Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings of 1935
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1935 Recordings of
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Stokowski in the mid-1930s
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded 7 major works in 1935, and all of them in only three days of recording: Monday 25 November, Monday 16 December, and Monday 30 December 1935 in the Academy of Music. In this brief period, Stokowski recorded the Franck d minor symphony, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, a new symphony by University of Pennsylvania composer Harl McDonald, Stokowski's Symphonic Synthesis from Tristan und Isolde, as well as lesser pieces by Handel, McDonald, and Shostakovich. Quite a recording feat !
Aiding this intensive recording schedule was that all of these works Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra had performed in concerts in Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. in October, November and December 1935. This practice of performing in concert prior to recording is today the norm, but Stokowski found it efficient, then and used it regularly, thereafter.
I recall reading a magazine article in about 2001 about the Philadelphia Orchestra which stated that the music from Stravinsky's Firebird had become a featured "orchestral showpiece" for the Philadelphia Orchestra. The article indicated that the Philadelphians had performed either the Suite or the complete ballet more than 500 times in the recent decades. However, when Stokowski first performed The Firebird on December 30-31, 1921 and then recorded music from The Firebird in 1924, using the acoustic process, this music was still considered avant-garde and controversial. Reviews suggest this was still the case when Stokowski again recorded the Suite from The Firebird in 1927 with the new electrical process, For some, this had not changed by 1935.
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra were active introducing the musical public to this great work across the United States via concerts and radio, and via radio to Canada. They performed the Suite from The Firebird throughout the 1920s and 1930s:
- Philadelphia: December 30-31, 1921
- Philadelphia: February 1-2, 1924
- Philadelphia: February 16, 1924 excerpts in a lecture concert
- Philadelphia: March 8-9, 1924
- Philadelphia: October 17-18, 1924
- Philadelphia: November 20-21, 1925
- Philadelphia: December 11-12, 1925
- Pittsburgh: February 22, 1926
- Philadelphia: April 5-6, 1929
- Philadelphia: October 3-4, 1930
- Philadelphia: November 4-5, 1932
- Philadelphia: March 9, 1933 Youth concert with excerpts
- Philadelphia: November 2,3,6, 1934
- Baltimore: November 7, 1934
- Philadelphia: October 10, 1935 Youth concert with full Suite
- Philadelphia: October 11, 12, 1935
- Birmingham, Alabama: April 22, 1936
- Dallas: April 24, 1936
- San Francisco: May 2, 1936
- Ann Arbor, Michigan: May 16, 1936
- Philadelphia: March 24-25, 1939
In this 1935 recording of the Firebird Suite, Stokowski continued his practice of making an important change to the finale. To those familiar with the Firebird, this change might seem startling, if they are not forewarned. As well as his usual minor cuts and instrumentation changes, Stokowski has made an extensive cut in the finale of the last movement of the Suite. This was the same cut made by Stokowski in the 1924 acoustic performance. Such cuts in any score recorded during the acoustic era were the norm because of the 4 minute time limit of the 78 RPM side, and also the difficulty of recording acoustically. However, this same cut of than one minute in the Finale was also made in 1927, and in this 1935 recording, where time seems not to have been a factor.
This cut became Stokowski's practice during his career. As well as 1924, 1927, and 1935, Stokowski made this same cut in his the November, 1940 recording with the All-American Youth Orchestra and also with the NBC Symphony Orchestra recording of April, 1942. The musical effect of this change to the conclusion of this remarkable work is notable. Apparently, Stokowski felt that the somewhat repetitive nature of the build-up to the finale was better omitted. Yet others, presumably including Stravinsky, believed that this progression adds to the cumulative impact of this thrilling finale.
Stravinsky was vocal in his resistance to the changes to his work in performance, and he likely did not condone this one, either, although I have seen no record of any specific comment by him. Stravinsky was usually careful to avoid any actions which might reduce his royalties (well earned) on his compositions !
In this recording, there is beautiful playing by Walter Guetter, bassoon in this Suite from the Firebird.
Stokowski's 1935 recording of the Suite from the Firebird was released by Victor on three 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal disks Victor 8926, 8927 and 8928 in Musical Masterpiece album M-291 coupled with the Shostakovich Prelude opus 34 no 14 in e flat minor on the B side of 8928. Matrices were: CS 92865-2, CS 92866-4, CS 92868-3, CS 92869-3 (later CS 92869-2A), and CS 92870-5. The Jeu des Princesses and Danse Infernale shared matrix CS 92868-3.
Stokowski at this time was in the habit of recording and releasing one take of a recording session, if he was happy with the playing of a familiar work. The continued difficulty of Stravinsky's Firebird in this era, even for a group such as the Philadelphia Orchestra is indicated by the high number of 'takes' necessary before Stokowski was satisfied with the result.
a promotional record of Harl McDonald's Rhumba Symphony given to members of the Music Teachers National Association by RCA Victor
On November 25, 1935, Leopold Stokowski recorded two works by Harl McDonald, composer and Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. Harl McDonald was born in Boulder, Colorado on July 27, 1899. He joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1927, and later became Director of the Music Department, as well as conductor of several University of Pennsylvania music groups. Harl McDonald in the 1930s and 1940s became Manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra, working closely with Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. He was also elected to the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. He died in Princeton, New Jersey at the University's McCarter Theater on March 30, 1955. McDonald was filming a movie on orchestral music and as he rose for a close-up, he collapsed of a heart attack. Harl McDonald was not yet 55 years old.
The excerpts which Stokowski selected were Rhumba, the scherzo movement of McDonald's Symphony no. 2 of 1934, and the Dance of the Workers from his Symphony no #4 - Festival of the Workers of 1937.
Harl McDonald in about 1935. photo: University of Pennsylvania Archives
These works were recorded on two sides of a 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disk 8919 A and B. Several matrices were recorded that afternoon: CS 94619-1 or 94619-1A or 94619-2 or 94619-2A for the Rhumba work, and matrices CS 94620-1 or 94620-1A for the Festival of the Workers. Somewhat surprisingly, these recordings were issued at the height of the Great Depression not only in the US, but also in the UK by EMI as 12 inch disc HMV DB 2913.
(awaiting better source for the McDonald works)
On December 16, 1935, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned for their second recording session back in the Academy of Music. This recording was of Stokowski's arrangement of the first movement, Sonata, from Handel Chandos Anthem no 2 in d minor 'In the Lord put I my trust', HWV 247. The need for Stokowski's arrangement of this sublime music may be open to question, since Handel wrote this music for a full instrumental group, if not the size of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The original score indicates and orchestra of strings, plus oboe, bassoon and two recorders (or perhaps equivalent winds). The result is a full and satisfying sound in Handel's original orchestration. Stokowski's arrangement features a larger string section, including violas, and a heavier sound. In the link below, listen to half a minute of this beautiful work by Handel played as we would hear it in concert today, compared with the same section in the Stokowski arrangement. (note: the Stokowski has been re-pitched to be closer to the tuning of the modern performance.)
This 1935 recording benefits from the sound and atmosphere of the full Philadelphia orchestra returned to their home in the Academy of Music. This recording was issued in 1936 on two sides of a Victor 10 inch (25 cm) Red Seal recording Victor 1798, matrices BS 94621-1, BS 94622-1. In Europe, it was issued on HMV DA 1556.
On 16 December 1935 and the following 30 December, Stokowski recorded a new, extended arrangement (sometimes call a "Symphonic Synthesis", but apparently not called that by Stokowski) of the music from Act 2 of Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. This 1935 selection was Stokowski's second arrangement of excerpts from Act 2. Recall that April 16, 23, 1932 Stokowski recorded excerpts from Act 2 concluding with the Love Music (Liebesnacht). In this 1935 arrangement Stokowski concludes with the finale of Act 2. This recording was issued by Victor in Musical Masterpiece album M-508 coupled with the April 5, 1937 recording of the Tristan und Isolde Prelude to Act 1.
Apparently, the public reception to this revised version regretted that the excerpt did not conclude with the Liebestod from Act 3, a favorite part of the opera. Consequently, on April 20, 1939 Stokowski re-recorded the last 78 RPM side (Victor 15206 A) of his excerpts substiting the Liebestod as the conclusion. Thereafter, Victor M-508 included this revised side.
In this arrangement, Stokowski has given the singing of the two protagonists to sections of the orchestra. The cellos play Tristan's music and violins play Isolde's music, with the interplay retained.
You can also hear the 1939 Liebestod conclusion by clicking on this link to the 1939-1940 Stokowski-Philadelphia Orchestra page. Note that the mp3 music file of the link, below is some 23 minutes long. It seemed important to have maintained this music as one, continuous musical experience, and for this reason, it is very large (21 MB), so may take a long time to download, depending of the speed of your internet link.
This recording of the Tristan und Isolde music of excerpts of Act 2 was released in Victor album M-508 coupled with the April 5, 1937 recording of Tristan und Isolde Prelude to Act 1. The first 3 sides of M-508 with the Prelude to Act 1 were Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal discs 15202, 15203 side A. This was coupled with the six sides of extracts from Act 2 on Victor Red Seal disks 15203 B, 15204, 15205, 15206 A. The other side of 15206 was left blank during 1930s. In about 1946, the November 12, 1934 recording of "Adoramus te, Christe" added as side B of Victor 15206 B. These were in Victor Musical Masterpiece album in M-508. Matrices were CS 94624-1, CS 94625-1, CS 94626-1A, CS 94627-1, CS 94628-1, CS 94629-1. In 1939, side 6 of the Act 2 music was changed to matrix CS-72075-2 with the revised Liebestod ending to the recording. Victor mistakenly used the matrix number of the final side of the April 23, 1932 Tristan und Isolde recording, rather than the appropriate 1935 matrix number.
In Europe, the Tristan und Isolde excerpts from Act 2 were released, alone, on three Gramophone Company HMV 12 inch (30 cm) disks, HMV DB 3087, DB 3088, and DB 3089.
One of the series of very fine recordings made in 1927 by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra was of the Franck Symphony in D minor recorded October 3, 1927. It does not seem that Victor wished to re-record the symphony due to competition. Other particularly successful recordings of the Franck symphony during the 78 RPM era, such as Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony, or Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw were not issued until later in the 1930s. Perhaps it was to gain more modern sound, although the 1927 recording was a success also sonically. However, this 1935 recording is superior in its lush string tone and the sold bass underpinning the performance.
As to the performance, it has always seemed to me that the famous Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra recordings made 1927-1929 were uniformly superior in inspiration and depth to their remakes recorded 1934 to 1939. This 1935 Franck Symphony in D is not an exception, although still a satisying performance. It is muscular and does not indulge in any of the sentimentality present in many later recordings, and of course if beautifully played.
The Gramophone in their September, 1937 review of this recording found it more episodic, rather than continuous in performance:
"...There are some grand key-moves in the recapitulation, on side 4. When Stokowski keeps the ball rolling, he does it magnificently but there are too many pot-holes in his sentiment. I rarely feel his work as one whole-all-through adventure...' 1
This recording was issued on six Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal discs 8959, 8960, 8961, 8962, 8963, 8964 A coupled with 'Panis Angelicus' on 8964 B in album M-300. matrices CS 94630-1, CS 94631-2 or 94631-2A, CS 94632-1, CS 94633-1, CS 94634-1, CS 94635-1, CS 94636-2 or 94636-2A, CS 94637-1, CS 94638-1, CS 94639-1, CS 94640-1 all recorded during the December 30, 1935 session except the two second take sides recorded on January 15, 1936. In Europe, the EMI issued this recording on HMV DB 3226, DB 3227, DB 3228, DB 3229, DB 3230, DB 3231 A (side B blank)
Click here to listen to (download) the 1935 Franck D minor Symphony - Mvmt 2 (awaiting better source)
Click here to listen to (download) the 1935 Franck D minor Symphony - Mvmt 3 (awaiting better source)
On 30 December 1935 recorded his transcription of the Shostakovich Prelude opus 34 no 14 in e flat minor written for piano. The piano version was one of 24 Preludes which Shostakovich had written in 1932–1933.
Stokowski's transcription brings out the dark, brooding tone of this composition, and his dramatic orchestration is particularly effective and dramatic. This 1935 recording is also one of the most evocative of his six or more issued recordings of the work.
Stokowski with Dmitri Shostakovich in 1958 following a performance of the Shostakovich Symphony no 11
Stokowski wrote an introduction to his transcription of this work:
"...At the beginning, the melodic line lies below the harmonic masses that accompany it in the background. A powerful theme mounts intensely to the highest sounds in the orchestra, as if to the point of an arch, and then gradually flows down the other side... All through this music is the fatalistic, heavy rhythm of three irregular accents which persistently sounds between the melodic phrases. So much is expressed with so few tones in this Prelude. Only genius can be so eloquent and concentrated."
This recording was issued on side B of a 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disc Victor 8928 as the final side of the 1935 Stravinsky Firebird suite contained in Musicial Masterpiece album in M-291. It was also added to album M-192 coupled with the 1933 Shostakovich Symphony no 1 in about 1940 (the final side of M-192 had previously been blank). The matrix was CS 94641-1. The recording was issued in Europe by EMI on HMV DB 2884.
1 page 13. Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski: Symphony (Franck). HMV DB 3226-31. (eleven sides).. Gramophone Magazine. London. September, 1937.
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Note on listening to the Stokowski recordings
The recordings in this site are files in mp3 format (128 mbps) encoded from my collection. 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 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.
The mp3 files in this site are (usually) encoded at 128 mbps. This means that the files are of different sizes, according to the length of the music. For example, the second electrical recording, the April 29, 1925 Borodin ‘Polovetzki Dances’ is small (3.6MB). In contrast, the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large. Le Sacre du Printemps part 1 is 14MB and Le Sacre du Printemps part 2 is 16MB.
This means that 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 - 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.
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