strange was that this long work, nearly 40 minutes in length, was recorded on 10 inch disks.  This of course had the effect of breaking up the movements into even shorter 3 minute spans, rather than the approximately 4 1/2 minutes of a typical 12 inch 78 RPM side.

 

In addition, the sound or this recording was certainly hampered by the relative small size and heavily damped acoustics of the Camden Church Studio number 1, where this was recorded on April 3, with a 'make-up' session on April 18, 1931.  It was likely for these reasons that Victor, and/or Stokowski decided against approving the release of this 1931 recording.  Victor and the public would need to wait two more years until March and April of 1933 for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Stokowski to re-record and release their reading of the Brahms Symphony no 4.

 

The recording, although not released, was assigned Victor 10 inch Red Seal disk numbers 1510, 1511, 1512, 1513, 1514, 1515, 1516, intended for Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-108. The matrices were all of first takes: BVE 64088-1, BVE 64089-1, BVE 64090-1, BVE 64091-1, BVE 64092-1, BVE 64093-1, BVE 64094-1 BVE 64095-1, BVE 64096-1, BVE 64097-1,

 

If you should want to listen to this 1931 recording of the Brahms Symphony no 4, Mark Obert-Thorn has done his usual splendid and amazing restoration of this music, contained in the Music & Arts 4 CD album Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra - CD Premieres of their Rarest 78 RPM Recordings', catalog number CD-1173 ( www.musicandarts.com ).  This wonderful collection features unmatched restorations of many rare Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra recordings in sound far better than found in the amateur efforts of this website.  All interested should buy this fine album before it goes out of print.  Many thanks should go to Music & Arts for commissioning Mark Obert-Thorn and and for releasing this valuable album.  (Read about other Music & Arts restorations of Stokowski recordings, and the many other Stokowski restorations done by Mark Obert-Thorn for a number of leading record companies by Clicking Here .)

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1931 Debussy - 'Danses sacrée et profane'

 

The day after the recording of the Brahms Symphony no 4, on Saturday April 4, 1931, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to Camden to record Debussy's 1904 composition Danses sacrée et profane.  This work was more appropriate for the Camden Church Studio recording location, since it is a smaller work, originally scored for harp and string orchestra.  In Stokowski's 1931 performance, 39 Philadelphia Orchestra string players joined the Orchestra's harp, Edna Phillips, who was harpist of the Orchestra 1930-1946.  This work was originally composed by Debussy as a commission to demonstrate the chromatic harp, rather than the pedal harp normally used by orchestras, such as played here.  The famous French harp virtuoso Lucile Adèle Delcourt (1879-1933) championed this work on the chromatic harp, although Edna Phillips in this recording plays it on her standard orchestra harp.

 

   Claude Debussy in 1908, shortly after composing Danses sacrée et profane

 

Although the title Danses sacrée et profane would suggest two contrasting pieces, in fact the two parts are similar in feeling and effect and are intended to be played without pause.  In concert, it is not obvious when the Danse sacrée ends and the Danse profane begins.  Edna Phillips in this beautiful performance shows why this music is a favorite show-piece for the harp.

 

The Danses sacrée et profane were issued on two Victor 12 inch Red Seal disks, Victor 7455, 7456 in the Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-116 of Debussy works, coupled with the Gavotte from Thomas's opera Mignon on the flip side of 7456.  Matrices were CVE 69002-1 (later CVE 69002-7), CVE 69003-1 (later CVE 69003-2), and CVE 69004-1.  In Europe, the Gramophone Company issued this recording on HMV DB 1642 and DB 1643. 

 

Also in the Debussy Victor album M-116 were the 1928 recording of Nuages, and Stokowski's orchestration of La cathédrale engloutie, recorded in 1930.  This is a beautiful and atmospheric recording that provided a rare opportunity to hear this work in the 1930s in an evocative performance.  I have added a small amount of ambient reberveration to try to compensate for the 'dead' acoustics of the Camden Church Studio number 1.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Debussy 'Danses sacrée et profane'

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1931 - Bach - Chorale Prelude 'Christ lag in Todesbanden' BWV 718

 

Also on April 4, 1931 in Camden, Stokowski recorded his orchestration of Bach's Chorale Prelude Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 718.  This orchestration employs a smaller orchestra than many other StokowskiBach transcriptions, which may be why he selected it for the Camden Church Studio.  The original organ work, which Stokowski would have played often, begins with simple and mysterious single notes played in the lower register.  The music is then progressively layered, but never becomes massive.  Stokowski's orchestration matches this mood, although the development of themes is far less contrapuntal than Bach's, and the 3 minute length of this orchestration is considerably shorter than the 5 minutes or more of the original organ Prelude.

 

Again, as with the Debussy Danses sacrée et profane (but not the Brahms symphony) it would seem that Stokowski has selected for recording a work requiring fewer musicians, and which might be less impacted by the smaller size, and more acoustically dead Camden Church Studio number 1.

 

This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 12 inch (30 cm) disc Victor 7437 matrix CVE 69005-3, coupled with the April 4, 1931 Bach "Little" Fugue in g minor BWV 578.  In Europe, this disc was issued on Gramophone Company HMV DB 1952.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Bach Chorale Prelude Christ lag in Todesbanden

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1931 - Long Playing 'Program Transcription' records and the development of long playing records

 

One of the principal disadvantages of the 78 RPM record, from the beginning, was its short playing time of about 4 1/2 minutes, maximum, for a 12 inch (30 cm) disc.  Several initiatives had attempted to solve this short playing time problem.  March 11, 1903, Victor introduced the 'Deluxe Record', later renamed 'Deluxe Special Record' to differentiate it from 12 inch disks 4.  This 'Deluxe Special Record' was a 14 inch (35 1/2 cm) record, designed to rotate at 60 RPM, about 75% of the speed of the conventional 78 RPM record.  This increased recording time to about 6 minutes per side 8.

 

Probably due to its very large and heavy size, these 14 inch discs were not successful and were discontinued the following year.  These 14 inch discs are rare, today, a witness to their small sales.

 

Thomas Edison pursued the strategy of a finer grove - smaller in diameter, and more closely spaced - as a means to gain a longer playing time for the 78 RPM disk.  The Edison 'Diamond Disk' used a diamond stylus, with an smaller groove diameter.  Introduced in 1926, the Edison disk had playing times of more than 20 minutes.  Conceptually, this was a good solution to the playing time problem.  Unfortunately, in practical experience, it was a failure. 

These Edison disks had a number of disadvantages.  They were of a laminate construction, with a core of flakes of materials which tend to absorb moisture and to swell, causing disk de-lamination.  Also, equipment to play them tended to produce variable results.  The Diamond Disk was also easy to scratch, and any scratch or surface blemish was more noticeable on the Diamond Disk than a conventional 78.  Further, if someone tried to play an Edison Diamond Disk on a conventional Victrola, the steel needle of the Victrola would immediately and permanently destroy the Diamond Disk grooves.  Finally, the music programmed on these disks was not artistically interesting (an artistic problem for the non-musical Edison throughout his recording career.)

 

Bell Laboratories in the later 1920s had been working on improved systems for synchronous disk recordings for movies.  According to Arthur Keller 5, the Bell engineers had calculated that the optimal playing time for a 16 inch disk, then used for synchronous disk for talking films was 33 1/3 RPM.  Although this speed was not used in the Vitaphone synchronous recording process, commercialized by Western Electric and Warners Bros., it was later used by Victor.

 

From this development of a long-playing recording, RCA and Western Electric later developed methods for a long-playing phonograph record.  In November, 1931 6, Victor introduced of the 'Program Transcription' disk.  As well as a slower playing time, Victor also used

 

These 'Program Transcription' disks were issued in both 10 inch and 12 inch formats.  Most of the recordings were dubbed from existing 78 RPM masters.  However, some recordings, including the 1931 Stokowski Beethoven Symphony no 5 and the 1932 Gurre-Lieder were recorded directly onto 33 1/3 RPM masters. 

 

These records were pressed on a semi-plastic compound called 'Victorlac' 7, which was not particularly quiet, and also wore quickly because of the very heavy weight of the stylus connected to a massive horse-shoe magnet electric pick-up cartridge assembly used in that era. 

 

The result was negative in two important ways.  First, the recordings did not sell well, in part due to the economic depression, and their incompatibility with existing phonographs.  Second, for the technical reasons described, Victor eventually decided that they needed to withdraw the recordings, because they rapidly wore out 3.  So, after this commercial failure for Victor, the public had to await the introduction by Columbia in 1948 of a commercially successful long-playing record format.

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1931 - Beethoven Symphony no 5 in c minor Long Playing recording

 

As described above, for economic reasons, Victor had moved Philadelphia Orchestra recording from their home in the Academy of Music, back to the Victor Camden Church Studio recording site.  Further, Victor had reduced the number of musicians used for each recording.  The single exception to this in 1931 was the July 17, 1931 'Program Transcription' recording of the Beethoven Symphony no 5.  This was recorded in extended first takes by the full orchestra in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

 

This recording shows the Philadelphia Orchestra's virtuosity, both in precision of playing and ensemble, and also because 10 or 11 minutes of music was necessarily recorded in a single take, without either of the advantages of the shorter 4 1/2 minute sides of the 78 RPM disk, or the later tape editing flexibility of the LP disk of the 1950s.  The opening of the first movement is dramatic, underlining the 'fate' motif.  The remainder of the performance is pursued by Stokowski with white-hot energy.  This performance, perhaps does not quite rise to the inspirational level of the very finest twentieth century recordings of the 'Fifth' (recordings by David Zinman, George Szell, Otto Klemperer and Carlos Kleiber come to mind).  However, it is a solid, well-paced, fiery, and noble reading of this great work.  Have a listen and judge for yourself.

 

The 'Program Transcription' recording was issued in 1931 on a double sided 33 1/3 RPM 12 inch (30 cm) disk, Victor L 7001, matrices LCVE 67543-1 and LCVE 67544-1.

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Beethoven Symphony no 5 movement 1

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Beethoven Symphony no 5 movement 2

 

Click here to listen to (download) the 1931 Beethoven Symphony no 5 movements 3 and 4

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1   An important source for insight into the English horn history of the Philadelphia Orchestra was given in: Finkelman, Michael  Philadelphia Story: An English Horn's Eye-View of the Life and Times of a Great Orchestra over Six Decades, 1900 – 1960.  The Double Reed. Volume 23 no 3. 2002.
2  The always superb and interesting Mainspring Press ( www.mainspringpress.com ) has published an exhibit containing the Victor record sales units 1901-1941 as contained in the January 26 1943 documents of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York.
3  From narrative by Edward Wallerstein (1891-1970) published in Music in the Mall website www.musicinthemail.com
4  page 31.  Sherman, Michael W. (in collaboration with Moran, William R., Nauck, Kurt R.)  Collector's Guide to Victor Records  Monarch Record Enterprises  Dallas, Texas.  1992  ISBN 0-9632903-0-4  
5   Keller, Arthur.  BBC Radio 3 interview.  1981.
6   page 114.  Sherman, Michael W.  Collector's Guide to Victor Records  op. cit.
7   "...the records were made from Victorlac, a vinyl compound developed by Jim Hunter..."  Edward Wallerstein.  The Development of the LP record.  http://www.musicinthemail.com/audiohistoryLP.html
8  Hoffmann, Frank W. and Ferstler, Howard.  Encyclopedia of recorded sound, Volume 1.   New York. 2005. Routledge Publishing.
9  page 173.  Smith, Rollin.  Stokowski and the Organ.  Pendragon Press.  Hillsdale, New York. 2004. ISBN 157647103-9.
 


 

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1926 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1927 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

Encore des enregistrements 1927 électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1928 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1929 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1930 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1931 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1932 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1933 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1934 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

Encore des enregistrements 1934 électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1935 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

1936 enregistrements électriques Stokowski - Orchestre de Philadelphie

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