Conditions Facing Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
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
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.
The Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings of 1933
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.
1933 - Wagner - 'Symphonic Synthesis' of Das Rheingold
On March 4, 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, Alberich and the Rhinemaidens, followed by
the descent of Wotan and Loge into Nibelheim, followed by Erda's
warning to Wotan of of the consequences of his actions.
Part 2 consists of the dramatic Entrance of the Gods into
Valhalla (made more dramatic by Stokowski)
In his arrangement, Stokowski adds percussion to Wagner's score as well as
doubling certain instruments, presumably to add impact to the
recording. However, the Philadelphia Orchestra plays with less
than its full complement, with only about 51 musicians in this
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 the 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
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 - Philadelpha 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.
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
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
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 identfying
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
Click here to listen to (download) the 1933 excerpts
from the finale of Die Götterdämmerung
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
It was recorded along with three other Stokowski orchestration of
works by Bach in the October 28, 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.
Click here to listen to (download) the 1933
Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh
1933 - Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in c major BWV 564
- Adagio (Stokowski orchestration
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..."
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
Click here to listen to (download) the 1933 Adagio from the
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in c major BWV 564
1933 - Bach - Chorale Prelude Ein' feste Burg ist
unser Gott BWV 720
On October 28, 1933,
Stokowski also recorded his orchestration of Bach's Chorale Prelude
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott BWV 720. Interestingly,
this work in the organ version was played in Hampshire, UK at
Stokowski's September, 1977 funeral service 4. Stokowski
had also conducted it himself at a memorial service for Presidential
candidate and US ambassador Adlai Stevenson in New York City in
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
Click here to listen to (download) the 1933 Bach Chorale Prelude
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
1933- Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 4 in c minor
BWV 1017 - Siciliano (Stokowski orchestration)
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. 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 Sonara for Violin and
Harpsichord no 4, the Siciliano movement was also recorded on
October 28, 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.
1933 - Shostakovich - Symphony no 1 in f minor opus 100
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.
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, combining the former sides 9 and 10 of the
November 18 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. 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.