1933 Recordings of
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings of 1933
Famous Karsch portrait Leopold Stokowski early 1930s
Stokowski Recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933
Economic historians consider either 1933 or 1934 to have been the bottom, economically, of the Great Depression. 1933 was a year of changes; it began with Herbert Hoover concluding his term as President, and with Franklin D. Roosevelt being sworn-in on on March 4, 1933 (also the day of the first recordings for 1933 by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra). Economically, both the Philadelphia Orchestra and its recording company RCA Victor were suffering. Victor had the benefit of being part of the Radio Corporation of America, which even in the depths of the depression was able to remain profitable, aided particularly by revenues from NBC radio.
As described in the 1931 page of this www.stokowski.site, Victor had decided in 1931 to move recordings of the Philadelphia Orchestra back to the Camden Church Studio, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and to reduce the recorded musician complement to about 50 musicians. Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra had recorded in Camden during the acoustic recording period 1917-1924, and also in the 1925 with the introduction of electrical recording, until the installation of recording equipment in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia in 1926. However, now the move back to Camden was for economic reasons, since at that time the Philadelphia Orchestra did not own the Academy of Music, and Victor had to hire the hall for each recording. So, In 1933, all the recordings were made in the Camden Church Studio number 1.
However, the Philadelphia Orchestra was still relatively well off: the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky was not recording, and the San Francisco Symphony concerts were suspended following the 1933-1934 season, not to be resumed until 1936 under Pierre Monteux.
In the 1932-1933 season, after lighter schedules in some previous seasons, Stokowski returned to the practice of being the principal conductor of the subscription concert series, conducting in 1933 January through April. This period was dominated by Wagner, with Stokowski performing three of the four Ring operas in his "Symphonic Synthesis" format. These were the of Das Reingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried. For Die Götterdämmerung, he also conducted excerpts of Siegfried's journey down the Rhine, the Funeral and Immolation scene. On top of these healthy Wagner servings, Stokowski in two concerts of April, 1933 performed concert versions of Act 1 and Act 3 of Parsifal. He also performed in February the Overture to Die Meistersinger, and the Act 1 Prelude to Lohengrin in March.
As in most years, the recordings of 1933 were done in the Spring and in the Winter seasons, roughly corresponding with the orchestra's concert season. There were four days of recording: March 4 and 25, April 29, October 28, and November 18, 1933, all Saturdays, prior to the Saturday evening subscription concerts. The recordings were of Stokowski orchestrations of Bach, of Wagner, reflecting the many Wagner concerts that year, and also the Brahms Symphony no 4.
On 4 March 1933, Stokowski made his first recording of his Symphonic Synthesis of a Wagner opera. In this case, it was of Das Rheingold. Part 1 of the Synthesis consists of the Prelude, then the scene of Alberich with the Rhinemaidens, followed by the descent of Wotan and Loge into Nibelheim. It then transitions to Erda's warning to Wotan of the consequences of his actions, and to avoid the ring. "...All that is, ends. A day of doom dawns for the Gods...". Stokowski gives Erda's music to the English horn in a 5 minute extended solo played by Robert Bloom in this beautiful transcription.
Part 2 consists of the dramatic "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" (made more dramatic by Stokowski) depicting Wotan greeting the sight of Valhalla with delight, as he leads the procession of gods and goddesses into their new home, the castle of Valhalla. As the curtain falls, the gods enter Valhalla by a rainbow bridge that has been thrown across the valley of the Rhine. In this conclusion, Stokowski used the edition prepared for concert use by Hermann Zumpe (1850-1903), further enriching the brass and percussion with vivid effect.
However, the Philadelphia Orchestra plays with less than its full complement, with only about 51 musicians in this recording.
The recording was issued on three 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disks, catalogue number 7796, 7797, 7798, matrices CS 75177-1, CS 75178-2, CS 75180-2, CS 75181-2, CS 75183-1, and CS 75184-1 - nearly all first takes - in Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-179. Click on the links below to listen to these excellent recordings.
As you can read in the 1931 Stokowski Electrical Recordings page, in April, 1931 , Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the Brahms Symphony no 4 on 14 sides (!) of Victor Red Seal ten inch records. For the reasons described in discussing this 1931 Brahms recording, these disks were not released by Victor.
Then, two years later, in March and April, 1933, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra again recorded the Brahms Symphony no 4, this time on five 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disks.
The Brahms Symphony no 4 was one of Stokowski's mainstays in his concert repertoire. He programmed it as part of his second season with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and with the NBC and Houston Symphonies. This Symphony (as pointed out by the music scholar and Stokowski expert Edward Johnson) was the final work performed by Stokowski during his final UK concert on May 14, 1974, 65 years nearly to the day after his first UK concert of May 18, 1909!
Throughout his career, Stokowski's vision of the Brahms Symphony no 4 was consistently fleet and vital. This 1933 recording is notable not only for its electric performance, but also that with this recording, Stokowski was the first conductor to have recorded all four Brahms symphonies for the gramophone.
This recording made in the Camden Church Studio with a reduced Philadelphia Orchestra - about 51 musicians - is closely miked, and lacking in acoustic ambience. Therefore, I have added some acoustic reverberation, seeking to add 'air' around the instruments, and the result I believe is not obviously constrained by the Camden Church Studio recording location, with good sound and firm base line.
This is a vigorous and dynamic performance by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It does not have, to my ears, any of the modifications of tempi or of score (ignoring a few cuts) that may feature in certain Stokowski recordings. This is also one of the earliest electrical recordings of the Brahms Symphony no 4. Herman Abendroth conducted the London Symphony in a November, 1927 recording on HMV D1265-D1270, but it was a weak performance with scrambled playing (all too frequent in London orchestra recordings of the era) in a tentative reading and weak sound. Max Fiedler with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra recorded a performance on Decca CA8137-CA8142 or Polydor 95356-59361 in 1930 (also issued in the US under Brunswick 90189-90194), but the performance was slow and heavy, the playing lacking precision and ensemble, and the sound poor (other than that, a good recording!). Bruno Walter recorded a performance with the BBC Symphony in November, 1934 on HMV DB2253-DB2257, but surprisingly for Walter, it was not a particularly distinguished performance. There were a number of interesting 1938 recordings of this symphony: the Weingartner - London Symphony recording for EMI (with a dynamic 4 - allegro movement) was recorded February 2, 1938, the Mengelberg - Concertgebouw recording of November 29, 1938, and the Koussevitzky - Boston Symphony recording was made in multiple takes November 30, 1938 to November 8, 1939.
This Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra 1933 recording was issued on five Victor 12 inch Red Seal records: 7825, 7826, 7827, 7828, 7829 in Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-185. The recording matrices were: CS 75162, CS 75163, CS 75164, CS 75165, CS 75167, CS 75168, CS 75169, CS 75171, CS 75172, CS 75174, CS 75175.
Studio portrait of Stokowski in mid-1930s
In March, April and October, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded excerpts from Die Götterdämmerung. These were Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music, the Immolation Scene and Finale with soprano soloist Agnes Davis as Brünnhilde.
The Gramophone Magazine March 1934 review praised this recording:
"...From the first notes the Wagner records are tremendously impressive. The rhythmic spring on side 2 is especially keen. This and the size of the music give a wonderful impression of the happy hero. Wagner remains a supreme test for recorders. I have not had in any former records such an impression of the cosmic scale of his work, of its universal truth..." 1
This performance presses ahead somewhat more that Stokowski's other 1933 and 1934 Wagner recordings, which generally 'breath' a bit more, but this is not excessive. The playing continues to be virtuoso, in particular the horns including the Wagner horn, the oboe and the English horn. The beauty and sheen of the Philadelphia strings continues at the highest level. The sound, also seems not to be disadvantaged by the Camden Church Studio recording location, nor the reduced complement of musicians. Altogether, a performance that still provides great pleasure today eight decades after its recording.
Agnes Davis is a fully competent Brünnhilde in the finale. A native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the time, she was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, later graduating in the Class of 1936. It was often Stokowski's practice in the 1930s to employ Curtis Institute students as singers. Abram Chasins in his Stokowski biography wrote about Stokowski's assistant Sylvan Levin identifying singers for Stokowski:
"...He [Levin] often recommended totally unknown singers (mainly from among the Curtis students) to fill important roles both to circumvent the traditional temperamental displays that some stars exhibited and to eliminate any question of his authority over cast as well as orchestra...2.
This recording was issued on five 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disks catalogue numbers 7843, 7844, 7845, 7846, and 7847 in Musicial Masterpiece album M-188. In Europe, it was issued on HMV DB 2126, DB 2127, DB 2128, DB 2129, and DB 2130. The matrices are CS 75626-1, CS 75627-1, CS 75629-1, CS 75630-1, CS 75632-1, CS 75633-2, CS 75676-1, CS 75677-1, CS 75679-1, and CS 75680-2. These were nearly all first takes, perhaps one of the reasons that these disks are fresh and inspired. In clicking on the link below to listen to this recording, please keep in mind that the mp3 file is large: more than 17 megabites, in order to provide one continuous audio. So, depending on the speed of your internet connection, it may take a long time to download.
Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh (Come, Sweet Death, Come Blessed Rest) is a work for a solo voice accompanied by bass continuo. It was part of the 69 Sacred Arias that Bach contributed to Georg Christian Schemelli's Musicalisches Gesangbuch, and is BWV 478 in the catalogue. Scholars debate whether this music was composed by Bach, or adapted by his with the addition of bass line.
score for BWV 478
It was recorded along with three other Stokowski orchestration of works by Bach in the 28 October 1933 recording session in the Camden Church Studio. Unfortunately, this recording has a somewhat congested sound image; more so than the other recordings of that date for some reason.
We are told by Rollin Smith in his excellent book Stokowski and the Organ:
"...the Adagio from the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in c major BWV 564 is arranged for full orchestra including timpani, bass drum, two harps and glockenspiel - on the last note..." 3
So, it is the glockenspiel which we hear, faintly, at the end of this 1933 recording. This is the only recording Stokowski is known to have made of this orchestration.
The Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in c major BWV 564 - Adagio was recorded October 28, 1933 and issued as Victor 8495 B in M-243 (Bach "250 Anniversary Album") or in Europe on HMV DB 2335 B (with the Beethoven Symphony no 9), matrix BS 75684-2
Bach 250 Anniversary Album M-243
On October 28, 1933, Stokowski also recorded his transcription of Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, the music adapted by Martin Luther based on an old religious hymn. Bach also made use of this music in several works, including Bach's Chorale Prelude Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott BWV 720. Interestingly, this Bach organ work was played in Hampshire, UK at Stokowski's September, 1977 funeral service 4. Stokowski also conducted his arrangement of Ein' feste Burg in his movie The Big Broadcast of 1937. This short version of Ein' feste Burg is only 1 minute 45 seconds long, and Stokowski made a longer transcription in 1939. Stokowski also conducted it himself at a memorial service for Presidential candidate and US ambassador Adlai Stevenson in New York City in 1965 5.
This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 10 inch (25 cm) disk, catalogue 1692 A (with Russian Christmas Music of October 22, 1934 on the flip side. In Europe, it was issued by HMV on DB 2453. The matrix number was BS 77873-1
In the original duo sonata, Bach's innovative Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 4 in c minor, BWV 1017, the Sicilienne rhythmic theme is given to the violin, while the harpsichord plays a full accompaniment. Stokowski's orchestration retains fidelity to this, and the work remains evocative, given to the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra. However, the contrast of the springy allegro and the adagio and the concluding allegro would be welcome as a contrast and completing the sonata structure.
This orchestration of music from Bach's Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 4, the Siciliano movement was also recorded on 28 October 1933 with the other Stokowski orchestrations. It was issued of a Victor Red Seal disk 8475 in in album M-243 (Bach "250 Anniversary Album") and in Europe on HMV DB 2275. Its matrix number is BS 77874-1.
This symphony was written as Shostakovich's graduation compostion from the Leningrad Conservatory, placing its composition in the years 924 and 1925, completing it at age 19. It was given its premier the following year in 1926 by Nikolai Malko and the Leningrad Philharmonic. Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the US premier in the concerts of November 2 and 3, 1928.
There is much beautiful playing in this excellent performance. For example, consider the extended oboe solo by Marcel Tabuteau in the third movement. This oboe theme is also mirrored in a wistful solo violin passage played, probably, by Alexander Hilsberg. The third movement also makes a reference to the music of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.
In Stokowski's performance, he adds a cymbal accent to the first clashing piano chord about 45 seconds before the end of the second movement (but not to the later piano chords) presumably to add to the shocking impact.
The original recording session on Saturday, November 18, 1933 was on ten sides (ten matrices). However, sides 9 and 10 were somehow damaged and made unusable. Normally, these two sides would need to be re-recorded. However, Victor had 33 1/3 RPM 'safety' master recordings of this session. With these safety masters, Victor made a new matrix (CS 78457), combining the former sides 9 and 10 of the 18 November 1933 recording session to make a new, combined, side 9, matrix number CS 78457. When this album, M-192 was issued in 1934, side 10 was therefore blank.
A Victor 78 RPM disc blank side
However, in later years, the December, 1935 Philadelphia recording of the Stokowski orchestration of the Shostakovich Prelude opus 34 no 14 in e flat minor was added to the M-192 Album as side 10. The mp3 files in the links, below of the four movements are edited such that they may be linked together into a continuous sound file without breaks.
1 page 31. DB 2126-30 (12 inch, 10 sides) Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Stokowski: Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Death, Brünnhilde's Immolation, and Closing Scene (Götterdämmerung) (Wagner).. Gramophone Magazine. London. March, 1934.
2 Chasins, Abraham. pages 121-122. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. Hawthorn Books. New York, New York. 1979. ISBN 0-8015-4480-7
3 page 176. Smith, Rollin. Stokowski and the Organ. Pendragon Press. 2004. ISBN 157647103-9.
4 page xxii. Smith, Rollin. Stokowski and the Organ. Pendragon Press. 2004. ISBN 157647103-9.
5 American Symphony Orchestra UN Concert. American Symphony Orchestra League notes. Volume 16, Issues 3-6. 1965.