1936 Recordings of
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
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Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings of 1936
1936 Cover of the Brochure for the Stokowski -
Philadelphia Orchestra US National Tour
1936 Recordings of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
1936 was a productive recording year for Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Remarkably, these 1936 recordings were accomplished in a surprisingly few recording sessions, concentrated in only three days. All the recordings in the first half of 1936 were recorded on Wednesday, 15 January 1936. They consisted of the Wagner Meistersinger Prelude to Act 1, Bach's "Air on the G-String", and Bourée from the English Suite no 2, both in Stokowski transcriptions, Panis Angelicus by Franck as transcribed by Stokowski, the Prelude to Act 3 of Tannhäuser, a re-recording of the Saint-Saëns "Danse macabre", Valse Triste by Sibelius, and a re-recording of the Brahms Symphony no 1. Whew ! --- all this in one day of recording, a tribute to the abilities of this great recording team: Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Not surprisingly given the time limits, nearly all of these sides were done in one take, except for the Brahms Symphony.
Prior to the January 15, 1936 recording session Stokowski had conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra Concerts from the beginning of the season in October, 1935, and during the first two weeks of 1936, just prior to the January 15, 1936 recording session. He then took his accustomed winter break until April. Returning, in April and May, 1936, Stokowski took the Philadelphia Orchestra on a national tour across the United States (with a stop in Toronto).
On 2 January 1936, after two years of indicating informally that he would leave the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski notified the Philadelphia Orchestra Association Board that he would no longer continue as Music Director of the orchestra 2. The Association Board had by this time yielded to all of Stokowski's recent demands, but it seems that Stokowski had 'had enough' 3.
This announcement might have caused a dramatic reaction in previous years. However, the past two years of conflict between Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra Association Board, reported in detail in the press for many months, blow by blow, had dulled public interest. It would seem that most of the emotion related to Stokowski's decision, after more than 23 years as head of the Philadelphia Orchestra had become exhausted. The announcement that Eugene Ormandy would be released from his Minneapolis Orchestra contract, and would become the new Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra seems to have been met more with curiosity than with furore 3. In some ways, therefore, the immense achievements of Stokowski in elevating the Philadelphia Orchestra to a level shared by less than 10 other great world symphony orchestras may have been overlooked at that time. However, Stokowski's tenure as conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra was far from over.
Stokowski did achieve one of the objectives which he had been seeking for at least a decade. The Orchestra Association Board agreed to a transcontinental tour by the Philadelphia Orchestra. This would be financed by RCA Victor records, and would include 33 concerts in 27 cities over 35 days.
1936 Philadelphia Orchestra Tour Map
The Philadelphia Orchestra's tour from Boston to Toronto to Holdrege, Nebraska (a small town on the train route Chicago to California), and then back from San Francisco to New York was the first transcontinental tour by a major US symphony orchestra 4.
The first recording session of 1936 was on 15 January 1936. First, Stokowski and the orchestra recorded the Prelude to Act 1 of Die Meistersinger by Richard Wagner. Stokowski made several cuts at the end of the score, but it is not apparent whether this was due to the timings of the sides of the 78 RPM disks, or for editorial reasons. Several sections of this performance were recorded at excessive levels, by the Victor engineers, causing some transient distortion, but not too objectionable.
This work was one of the early additions to Stokowski's repertoire. He programmed it during his 1910-1911 second Cincinnati season on February 17 and 18, 1911. This performance is tight and energetic, but also with sumptuous string sonorities. This is an excellent example of the benefits of Stokowski's priority on sound and sonority - as well as a moving performace. The underlying bass support from the orchestra greatly adds to the fine gravity of the performance.
This recording was issued on three 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal sides 17567 sides A and B, 17568 side A, matrices CS 94644-1 or 94644-1A, CS 94645-1 or 94645-1A, and CS 94646-1 or 94646-1A . In later years, the filler for this album was the 27 March 1940 Lohengrin Prelude to Act 3 in Victor album M-731.
In Europe, the Gramophone Company issued this recording on disks DB 6040 and DB 6040 side A.
Bach wrote four Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066–1069. The third Suite, 3 in D major, BWV 1068 was scored for 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani with a small string orchestra. The second movement of this Orchestral Suite, Aire is particularly famous. This fame came, among other reasons due to a transcription by August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) which is popularly known as "Air on the G String". Stokowski made an orchestration of this piece, and first recorded it on January 15, 1936.
This movement of the Bach Suite no 3 was issued on the two sides of a Victor 10 inch Red Seal disk number 1843 in Musical Masterpiece album M-401 (or in Britain on HMV DA 1605) matrices BS 94647-1, BS 94648-1.
Also on January 15, 1936, Stokowski recorded another of his orchestrations of music by Bach. This was a movement (fifth movement: Bourée) from the Bach English Suite no 2 in a minor, BWV 807.
This Stokowski arrangement of the music from the Bach English Suite, BWV 807 illustrates, as well as any the effect of what Stokowski was accomplishing. The score which resulted cannot be said to be an orchestration, since the music does not simply transform the notes into an orchestral score. It is not exactly an arrangement, either. Perhaps the best description is a transformation, in the hands of Stokowski.
There are certain common effects of Stokowski's transformations of Bach, found in his performances. Two of the key characteristics of the Bach originals is a solid, uniform rhythmic pulse, and the contrast of fugueal voices, playing off against each other. Stokowski in his performances typically does not keep this solid, uniform rhythmic pulse, but rather varies and modulates the tempoes to make contrasts. Also, the contrapuntal voices tend not to be displayed and played against one another. Rather, Stokowski likes to emphasize echo effects, perhaps similar to what he would have experienced as an organist, with contrasting pipe choirs coming from different parts of a church. This recording exhibits these performance characteristics - listen and see if you agree.
The contrast between these approaches - the baroque performance practice versus the more opulently romantic approach may be seen in this music from the English Suite no 2. Listen to the first half minute of this music played by Glenn Gould in 1977 versus the Stokowski version recorded in 1936.
Even if you prefer your Bach as a Glenn Gould or perhaps a Nicholas Harnoncourt might play it, still, the Stokowski transformation is technically well done, and clearly achieves what Stokowski was intending to do. Also, his claim that his 'arrangements' were a means for the general public to hear the many Bach works which otherwise would not be given public performance seems supported. The historic listing of concert performances of Bach's orchestral music available to the public would seem to be "few and far between".
This performance was issued on a Victor 10 inch (25 cm) Red Seal disk Victor 1938, and in Europe on HMV DA 1639.
Stokowski studio portrait circa 1936
In 1872, César Franck (1822-1890) composed music for the hymn Panis angelicus or "The angelic bread", originally written by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Franck's composition was for tenor, harp, cello, and organ, and would have been played by Stokowski during his career as a church music director. Among other tenors, this hymn became famous, prior to this recording as sung by John McCormack (1884-1945).
The orchestration and performance is free from any suggestion of excessive sentimentality.
This work in Stokowski's orchestration fits comfortably on one 78 RPM side, being slightly less than 4 minutes in duration. It was issued as a filler to the Franck Symphony in D minor recorded December 30, 1935 and January 15, 1936. The recording was on Victor Red Seal disk Victor 8964 side B matrix CS 94650-1, or later 94650-1A or 94650-1H in album M-300.
The Prelude to Act 3 of Tannhäuser which depicts Tannhäuser's pilgrimage, although dramatic, is less performed as a concert piece than, for example the Overture and Venusberg Music from the beginning of Act 1, which introduces the opera in the Paris version. Stokowski of course recorded the Overture and Venusberg Music several times, including in the fine 1929 recording of the music.
Felix Weingartner had previously recorded in Paris the Tannhäuser - Prelude to Act 3 in a cut version with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, for British Columbia (LX 868) in a calm performance. Stokowski's recording was the first widely available during that era. It is atmospheric and alternatively contemplative and dramatically charged.
This recording was issued on three sides of 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disks 15313, 15314 side A (with 'Ich ruf' zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ' on side B) in Victor album M-530, matrices CS 94651-1, CS 94652-1, CS 94653-1, again, all first takes. In Europe, the Gramophone Company issued the recording on DB 3254 and DB 3255 with the Tchaikovsky Solitude.
Stokowski in about 1939
Also on this busy recording day of Wednesday, 15 January 1936 was Stokowski's first recording of Valse Triste from Kuolema (he was to make two other commercial recordings of the work in the 1940s).
The Finnish writer Arvid Järnefelt (1861-1932) was Jan Sibelius' brother-in-law. Järnefelt wrote in 1903 his drama Kuolema, for which Sibelius wrote incidental music. Sibelius's music was in six section, of which the first was entitled "Tempo di valse lente". Sibelius the next year adapted this music into the concert piece Valse Triste, which gained its immediate popularity. This work was published as opus 44 no 1.
Stokowski's reading of this atmospheric work is a dramatic, romantic performance without being sentimental - a fault sometimes a feature of later conductor's performances. This gorgeous recording with the luxurious strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra has been restored by Dan Harvey from a pristine original disc. Dan is a Jazz and Classical Music Archivist based in Indianapolis. His fine restoration of this recording shows that not only was the performance a great performance, but also the sound captured by the Victor engineers was remarkable for 1936. Also, as Dan has remarked " ... the portamenti in the strings is to die for ... ". Thanks for the restoration Dan! Click on the link below to enjoy this dramatic performance, giving joy even more than 75 years after its recording.
Valse Triste was issued on side A of a 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disc Victor 14726 coupled with the 1937 recording of Sibelius The Tempest. In Europe, it was issued by EMI on HMV DB 6009 with The Tempest and HMV DB 3318 coupled with the 1936 Franck Panis Angelicus. The matrix was CS 94656-1. Again, the first take of Valse Triste was used, a clue to how Stokowski and the Philadelphians were able to record so many different works during that one recording session of January 15, 1936.
Also on this busy recording day of Wednesday, January 15, 1936, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded again the Brahms Symphony no 1 in c minor. This recording was intended to replace the blazing performance recorded in 1927, now perhaps regarded by Victor as being somewhat aging. But, as was often the case in the 1930s re-recordings of the repertoire from the Philadelphia amazing series of recordings 1926-1929, the new recording, although a good reading, did not reach the legendary 1927 Brahms First in vitality and conviction.
The second movement demonstrates tonal beauty, but has been considered by several critics as being somewhat "episodic" . The mellifluous third movement shows the greatness of the Philadelphia string choirs, woodwind and brass sections achieved during the 1930s, a beautiful example of the "Philadelphia Sound" under Stokowski. The fourth movement of this recording, allegro achieves the repose and beauty, followed by incisive energy of Stokowski's best readings of this Brahms symphony. The Brahms First Symphony seems to have been one of Stokowski's favorites, gauged by the number of performances during his long career.
This recording was issued on five 12 inch (30 cm) Victor Red Seal disks 8971, 8972, 8973, 8974, 8975, matrices 2A92871-3, 2A92872-2, 2A92873-2, 2A92874-5 or 2A92874-5A, 2A92875-1, 2A92876-2, 2A92877-3, 2A92878-3, 2A92879-2, 2A92880-1 in album M-301. In Europe, EMI issued the recording on or HMV DB 2874 DB 2875, DB 2876, DB 2877, and DB 2878.
Stokowski in 1937
Following the Philadelphia Orchestra's National Tour in April and May, 1936 and following the beginning of the Autumn concert series, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to recording over two sessions on November 15 and November 28, 1936. Again, these two days of recording were highly productive. A new recording of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody no 2 was followed by a re-recording of the Stokowski transcription of the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor (which he had previously recorded in 1929). Other Stokowski transcriptions recorded that day were the Sarabande from the Bach Violin Partita no 1, and of a Tchaikovsky song "Solitude", and a three disk recording of Stokowski's transcription of music from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. All that was recorded 15 November 1936 !
Then, on Saturday, 28 November 1936, Stokowski and the Philadelphians recorded four more works. There were two major Wagner excerpts from Parsifal: the Act 1 Prelude and the Good Friday Spell music from Act 3, both included in a Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-421. This was followed by two Bach-Stokowski transcriptions, of an aria from the St. Matthew Passion, and of the Bach arrangement: an Aria BWV 487.
The Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody no 2 in c sharp minor S.244/2 in both its original piano version and in orchestration has been one of Liszt's most popular works since its composition in 1847.
In both his 1920 and 1926 recordings, Stokowski delivered an interpretation of this orchestral show-piece significantly different from other leading conductors. The opening theme is played very slowly by Stokowski, followed by a rapid reading of the second theme, nearly to the extreme of playing. What seems to me as a 'mannered' Stokowski interpretation of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody becomes nearly a caricature of itself in this 1936 performance. Each phrase seems tailored for maximum drama and effect, but (it seems to me) more to feature Stokowski than to feature the music. The total effect is somewhat like the more extreme excesses of Mengelberg's 'interpretations', where an episode-by-episode performance style is imposed on the music in a way which seems extrinsic to the score. The orchestration of this piece (originally for piano, and number 4 of the 19 Rhapsodies - traditionally numbered 2 in its orchestral setting) seems to be a Stokowski adaptation of the orchestrations by Franz Doppler and Karl Müller-Berghaus.
In 1937, the Gramophone magazine, which was not always an admirer of Stokowski recordings seemed to have liked this one. In 1937, it wrote, in an unusually informal style:
":...Some of the Philadelphia recordings have been too much for us, but this cosmic presentation of the Agrarian Rhapsodoodle is a crackerjack of tonal triumphs not to be missed..." 5
Have a listen to this 1936 recording by clicking on the link below and judge for yourself. The recorded sound is very good, and the playing by the Philadelphia Orchestra precise and nuanced. The volume of the forté sections and the length required the second side of this Victor disk 14422 to have a smaller than usual label to allow the grooves to penetrate further toward the center of the disk.
This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 12 inch disk 14422 and in Europe by the Gramophone Company on HMV DB 3086. Matrices were CS 03100-1, and CS 03101-1.
Following the Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody no 2, also on 16 November 1936, Stokowski recorded another of his transcriptions of Bach organ works. This was a delicate orchestration/transcription of the Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor BWV 582. Recall that Stokowski and the Phildelphia Orchestra had recorded this arrangement previously on 28 January and 1 May 1929 on Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal discs 7090 and 7091.
In his definitive book on Stokowski and the Bach organ works, Rollin Smith quotes from what Stokowski wrote in the Program Notes for the second tour of the All-American Youth Orchestra in 1941 1:
'Bach's Passacaglia is in music what a great Gothic cathedral is in architecture - the same vast conception - the same soaring mysticism given eternal form...The Passacaglia is one of those works whose content is so full and significant that its medium of expression is of relative unimportance; whether played on the organ, or on the greatest of all instruments - the orchestra - it is one of the most divinely inspired contrapuntal works ever conceived...' 1
This recording was issued Victor on two Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal disks 14580, 14581 in M-401 matrices CS 03102-1, CS 03103-2, CS 03104-2, CS 03105-1. In Europe it was issued by the Gramophone Company on HMV DB 3252 and DB 3253.
Stokowski, throughout his career was one of the finest conductors of music by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881). Stokowski had an insight into the musical ethos of Mussorgsky which was reflected in his transcriptions and performances, including his transcription/orchestration of the Pictures at an Exhibition (see 1939-1940 Electrical Recordings of Stokowski). Stokowski recorded the music of Mussorgsky from the acoustic era in 1922 until nearly the end of his recording career in 1975. As well as performing his transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, he often performed his arrangement of music ('Symphonic Synthesis') from Mussorgsky's unfinished opera Boris Godunov.
For convenience, the mp3 recordings, below, are organized into three parts: 'Music 1' 'Music 2' and 'Music 3'. This 'Symphonic Synthesis' was released by Victor as Musical Masterpiece album M-391 containing 3 Victor 12 inch (30 cm) Red Seal disks 14546, 14547, 14548. Matrices were all first takes: CS 03108-1, CS 03109-1, CS 03110-1, CS 03111-1, CS 03112-1, CS 03113-1.
'Music 1' includes music from the scenes in the 'Courtyard of the Novodevichiy Monastery' from Part 1, Scene 1, where the people urge Boris to become Tsar.
'Music 2' includes music from the 'Coronation Scene of Boris' from Part 1, Scene 2. This scene, in which Boris is crowned Tsar, is introduced by dramatic bells, and leads to a crescendo of orchestra and bells proclaiming Boris' coronation. The bells of the coronation fade, followed by the deep chimes of a monastery. This is the scene at the 'Monks in a Cell in the Chudov Monastery" from Part 2, Scene 1, in which the monk Grigoriy conceives of the idea of posing as the Tsarevich heir whom Boris murdered. The next music comes from the scene at the 'Inn on the Lithuanian Border (Siege of Kazan)' from Part 2, Scene 2. The monks Varlaam and Grigoriy enter, and Varlaam sings of of Ivan the Terrible's siege of Kazan where 83,000 Tartars died.
Coronation of Boris from 2008 San Francisco Opera Production
'Music 3' includes the scene called 'At the Cathedral of Vasiliy the Blessed' from Part 4, Scene 1, in which a crowd gathers at the cathedral where Boris is at mass. The crowd is teasing an idiot. The crowd begs for bread and Boris, departing, asks for the idiot's blessing. Boris departs with the words of the idiot that he cannot bless a murderer. Next in this Music 3 is the concluding scene describing the "Death of Boris in the Kremlin' from Part 4, Scene 2, in which, after a dramatic scene, Boris dies to the dramatic tolling of bells.
This is dramatic music and a blazing recording. The sound is good, but we could perhaps wish for the dynamic range and sonic impact found in the recording technology of a later generation.
On 16 November 1936, Stokowski and the Orchestra recorded his transcription of the fifth movement of the Bach Violin Partita no 1 in b minor BWV 1002, marked Sarabande. The original is of course for solo violin, but the music is made perhaps more accessible for some listeners in the transformation for orchestra. This recording includes a beautiful solo for English horn played by John Minsker, (a Curtis Institute graduate of Marcel Tabuteau) who had just joined the Philadelphia Orchestra from the Detroit Symphony.
During the November 28, 1936 recording session, Stokowski recorded his Transcription of the Chorale Prelude "Mein Jesu was für Seelenweh befällt Dich in Gethsemane" BWV 487 ("My Jesus, deep grief and bitter pain falls on You in dark Gethsemane"). Although given a BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) number in the Bach Catalogue, scholars believe that the melody is by either Georg Christian Schemelli (1680-1762) or Friedrich Schultze (1717-1791). Bach would have made the arrangement with the figured bass theme to be added to the hymnal published 1736 in Leipzig by Schemelli 6. Whatever its authorship, it is certainly beautiful music. Also, Stokowski's statements that many of Bach's works would not have been heard, except by means of his orchestral transcriptions seems most likely in this case. Stokowski's arrangement appears more often in performance the infrequently performed original composition.
This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 12 inch (30 cm) disk 14582 in M 401, coupled with the Stokowski orchestration of Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor BWV 582, which had been recorded two weeks earlier. The matrix number of the recording is CS 03127-1, and in Europe, it was issued on by the Gramophone Company on HMV DB 3405.
If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site, please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
1 pages 154-157. Smith, Rollin. Stokowski and the Organ. Pendragon Press. Hillsdale, NY. 2004. ISBN 1-57647-103-9
2 page 1. Stokowski Quits Phila. Orchestra. The Chester Times. Chester, PA. January 2, 1936.
3 pages 100-105. Kupferberg, Herbert. Those Fabulous Philadelphians. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York. 1969. ISBN 049-100394-3
4 The Phildelphia Orchestra, with Christoph Eschenbach Conducting Tours Europe.. News Reslease. The Philadelphia Orchestra. Philadelphia. December 19, 2008.
5 page 14. Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (Liszt, arr. Muller). HMV DB3086 (12 inch, 6 sides).. Gramophone Magazine. London. July, 1937.
6 Young, W. Murray. The Sacred Dramas of J.S. Bach: A Reference and Textual Interpretation McFarland & Company, Incorporated. Jefferson, NC. 1994. ISBN-13: 9780899508122.