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:
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
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
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
1931 - Bach - 'Little G minor Fugue' 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 G minor Fugue'
in g minor, BWV 578. The choice of this work by Stokowski may have been
influenced by the fact that it requires a reduced orchestra of only winds and
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 needs 1.
Stokowski performed his arrangement of the 'Little Fugue' BWV 578
frequently, and included
it in his film 'The Big Broadcast of 1937'.
Click here to listen to (download)
the 1931 Bach 'Little G minor Fugue' BWV 578
[Note: awaiting a better source for this recording]
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
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
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 Wurmser-Delcourt (1879-1933)
championed this work on the chromatic harp, although Edna Phillips in
this recording plays it on her 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 sacréeends 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. Also
in 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'
1931 - Bach - Chorale Prelude 'Christ lag in Todesbanden'
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 other Stokowski
Bach 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
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
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.)