Interviews with Leopold Stokowski
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Interviews with Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski in 1960s back at the organ
Interviews with Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski participated in numerous interviews, often as part of radio programs, and also
occasionally in the form of speeches, of which a variety of recordings survive. In
some ways, these interviews have characteristics in common with Stokowski's many recordings of
great music. He seems consistently to have sought to create a particular effect or
impression on the listener by what he communicated. In this, the speeches and interviews
seem characteristic of the man and the artist. However, this may sometimes mean that
what he states may not be totally factual. This is particularly the case in Stokowski's
accounts of the events and circumstances of of his personal history. Also, you will
in some cases find that these "facts" regarding his biography may also change
over time among these Stokowski interviews. This includes specifics of his birth,
of his family and ancestors, and of the events of his career. Therefore, these
interviews may not be the best source of biographical information about Stokowski
(biographies such as Oliver Daniel's Stokowski A Counterpoint of View
can be referenced).
Another characteristic running through these interviews is that Stokowski's
opinions and pronouncement seem (to me at least) sometimes to verge on
the cliché, and without great depth ("...music can be all things
to all people..." or "...music is the universal language of
mankind...".) Stokowski's musical insight is deep and profound
as can be experienced in his recordings, including those featured in this
www.stokowski.org site. They seem a better index to Stokowski's
manifest insight, rather than most of these interviews.
Another thread is that, in speaking of the great composers and artists
he knew, he often had somewhat uniform descriptions of them --- for example, that
they were "simple" in their personal conduct and outlook,
and in having modest habits. This seems to be praise and approval
from Stokowski. However, describing Richard Strauss, for
example as a "simple" man or Prokofiev as "simple like a
child" would seem to stretch the concept, at least contrasted with
other accounts of these two great composers by those that knew them well.
Similarly, much different music was characterized in the same way,
for example, Brahms' Symphony no 1 has "...a simple, childlike beauty".
Again, Stokowski the musician and conductor seems a better reference than
Stokowski the interviewee.
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The Stokowski Accent and its Evolution
In these interviews, Stokowski's expression in English is clear and communicative,
but is given in what seems a mid-European accent, unique to him.
The interviews clearly give an
aural picture of the evolution of this accent over the decades where recording are
available. Given that Stokowski was born and raised in England in an
English-speaking household and lived substantially all of his long life in either
England or the United States (Stokowski became a naturalized US citizen in 1914),
this adoption of a new accent is striking. It has also irritated some people
over the years, and has been used to support criticism of Stokowski.
His development of this method of speaking seems, from contemporary accounts, to
have evolved principally between his time in Cincinnati and his arrival in
Philadelphia. Some persons have speculated that this adaptation of speech
was similar to adoption by American artists of foreign-sounding names at a time
when a European musician would be accepted more readily than an American trained
artist (for example, his first wife Olga Samaroff, born
Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper). It would also accord with Stokowski's
preference over the years to present a more exotic version of his biographical
details, again exploited by his critics.
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The Stokowski Speaking Vocabulary
In these interview, beyond the Stokowski mid-European accent, somewhat irritating to some
listeners may be Stokowski's affectation of being a non-English speaking European
searching for the correct English expression in a foreign language. You will
hear examples in these interviews. In this way, Stokowski would begin to
use a foreign term, seemingly by accident, and then to catch himself and correct
it to English. For example: "...in Deutsch...ahh [catching himself]...
in Germany..."). Or, speaking of his personal investigations of Asian music,
he would say that he went "...on the place...ahh...'sur place'..." so correcting
a literal translation from the French expression with the original French.
All part of the desired effect, it would seem.
Similarly, he had the habit of referring to international cities by their foreign names
("Moskva" rather than Moscow, "Praha" instead of Prague), but with some
surprising exceptions (such as "Vienna" rather than "Wein",
or "Paris" in an English pronunciation, rather than "Par-ee"
in a French pronunciation.
Stokowski often used adaptations of non-English language terms, such as
"Fagottist" for the bassoon musician and addressing the bassoonist
as "Fagott" (the German term or "fagotto" in Italian, or
possibly "fagotte", the French term for bassoon) in
instructing the orchestra. Speaking of "orchestra",
Stokowski usually pronounced orchestra as "or-KES-tra", with
the accent on the second syllable for at least 60 years. However, there
are some interesting exceptions. In Stokowski's
1927 analysis of the Brahms Symphony no 1
, included as one 78 RPM side in Victor album M-15, Stokowski says
"OR-kes-tra", with the accent on the first syllable,
as do most English speakers.
Noticeable in these interviews is that Stokowski would frequently drop articles such
as "the" or "a", particularly in public speaking. This mirrors
a habit of certain non-English speaking speech patterns in dropping articles.
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Did Stokowski Speak Polish ?
In case there is any doubt that Stokowski grew up in a totally
English speaking household, prior to entering the
Royal College of Music in London in January, 1898, a
definitive account is given in Oliver Daniel's
interesting book Stokowski, A Counterpoint of View 1
"...In October, 1977, a year before his own death,
he [Percy, Leopold's younger brother] wrote me:
First about our parents. My father's father was a
Pole.... He later married a Scotch woman named
Anderson. So that my father was half Scotch. There
was no Polish spoken in our home and I do not think
my father knew any Polish..." 2
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Mystery and Novelty
Oliver Daniel, who knew Stokowski well over many years, speculated that, rather
than being a false affectation, Stokowski's evolving speaking habits were
part of Stokowski's continuous search for the new, and the
striking. Daniel says:
"...To me it was simply pure Stokowski. I feel that he
was playing a role. For Philadelphia, the scenario had to be
rewritten - it had to accentuate the Slav in him..." 4.
Oliver Daniel's less censorious view of Stokowski in his speech and his
changing accounts of his history seems to me a correct view. It seems
consistent with Stokowski's desire to be at the same time private,
mysterious, and striking. Examples were his occasional suggestion
of having noble Polish ancestry, or in the 1930 US Census, where Stokowski
indicated to have been born in France, and his age as 39 (actually 48).
However, all this mystery and re-creation of his identity would
seem (to me) perhaps part of a constant search for the new and novel.
However, unfortunately, these recreations seem also to have aided those
who, then and now, seek to characterize Stokowski as a 'charlatan'.
Stokowski's quest for mystery and privacy were also a trait throughout
his lifetime. His acquaintances were struck by the fact that
generally, people would not know what Stokowski did the previous day,
nor what he would do tomorrow. In this way, he seems to have
kept his life compartmentalized. In the same way, Stokowski's
second and third wives never met his mother, nor knew any details
about her, even though she was still living during their marriages,
and that Stokowski would occasionally visit his mother in her nursing
home outside London.
Should we seek to judge this quest for mystery and novelty ?
Is it not better to concentrate on the music and the musical
performances, the joy, and the insight he has given us through
his sixty years of recording ? What is the importance
of his re-creations of his personal and his history ?
The music is the important part of this person I would regard as
the greatest conductor of the twentieth century.
However, these considerations also reinforce my opinion that the Stokowski
interviews are not a particularly good way to appreciate the achievements
of the man, nor to gain any particular insight into his biography.
So, sample these interviews 'at your own risk'. They come
from my personal collection in some cases, and from publicly
available sources in others.
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1972 BBC Stokowski Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute
In 1972, the BBC made a broadcast billed as a tribute to the fiftieth
anniversary of Stokowski's first London Symphony Orchestra concert of
1912. The tribute is a compilation of Stokowski interviews
highlighting the divergences of Stokowski statements
made during interviews, versus the information from
various sources. It makes use of the discrepancies about his age and origin.
The interview excerpts is contrasted from amusing musical excerpts from Fantasia
(or, as Stokowski says during one of the interviews, "fan-ta-SI-a").
When talking about this he speaks about the "kino haus", using the German
term, then correcting it to the "cinema house", again as a
non-English speaker might do. This tribute is in fact something of a
send-up of Stokowski by the BBC, creating a montage that employs arch and
indirect irony. This is interesting, but also somewhat"naughty".
Click here to listen to the 1972 BBC Stokowski Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute
Formation of the American Symphony Orchestra in 1962
After his symphonic work in Houston, it seemed to many that creating music with a
New York orchestra was where Stokowski should be. Stokowski was strongly
motivated by the idea to create a new, dynamic New York symphony
orchestra, residing at Carnegie Hall, now that the New York Philharmonic had
relocated to Lincoln Center. The American Symphony Orchestra was founded in
New York by Stokowski on 26 April 1962. Abram Chasins who knew at first hand
Stokowski's opinions during that period wrote:
"...Stokowski caught fire. Never had he been more eager or ready to build an
orchestra of his own - and in New York !..." 5
In October, 1962, Stokowski gave an interview to Seymour Siegel of radio
station WNYC of New York describing his intentions regarding the formation
of the new American Symphony Orchestra.
Click here to listen to the 1962 Stokowski interview about the American Symphony
in the manner of the All-American Youth Orchestra, auditioned and built an ensemble
with a large percentage of youth, of women, and further including black and
musicians, in stark contrast to the established symphony orchestras. Also,
ticket prices were kept low, and the programming continued Stokowski's genius
for the interesting and the innovative. The creation of the new orchestra
did not proceed without problems, and in the end Stokowski needed to subsidize
its creation, and bankroll its continuing financial deficits over the next decade.
He also conducted without fee. Stokowski built a first line orchestra,
and his programming continuing to be innovative, in contrast to the conservatism
that often characterized New York City's established ensembles.
And Stokowski's string of great recordings continued with the American Symphony.
Particularly remarkable was the first recording of the reconstructed score of Charles Ives
Symphony no 4 recorded for Columbia on April 29 and 30, 1965, with
conductors David Katz and José Serebrier assisting in the multi-layered score.
The Ives Symphony no 4 is surely a landmark of recording by any measure.
Having collected all the commercial recordings of this work I have ever seen, listening
to several concert performances and listening again and again to the symphony in order
to grasp it, it still seems unmatched. Other conductors having decades more to
digest and study this work have not equaled the integrity and inspiration of the
Stokowski reading. Also, his evident understanding of the many musical quotes
benefit not only from his understanding of the American music of Ives’s era, but
also the of church hymn tradition and snatches of church music in the Ives
Stokowski's 1965 reading will not soon be surpassed.
Stokowski continued as Music Director of the American Symphony Orchestra from
1962 until his move to the U.K. in May, 1972. During this period, he conducted
approximately 25 concerts per season, with four rehearsals per concert. 6
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Interviews with Steve Cohen - WUHY radio - Philadelphia
In 1968 in Philadelphia, Steve Cohen produced a series of
programs about Leopold Stokowski, called 'The Stokowski Story',
which were broadcast on radio station WHYY-FM. Steve
Cohen interviewed not only Leopold Stokowski, but also a number
of members of the the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Houston Symphony,
and other Orchestras and musicians. The Philadelphia Orchestra
musicians went back as far as 1919 in their memories. There
were interviews also with acquaintances who knew Stokowski from his
earliest days in Philadelphia, and also in New York.
The first excerpts from the Steve Cohen 'Stokowski
Story' reproduce interviews with Stokowski recorded in
New York City, probably in 1967.
Stokowski provides a series of recollections of great composers whom
he had worked with or had met. First of these was Serge Rachmaninoff
with whom Stokowski made famous recordings of the Rachmaninoff Piano
Concerto no 2, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Click below
to listen to Stokowski's memories of Serge Rachmaninoff.
Click here to listen to Stokowski's memories of Serge Rachmaninoff
Richard Strauss who conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in
Click here to hear Stokowski's memories of Richard Strauss
Stravinsky according to Stokowski.
Click here to hear about Stravinsky according to Stokowski
Sibelius according to Stokowski
Click here to hear Stokowski speaking about Sibelius
Edgar Varèse according to Stokowski
Click here to listen to Stokowski speak about Edgar Varèse
Steve Cohen also had a series of interviews with composers and
musicians about Stokowski performances.
In about 1966, Steve Cohen interviewed the great Armenian-American
Hovhaness (1911-2000) about Stokowski's premiers of several
Hovhaness works, including 'Mysterious Mountain' in Houston
Click here to listen to Alan Hovhaness speak of his work with
Steve Cohen also interviewed Houston musicians Billy Welch, viola,
and Ralph Leese, trombone (I have not been able to verify spelling
of these names) regarding Stokowski's conducting and his departure from
Houston in 1960.
Click here to hear about Stokowski's work and departure from the Houston
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Leopold Stokowski on Arturo Toscanini
In an interview recorded in about
1960, Stokowski made indirect references to his opinion of the
conducting methods of Arturo Toscanini
Click here to listen to Stokowski speak
about Toscanini methods.
Stokowski on his Asia Travels
In this interview, Stokowski speaks of his travels in
Asia, in which he says he always traveled alone.
Apparently Evangeline Johnson Stokowski, his wife at the time of
his one year travel in Asia 1927-1928 is perhaps forgotten, or at least
Click here to listen to Stokowski speak about his Asia travels
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Orchestra Musicians and Performers Speak of Stokowski
Although the opinions of orchestra musicians was mixed as to Stokowski's
decisions in changes to a composer's musical score, all of them seem to show a
professional respect for his abilities. There is none of the tone of the
"charlatan" criticism leveled by a few critics. Since orchestra
musicians, particularly the virtuoso leaders interviewed here tend to be a
critical lot, this respect is notable.
Click here to listen to Mischa Mischakoff, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra
and the NBC Symphony on Stokowski
Click here to listen to Manuel Ziegler, New York Philharmonic Principal bassoon
Click here to listen to Jennie Tourel speak of Stokowski and Alexander Nevsky music
Click here to listen to Basil Rathbone speak of Stokowski and Peter and the Wolf
Note that Basil Rathbone died a few months after this 1967 telephone interview.
Click here to listen to James Chambers, New York Philharmonic horn on why the
All American Youth Orchestra broke up in 1942
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Other Stokowski Interviews:
Stokowski in Cincinnati (1909-1912)
In this interview, Stokowski speaks about his years with the Cincinnati Symphony
Orchestra and his later change to the Philadelphia Orchestra. This interview
is by Gordon Stafford from March, 1956.
Click here to listen to Stokowski speak of his experience with the Cincinnati Symphony 1909-1912
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Stokowski On Conducting
In December, 1969, Stokowski was
interviewed by WGBH radio, Boston Public Radio on 'Creative
Method: Leopold Stokowski on Conducting'. The interview, by
Dr. Lyman Bryson, is somewhat superficial, and Dr. Bryson seems
to lack insight into music-making of the symphony orchestra, or
so it seems to me. His questions are therefore not always
appropriate to gain a fruitful response from Stokowski.
Notice that in this interview, Stokowski seems to have toned
down the "Stokowski accent", and to have abandoned the
mannerisms of a non-English speaking person searching for the
correct word in the foreign language of English.
The interview is somewhat interesting, and is presented in three parts of
about 10 minutes each because of the file sizes.
Click here to listen to Part 1 of "Stokowski on Conducting"
Click here to listen to Part 2 of "Stokowski on Conducting"
Click here to listen to Part 3 of 'Stokowski on Conducting'
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A number of Stokowski's rehearsals have been recording, demonstrating his
efficiency in gaining what he wanted from musicians.
One interesting Philadelphia rehearsal was recorded by a somewhat
crude hand-held recording in July, 1965, and broadcast on the
Philadelphia station WHYY-FM at that time. It is a piano
rehearsal (without the Philadelphia Orchestra) with the
Philadelphia Oratorio Choir of Prokofiev's cantata arranged
from the 1938 film music for Alexander Nevsky.
Click here to listen to (download) the 1965 Stokowski rehearsal
of Alexander Nevsky
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Stokowski Innovations in Orchestral Seating
Until the end of the 1920s, we can
see from Orchestra photographs that Stokowski's orchestral
seating was the same as the traditional seating used by, for
example, Toscanini. Then, beginning in the second half of
the 1930s with the
Philadelphia Orchestra, and continuing with many orchestras for
the rest of his career, Stokowski experimented with reseating
the orchestra to gain better sound. The picture
below shows the changed orchestral seating of the Philadelphia
Orchestra under Stokowski in 1939. This 1939
experiment he did not retain long, with the woodwinds in the
first two full semicircular front rows, brass against the wall to Stokowski's left, the horns and
percussion to Stokowski's right. The double basses were
along the back wall, with the violins and violas in front of
The one feature of this arrangement which he retained in future
years was the string bass section along the back wall.
Philadelphia Orchestra seating, 1939
With his All American Youth
Orchestra of 1940, Stokowski again had the basses against the
back wall, with the celli in front of them. Also, the
horns were to Stokowski's right with the percussion behind the
horns. And again, the brass was against the wall to Stokowski's
left, and the woodwinds were in a semi-circle in the first row
in front of Stokowski, just as in 1939. However, the
violins were now in the more traditional position to Stokowski's
left, although in the second row, behind the woodwinds.
Although Stokowski reseated the NBC
Symphony Orchestra in 1943, perhaps he did not systematically
reseat all the orchestras he conducted. In 1947, following
Artur Rodzinski's abrupt departure from the New York
Philharmonic, Stokowski was one of the conductors considered as
Music Director. As can be seen in the 1947 rehearsal
photograph below, the New York Philharmonic seems to be in the
conventional seating, with first and second violins to
Stokowski's left, and the percussion in the back. Other
pictures from this rehearsal and of the concert in Carnegie Hall show the celli to Stokowski's
right, and the basses to Stokowski's right in the back, in the traditional placement. On the
other hand, Stokowski during this period was being particularly
careful with the orchestra, and the Board of Directors of the
New York Philharmonic, seeming to avoid things that could be
considered controversial or eccentric, so perhaps seating was
also given the same treatment. Take a look at this 1947
New York Philharmonic rehearsal.
New York Philharmonic seating, 1947
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By 1957, with the Houston Symphony
Orchestra, as can be seen in the photograph below, Stokowski's
seating had further evolved to a configuration which he seems to
have used, but in various variations, for the next twenty years.
Again, string basses were against the back wall on very high
risers nearly 2 meters high, with the celli directly in front,
also on high risers of perhaps 1 meter in height. First
and second violins were seated on the stage floor to Stokowski's
left, the traditional position. Violas were to Stokowski's
immediate right, with the horns sitting behind the violas,
center right. Woodwinds were to Stokowski's right, behind
the violas, and the percussion were against the right wall,
behind the woodwinds.
Houston Symphony seating, 1957
As Stokowski states in the interview here, he was seeking, in part, better sound
projection. It is clear from what he did that this reseating was not an
eccentric whim, but a well-thought-out approach, with regular experimentation, to
achieve a better orchestra sound. Stokowski also altered his approach to
seating according to the characteristics of the hall, and even according the the sound
characteristics of individual musicians.
This interview is with Klaus George Roy, program annotator of the Cleveland Orchestra,
and long-term friend of George Szell. This interview is
from the intermission of a broadcast of Stokowski's last
performance with the Cleveland Orchestra on May 13, 1971.
Click here to list to Stokowski speaking about orchestral seating
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Later Orchestra Seating Decisions
As he expresses it, Stokowski believed that the traditional orchestral seating,
with the violins and celli in the front, the string basses in the
right rear (as seen by the audience), the woodwinds in the center back,
and perhaps left back, the percussion against the back wall did
not necessarily provide the best transmission of the sound of
each different instrument. He experimented with a number of different
layouts over the years, and also varied such layouts according to the physical
and acoustic layout of the hall in which the orchestra was performing.
As can be seen in the Carnegie Hall 1965 concert with the American Symphony
Orchestra, Stokowski maintains the double basses against the rear wall, with
the woodwinds all at the right, close to the reinforcing right wall, with the
percussion behind them.
Stokowski and the American Symphony seating 1965
I heard the results of this reseating with different orchestras in
Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, I can say the result was
favorable as to clarity and sound. The differences were
subtle, at least acoustically, but favorable. In stereo
recordings, the sound difference I find to be less marked, since
the multiple microphone placement and audio mixing of the more
sophisticated stereophonic recording technology would bring out various instruments
in ways determined more by microphone placement than by seating
(but then Stokowski insisted to determine microphone placement
also). In concert, however, I
found the sound difference to be subtle, but effective.
Visually, however, as can be seen in the photograph
of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1939, the result from changed seating
is striking to anyone used to the traditional seating of the symphony
orchestra. For this reason, some traditionalists resented
Stokowski's efforts as being mere showmanship. It is said
that Toscanini in particular resented the reseating of the NBC
Symphony Orchestra. Time Magazine of said "...The minute
Stokowski took over at NBC he began making changes in the
broadcasting technique of Toscanini's orchestra. He altered the
traditional seating arrangement. He insisted that the stringed
instrumentalists bow out of step, to produce the lush, powerful
Stokowski tone..." 3.
However, these seatings, even for the same
orchestra in the same hall would change from time to time as
Stokowski sought the optimal result. For example, with the
American Symphony Orchestra in New York, I never saw a seating
such as this 1939 photograph. In Philadelphia, Chicago and
New York in the 1960s, percussion was not in the front in the
concerts I saw, but rather in the right back. Also, the
brass was not in the front, but either to the right, further
back, or in the center toward the rear. Horns and
woodwinds were in front of the brass. Violas might be in
front of the horns, to Stokowski's right. The string
basses would either be along the back wall, so as to project
their sound, or along the left wall, front to back, so that the
natural sound projection of the instruments would be toward the
This reflection of the string bass sound from the back wall or the left side
wall of the orchestra shell in many halls seems to have helped achieve the bass
sonority that was such an impressive feature of the Stokowski sound, both
in performance and in recordings.
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For example, in Symphony Hall Chicago, Stokowski would seat celli on his left,
near the left wall, with first and second violins in front of the celli.
Woodwinds and brass were on his right, with violas in front of them.
Percussion was to the center-right toward the back. The basses were
along the back (although the stage of Symphony Hall Chicago does not have
a tall back wall such as with an orchestra shell, but rather a wall of perhaps
15 meters height, up to a small balcony of seats, with the organ pipes
then behind these seats).
It seems that in later years and with most orchestras, this configuration, described
above for Chicago was Stokowski's preferred configuration, with the principal
variation being whether the basses were along the back, or placed along the
left wall, front of the stage to back of the stage. Also, the woodwind
placement seemed to vary.
in New York, venue for the American Symphony Orchestra concerts
has a beautiful curving orchestra shell, with a full-height back
wall, slightly curving into the left and right side walls.
In this case, Stokowski placed the string bases along the back
wall earlier in the 1960s, and then along the left side in the
In addition to
variations in the horizontal seating location of the musicians
on the stage, Stokowski would also sometimes move them
vertically. As can be heard in this Stokowski interview,
some halls such as Severance Hall, Cleveland had greater
flexibility of risers and Stokowski would change the instruments
also vertically. He would place the basses on risers at
the back or at the side, to allow better sound projection, with
the celli perhaps also on risers in front of the basses, again
at Stokowski's left.
interesting that in the 1988 reconstruction of Symphony Hall
Chicago, the stage was redesigned with a series of five, and in
the back right, six different seating levels, facilitating the
sound projection of the instruments. Symphony Hall Chicago
did have risers for the Orchestra previously, but of a more
modest scale of perhaps three levels.
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If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site,
please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address:
1 Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint
of View. Dodd, Mead & Company New York 1982 ISBN 0-396-07936-9
2 page 6.Daniel op. cit.
3 Maestro's Furioso Time Magazine. June
4 page 118. Daniel op. cit.
5 page 233. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A
Profile. Hawthorn Books. New York. 1979. ISBN 0-8015-4480-7.
6 page 237. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A
Profile. op. cit.