A Biography of Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski Biography -
A Brief Biography of the Eventful Career of Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Anthony Stokowski was born April 18, 1882 in Marylebone, an area of north-central London, as shown in the copy of his birth certificate below. His parents were Kopernick Stokowski (1862-1924) and Annie-Marion Moore. Kopernick Stokowski was a carpenter and cabinet maker who had also been born in Marylebone, London of a Polish father and Scottish mother, so Leopold Stokowski's father was half Scots 19. Leopold Stokowski's mother Annie-Marion was of Irish lineage. Kopernick and Annie-Marion Stokowski later had two other children: Lydia Stokowski Fanshawe (1883-1911) 19 and Percy James Stokowski (1890-1978).
Beginning in about 18961, Leopold Stokowski and his brother Percy sang in the choir of St Marylebone Church, as shown in the photograph, below.
Choir of St. Marylebone Church circa 1898, Leopold Stokowski seated front row right
Leopold Stokowski was admitted to the Royal College of Music on January 6, 1896. At the age of thirteen, he became one of the youngest person to have been admitted to the College up to that time 1.
Stokowski entrance to RCM in January, 1896 at age 13 (thanks to Edward Johnson for this image)
Stokowski's futher musical progression was marked by his election at age 16 to membership in the Royal College of Organists on June 25, 1898.
In about 1898, Stokowski became Assistant Organist to Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941) at The Temple Church, London. In 1900, Stokowski formed the choir of St Mary the Virgin Anglican church, Charing Cross Road, and also played the organ. Then, from 1902 to 1905, Stokowski was organist and choirmaster at St. James's Anglican Church, Piccadilly, London, whose building had been designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
From this position as organist and choirmaster at St. James's Anglican Church, Piccadilly, in 1905, Stokowski was recruited to become organist at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in New York City, at Madison Avenue and 44th Street (the previous church to the present one at Park Avenue and 50th Street) 10. He developed a musical reputation in New York, and met a number of leading personalities, including his future wife, Olga Samaroff (1882-1948), who was born Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper in Texas. Stokowski also performed a number of transcriptions of orchestral works from Tchaikovsky symphonies, from ancient composers such as Byrd and Palestrina, and from operas by various composers, including Wagner, as shown in the 1907 advertisement, below.
March, 1907 Advertisement for a Leopold Stokowski organ concert at St. Bartholomew's Church
But Stokowski was apparently determined to direct an orchestra or an orchestral group, and he became restless. In 1908, he resigned his organist position and in the Spring of that year, he and Olga sailed for Europe, with Stokowski determined to find a new start 2.
In spite of Stokowski's lack of experience, never having conducted a professional symphony orchestra, within one year he had been appointed conductor or the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the beginning of his stellar career.
How could such a remarkable transformation come about ? This is described by Abram Chasins in his biography Leopold Stokowski - A Profile 3. Chasins states that Olga Samaroff had met by chance Bettie Holmes, president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Association Board of Directors. Olga Samaroff had played frequently in Cincinnati and knew the Cincinnati leaders both from her professional activities and from family connections. Cincinnati was looking for a conductor to lead the symphony orchestra which they had just re-established. Olga Samaroff suggested Leopold Stokowski. This led to Stokowski being interviewed by the Cincinnati the Board on April 22, 1909.
Stokowski's interview in Cincinnati did not result in a decision by the Cincinnati Board either positive of negative. This was likely because Stokowski had not up to that time conducted a professional symphony orchestra. Olga Samaroff again apparently came to the rescue. Abram Chasins says that Olga was scheduled to play a Paris concert with the Colonne Orchestra on May 12, 1909. When the Paris conductor fell ill, Olga arranged for Stokowski to be introduced to the Colonne manager with Olga's personal recommendation and with Stokowski also waiving his fee. Stokowski was selected, and made his debut with the Colonne Orchestra on May 12, 1909, with Olga Samaroff as one of two soloists. It is a measure of Stokowski's genius that with such lack of direct orchestral experience, he was able to make a successful debut.
Also fortunate for Stokowski was that Lucien Wulsin, of the Cincinnati-base Baldwin Piano Company and who was a Cincinnati Symphony Board member was on holiday in France. Wulsin was requested to attend Stokowski's Paris performance to verify his abilities.
Six days after his debut in Paris, on May 18, 1909, Stokowski also made his first appearance in London with the New Symphony Orchestra at Queens' Hall, London.
As a result of his successful debut concerts in Paris and London, reports back to Cincinnati by Lucien Wulsin were favorable, and this, combined with the previous recommendations of Stokowski and his favorable Cincinnati interviews, Stokowski received an offer to become conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony beginning in the 1909-1910 season. The fact that the Cincinnati season would begin in November, 1909, only five months after his European debut demonstrates what a difference from today's musical life, when engagements even for new musicians are made years in advance, with few exceptions.
Stokowski conducted his first concert with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on 26 November 1909. He was an immediate success, particularly from the impact of the dashing presence he projected and the dynamism he provided to the reconstituted Cincinnati orchestra. During the period in Cincinnati from 1909 to 1912, Stokowski worked assiduously in improving his conducting skills and in building a repertoire of works which he mastered. Although he arrived in Cincinnati with virtually no experience in conducting a symphony orchestra, his deep talent, his showmanship, and natural leadership abilities led to rapid success.
Stokowski also showed from the beginning he quest for the new and innovative. Even from the beginning Cincinnati concerts, he programmed works of living composers, and his programming mix was stimulating. He also sought to continually expand the orchestra's season, and its travel to other cities.
Leopold Stokowski and Olga Samaroff were married at her St. Louis family home on April 24, 1911. Although their marriage became progressively more difficult over the next decade, Olga was a key ingredient in the early success of Stokowski's career, as was recounted above in Stokowski's opportunity for a first concert in Paris, and his appointments in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
Olga Samaroff at about the time of her marriage to Stokowski
During this pre-war period, Stokowski and Samaroff also would spend summers in Bavaria at their Munich villa, immersed in the active cultural, summer music festivals and social life. Munich in the summers at that time was a musical Mecca in Europe. This was likely Olga and Leopold's happiest time together. Read the superb biography of Olga Samaroff written by Donna Kline: An American Virtuoso on the World Stage: Olga Samaroff Stokowski by Donna Staley Kline (see footnote 18).
Meanwhile, back in Cincinnati, Stokowski had a mixture of successes and rebuffs from the orchestra's Board in seeking to expand touring, including to New York, and in expanding the season and in adding musicians. In March, 1912, after progressively increasing clashes between him and the Board, Stokowski asked to be released from the two years remaining of his Cincinnati contract.
This was the beginning of a career-long pattern where Stokowski would insist on his initiatives with a symphony orchestra, and when the orchestra administration resisted for cost or for other reasons, there would be a public confrontation and fireworks. At first the Cincinnati Board rejected Stokowski's request to be released from his contract, and acrimonious public debates in the newspapers ensued. Later, after extensive press coverage, the orchestra Board agreed, and Leopold Stokowski departed Cincinnati on April 12, 1912, bound for Munich via New York City.
However, on the way to New York, Olga stopped in Philadelphia for negotiations with the Philadelphia Orchestra Board of Directors, and later, she signed the contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Stokowski's behalf at the Philadelphia Broad Street train station, on her way back to New York 7. Later, Stokowski cabled from Munich announcing his acceptance of the post.
13 June 1912 newspaper account of Stokowski accepting Philadelphia post
On October 8, 1912, Stokowski held his first rehearsal with the Philadelphia Orchestra, followed quickly by the first concert on October 12. for the remainder of the decade, Stokowski sought to upgrade the orchestra players by a number of replacements each year 4. One performance aspect that he seems to have pursued from the beginning was a supple, less rigid performance style, of which his "free bowing" preference for string players is one ingredient. This, he applied for the remainder of his career with any orchestra with which he came into contact.
One important asset for Stokowski during most of his Philadelphia years was not only the band of fervent admirers he attracted by his style, good looks, and good musicianship, but also key backers. First among these was Edward Bok. Bok himself was not initially a great music lover, but his wife, Mary Louise, also heiress to the great Curtis Publishing fortune was. Edward Bok grew to admire and back Stokowski, including the financial support to expand the orchestra, its rehearsals, and its programs. In 1916, Bok proposed to Alexander van Rensselaer, president of the orchestra association and also a financial backer of the orchestra to underwrite the deficit of the orchestra for 5 years, provided that an endowment fund were created large enough that interest from the endowment funded the future annual orchestral deficit. As a result, by the end of 1919, one million dollars was subscribed to the indowment11.
Stokowski with the Mary Louise Bok and Edward Bok before 1920
Olga and Leopold spent the summers of 1912, 1913 and 1914 in a home in the suburbs of Munich, where according to Oliver Daniel, he began his first Bach orchestral transcriptions of the Pastorale from the Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, and of the chorale "Wachet auf", found in several parts of the Cantata no 140, BWV 140 5. Musicians were everywhere in Bavaria during the summer months in those years. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated triggering war two weeks after. Olga and Leopold had a harrowing escape, taking only some gold and the score for Mahler's Symphony no 8. Leopold, although having applied for US citizenship, but was still a British subject and risked internment for the war's duration. They were able to gain berths on the SS Noordam which left Rotterdam on August 15 and arrived New York on August 25, 1914 as shown in the immigration record, below 6.
Olga and Leopold Stokowski on SS Noordam from Rotterdam August 25, 1914
In 1914, Stokowski had applied for and in 1915 he became a United States citizen.
Stokowski's retention to the score of Mahler's mammoth Symphony no 8 lead to one of his early triumphs. This was both a personal and artistic triumph, and a triumph over the Board of the Philadelphia Orchestra (one of many), which was daunted by the cost and risk of such a large undertaking. Mahler himself had conducted the first performance on September 12, 1910 in Munich 41.
Mahler Symphony no 8 premiere in Munich September 12, 1910
Stokowski convinced the Philadelphia Orchestra Board during early 1915 to pledge $17,000 (equivalent to about $360,000 today) toward the US premiere of the Mahler Symphony no 8, and Stokowski prepared to perform it during the 1915 - 1916 season. Stokowski's skill at both organization, and publicity were key contributors to the success. The public's interest became so enflamed that scalpers were able to obtain $100 for opening tickets, equivalent to about $2,100 in today's values8.
Performers and program for Mahler Symphony no 8 in the Academy of Music, March, 2 1916
So great was the demand to hear the Mahler 8 that additional performances were added. On April 9, 1916, two private trains took 1,200 performers from Philadelphia to New York for a Metropolitan Opera House performance 9. These New York performances helped establish the renewed reputation of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski.
As mentioned above, during the season of 1916-1917, the beginning of a long and beneficial relationship for Stokowski began with Edward W. Bok and his wife Mary Louise Curtis, heir to the Curtis publishing fortune. Bok committed to meet the Philadelphia Orchestra deficit for five years through the 1920-1921 season. This was further extended and by 1923, the Orchestra's endowment had reached $788,400 12. This is equivalent to approximately $10 million in 2009 purchasing power.
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra make their First Recordings - 1917
Then, in 1917 was to occur and event seminal in both the career of Leopold Stokowski, and in recording history. On Wednesday, October 24, 1917, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra took the ferry across the Delaware River to Camden, NJ where they made their first phonograph recordings. These were of the Brahms Hungarian Dances number 5 and 6, as orchestrated by Albert Parlow. These were the first of more than 450 78 RPM sides Stokowski and the Orchestra made for Victor with the acoustic recording process, of which only 67 were released commercially from 1917 to 1925. You can read more of these early recordings by clicking on: 1917 - 1924 Victor Acoustic Recordings of Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The recordings of Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra and, during the same month, by Karl Muck and the Boston Symphony were the first recordings by Victor of a full symphony orchestra (see Victor Efforts to Record a Large Symphony Orchestra ). This was the case also with other U.S. and European phonograph and gramophone recording companies. The famous 1913 Nikisch - Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recordings were likely done with about 30 musicians. The early Beecham and Odeon orchestra recordings were of similar numbers. Partially, this was because of the physical difficulty of putting more musicians physically close to a recording horn. However, 1917 Victor the Boston and Philadelphia recordings were made with full symphony orchestras. This was the first of many Stokowski firsts in the next 60 years of recording.
The 1917 Stokowski- Philadelphia Orchestra first recording
In the Summer of 1921, the Stokowski's were in Europe, from which Stokowski returned in September, 1921, while Olga remained in London, giving birth on December 24, 1921 to their daughter Sonya Maria Noel Stokowski.
Stokowski Divorced form Olga Samaroff 1923 and Marries Evangeline Brewster Johnson 1926
In January, 1923, Leopold Stokowski and Olga Samaroff separated and by June 30, 1923, divorced. During this period, Stokowski conducted a full program of concerts until the season end in May, 1923. In those years, the principal conductor of orchestras performed a large portion of the concerts each season, with few guest conductors.
Stokowski was soon remarried, this time to Evangeline Brewster Johnson, daughter of Robert Wood Johnson, co-founder of the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. As one of her father's three children, she was therefore an heiress to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. Evangeline Johnson (1897-1990) was born on April 18, 1897, so she and Stokowski shared the same birthday each year. They were married with minimum publicity on January 12, 1926. Evangeline was age 28, and Stokowski gave his age as 38 (he was actually 43).
Stokowski conducted his last concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra in April, 1927 at the end of the 1926 - 1927 season. By this time, he had conducted the Philadelphians for 15 years, and he seems to have wished for a break.
He had long planned to take a vacation, but during 1926, following his marriage to Evangeline Johnson, whom Leopold had married in January, 1926, this planned vacation developed into a prolonged " leave of absence" from Philadelphia.
The reasons Stokowski gave for this leave were various, including discomfort in holding the baton (or baguette, the French term, as he preferred to call it). He also mentioned later a 1927 taxicab accident in New York City, which Stokowski said had injured him. Regarding the baton, Oliver Daniel states:
"...During the year Stoki complained frequently of neuritis. He was still using a baton and during concerts it was noticed that he often shifted it from one hand to the other. It will always remain a mystery whether the problems of neuritis were as serious as they seemed or whether it was a partial excuse to obtain a year's leave..." 20.
Perhaps Stokowski simply needed a prolonged rest from the Philadelphia Orchestra. In any case, from November, 1927 until early September, 1928, Leopold Stokowski and Evangeline Johnson Stokowski traveled to Europe and Asia 1.
In any case, from November, 1927 until early September, 1928, Leopold Stokowski and Evangeline Johnson Stokowski traveled to Europe and Asia1.
November 24, 1927 publicity article about Stokowski's trip to Europe and Asia
Leopold arrived back in New York on September 7, 1928 on the SS Orinoco from Southampton, England with Evangeline and Luba Stokowski (whom her father called Lyuba). Evangeline and Luba had boarded at Boulogne, France, and Leopold joined them on board at Southampton. Leopold and Evangeline had previously reunited with Lyuba in Switzerland, after which they went to Paris at the end of the Summer of 1928. Stokowski at some point went on to London.
Stokowski on board SS Orinoco from Southampton from Southampton with Lyuba 21
1930 also was a year in which Stokowski decided to make a number of changes of musicians in the Philadelphia Orchestra. The records do not definitively show whom Stokowski dismissed, except in a few cases. However, the March 3, 1930 issue of Time Magazine was explicit regarding some cases:
"Conductor Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Orchestra was censured by many last week for ousting nine of his players. Four: Clarinetist Paul Alemann, Horn-player Otto Henneberg, Violinist Marius Thor, Oboeist Edward Raho - had been with the orchestra from 18 to 26 years. Probable reason for their dismissal: too old, stale." 3
As well as these four, Daniel Bonade, Principal clarinet, Vincent Fanelli, Principal harp, Gardell Simons, Principal trombone, Fabien Koussewitzky, double bass and nephew of Serge Koussevitzky who later adopted the stage name of Fabian Sevitzky as a conductor, Max Pollikoff, violin, Herman Weinberg, violin, Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola, Milton Prinz, cello, and Joseph Wolfe, English horn departed during 1930 - some (or perhaps all) dismissed by Stokowski. To replace Gardell Simons as Principal trombone, Stokowski hired Simone Belgiorno who was trombone instructor at the Curtis Institute and who had been Principal trombone at the Cincinnati Symphony, at the Metropolitan Opera, Boston Symphony Assistant Principal trombone, and Cleveland Orchestra Principal trombone. However, according to Philadelphia trombonist Harold McKinney, Simone Belgiorno "only lasted 14 weeks with Stokowski...", so did not finish the 1930-1931 season.
At the same time, Stokowski hired a number of Curtis Institute students directly into the Philadelphia Orchestra even before they had graduated. These included Melvin Headman - fourth trumpet, Robert McGinnis - Clarinet, and Robert Bloom - English horn, who entered the Philadelphia Orchestra directly from the Curtis Institute in 1930, although they 'officially' graduated in the Curtis Class of 1935.
Stokowski at this time also wanted to find means to expand into ballet and opera. He planned, raised funds, and pushed ahead against opposition from the Board of the Philadelphia Orchestra and some of his supporters to mount productions of Schoenberg's music drama Die glückliche Hand opus 18, and a full ballet production of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, with Martha Graham dancing the Sacrificial Maiden. The three performances of these two works in Philadelphia and in New York City, partially sponsored by the League of Composers in April, 1930 sold out, justifying Stokowski's gamble that they would succeed 4. Financially, they were less successful, with the cost and also the uncompromising line Stokowski took with the Philadelphia Orchestra Board in the confrontation as to these productions leaving hard feelings that were to grow during the first half of the 1930s.
On January 2, 1936, after two years of indicating that he would leave the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski announced he would no longer be Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra 2. The Association Board had yielded to all his demands, but it seems that Stokowski had had enough 3.
The furor that announcement this might otherwise have caused was lessened by the previous 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. 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 this Minneapolis Orchestra contract, and would become the new Music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra seems to have been met more with curiosity 3.
Following his resignation, 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 in its tour from Boston to Toronto to Holdredge, Nebraska, and back from San Francisco on to New York was the first U.S. orchestra to make a transcontinental tour 4. 1936 Philadelphia Orchestra Tour Map
In March, 1938, Leopold Stokowski and Greta Garbo vacationed on the island of Capri in Italy 17. This followed other reports of romance between Stokowski and Garbo. Subsequent to this, in 1938, Leopold Stokowski and Evangeline Brewster Johnson were divorced. Evangeline later married Prince Zalstem-Zalessky, a descendent of a Russian noble family who died in 1965, while Evangeline lived on to June 17, 1990, dying at age 93.
From December, 1937 until March, 1939, Stokowski did not conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra either in concert, or in Victor recordings. However, Stokowski was active in Hollywood during this period, which led to involvement of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the historic Walt Disney film 'Fantasia'.
In 1937, Walt Disney was searching for a new starring role for Mickey Mouse, in part because Donald Duck had become so popular, and Mickey was becoming 'second banana'. In 1938, Walt Disney selected the story of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' as a new starring role for Mickey 4. Walt Disney met Leopold Stokowski in Chasen's Restaurant in Hollywood in 1938, and Stokowski offered to conduct the music for The Sorcerer's Apprentice free of charge, because of his interest in the project 3 (note: when the Fantasia project expanded, Stokowski did receive a fee). In July, 1937, Disney had already secured the rights to Dukas' music 'L'Apprentie sorcière' 4. Stokowski arrived in Los Angeles January 2, 1938 to record this music with a hand-picked orchestra of 85 Hollywood session musicians3.
Stokowski with Walt Disney in California, 1939 (great shoes !)
These recordings had some technical difficulties as to synchronization, but Stokowski approved them and they were used in the final film. However, Walt Disney had decided that The Sorcerer's Apprentice short film needed to be expanded to a full-length movie, in order to be financially viable. After discussing added musical selections with Stokowski, Disney secured the rights to Le Sacre du Printemps in April, 1938 25. In December, 1939, Stravinsky visited the Disney studios, and although in later years he was critical of 'Fantasia', Stravinsky at the time seemed supportive. There was later further criticism of Stokowski and Disney's music choices, particularly in editing the music. For example, the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony was cut in half to 22 minutes.
Stokowski and Disney listened to dozens of different musical possibilities, including Rachmaninoff and Wagner 23, and in the end added the Bach-Stokowski Toccata and Fugue in d minor, music from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, and Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain to join the already selected L'Apprentie sorcière, Beethoven's Pastorale symphony, and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps.
Stokowski also convinced Disney to record in Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and recording took place in the Academy of Music in April 3-7, 1939 23,26,27. It is beyond the scope of this web site to describe in any detail the resulting masterpiece film, but as well as Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the many memorable scenes include the hippos as ballet dancers in Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, and the Tyrannosaurus rex in the primeval world of Stravinksi's Le Sacre du Printemps.
Fantasia was issued in 1940, and was released again many times, and continues even today in some theaters. It has been widely sold in DVD, in several restored versions. The music sound track of Fantasia by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra has never been out of the recoding catalogues, since it was first issued by Disney Studios in the 1950s, first in monaural and then in 1957 in stereo. The original sound track was recorded optically on film, in a system called 'Fantasound', which was shown only in a limited number of select theaters with special equipment. Unfortunately, the original film masters seem to be either lost, or deteriorated beyond reproduction. What is remaining of the Stokowski recording either on DVD or CD is a remix of some of the surviving materials.
Peter Gutmann in an essay on Stokowski in 1999 wrote:
"...[in 1940] he [Stokowski] seized the opportunity to vent his frustration with RCA, his record company, which had refused to sponsor a Stokowski tour but then launched one with Toscanini, its other star conductor. While his Philadelphia Orchestra remained under exclusive contract to RCA, Stokowski would face no such constraints with an entirely new ensemble. And so he created one, arranged a contract with rival Columbia and then proceeded to cut with his new orchestra many of the works that RCA had wanted him to record...' 15.
Stokowski's contract with the Philadelphia Orchestra had also lapsed in 1940 16. So, he announced the creation of a new All-american Youth Orchestra and conducted auditions during April, May, and early June 1940. Stokowski auditioned perhaps 1000 young musicians from a much larger pre-screed group across the United States, selecting 90 players 16. To these young players, Stokowski added a number of key 'ringers' - experienced Philadelphia Orchestra musicians - to form his All-American Youth Orchestra.
Sol Schoenbach, Principal bassoon, Philadelphia Orchestra added to reinforce the 1940 All-American Youth Orchestra for its Latin American tour
After two weeks of rehearsal in Atlantic City, New Jersey in later June and early July, the All-American Youth Orchestra in August, 1940 toured Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), Argentina (Buenos Aires), and Uruguay (Montevideo). Stokowski also arrange a summer tour for the Orchestra (with somewhat changed musician members) in April, May and June, 1941 16. Stokowski himself financed the second tour, since Columbia Records decided against financing the second year 16. The Orchestra toured 54 US cities, Canada, and Tijuana Mexico. It disbanded in California at the end of this 1941 tour, and it also made a series of recordings in Hollywood for the original sponsor, Columbia Records. Stokowski's performances with this orchestra were usually fresh and exciting. However, technically, these recordings were not up to the standards of recordings in Philadelphia by the Victor engineers. However, they did introduce many listeners to the short-lived All-American Youth Orchestra made up of many musicians who would go on to orchestra careers.
After four seasons conducting the orchestra created for him: the NBC Symphony Orchestra 1937-1941, Arturo Toscanini became dissatisfied, for reasons beyond the scope of this brief Stokowski biography. Consequently, on April 30, 1941, prior to the 1941-1942 season, Toscanini wrote to David Sarnoff, RCA Chairman. Toscanini indicated he would not continue with the orchestra for the 1941-1942 season 30. The letter was not a definitive rupture, but a decision Toscanini attributed to fatigue. Sarnoff also avoided a permanent separation from Toscanini, but at the same time, took action to assured the 1941-1942 NBC season by appointing Leopold Stokowski as conductor of the NBC Symphony concerts for that season.
This appointment of Stokowski was salutary for the NBC Symphony concerts, not only because of his great conducting abilities, but also for his typically innovative programming, which included many works, particularly contemporary, which were not in the Toscanini repertoire. With the NBC, Stokowski gave the American premiere of Prokofiev's symphonic cantata Alexander Nevsky, excerpts from Prokofiev's opera The Love for Three Oranges, then only two decades old, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, ballet music from Deems Taylor's Ramuntcho, Gustav Holst's The Planets and Ralph Vaughan Williams's lacerating Symphony no 4 in a blazing performance and recording. Another Symphony no 4 composed and performed in 1942 was by George Antheil. He also programmed such Stokowski specialities as Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Tchaikovsky's Marche slave opus 31 and Symphony no 4 and several of the Stokowski orchestrations of Bach and Chopin. Many of these performances were also recorded by RCA Victor and sold well.
During this 1941-1942 season, Toscanini remained based in New York City, conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in January and February 1942, and the New York Philharmonic centenary celebration in the Spring of 1942. Then, the US Treasury Department asked Toscanini to conduct a series of war benefit concerts with the NBC Symphony, which Toscanini accepted. This eventually led to Toscanini's return in the Spring of 1942 full-time to the NBC Symphony. It also led to Toscanini's American premiere performance of the Shostakovich Symphony no 7 'Leningrad' on July 19, 1942, and the well-known argument between Stokowski and Toscanini as to who should conduct the 'Leningrad' premiere. Mortimer H. Frank writes:
"...Much has been written about the exchange between Toscanini and Stokowski over who would lead this American premiere. Both wanted it. Stokowski ultimately settled for a later performance, which - perhaps to appease him - was billed at the 'first concert hall performance'... 30
Stokowski pointed out that he had been an early advocate of Shostakovich, giving premiere performances and recordings of his works, which Toscanini had not. Regarding Toscanini's return to the NBC, and the fact that Stokowski now shared the podium with Toscanini, Abram Chasins writes:
"...This time, Stokowski did not walk out. He merely adjusted his timetable and stayed on. However, when he heard that Toscanini was to conduct the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, which the composer dedicated to Russian heroism...Stokowski became incensed...Immediately, he severed his association with NBC. He threw himself into other activities..." 31
Stokowski then performed a series of concerts in 1943 and 1944, including 25 broadcast by shortwave to entertain troops, and some to benefit the USO and the sale of war bonds.
In 1944, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia invited Leopold Stokowski to form and conduct a New York City Symphony, which would be based in the Mecca Temple which had become New York City property due to non-payment of taxes. A popular symphony with very low ticket prices was attractive at that point for Stokowski. Their concerts were generally sold-out, and they made three recordings. However, with the orchestra Board seeking to cut expenses, and Stokowski seeking to expand the orchestra size and activity, a rupture resulted in which Stokowski resigned. Leonard Bernstein, early in his conducting career, then took over the New York City Symphony.
In April 1945, the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt divorced her husband Pasquale "Pat" DiCicco, whom she had married in 1941. Immediately after her divorce in Reno, Nevada, Gloria Vanderbilt married Leopold Stokowski in Mexacali, Mexico. Their marriage gave birth to two sons, Leopold Stanislaus Stokowski ("Stan") born August 22, 1950 and Christopher Stokowski, born January 31, 1952. Stokowski and Vanderbilt divorced in October 1955.
the famous 1954 Richard Avedon portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt
In 1946, Arthur Judson, the manager of the New York Philharmonic and President of Columbia Artists Management (manager of a number of conductors and famous soloists) invited Stokowski to New York. Stokowski and Judson had known each other for decades, and Stokowski understood Judson's central role as an impresario. At their meeting, Judson on behalf of the Philharmonic Board invited Stokowski to become the principal guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic. As you can read in the biographical sketch of Artur Rodzinski , the Philharmonic was having difficulties in their contract negotiations with the Philharmonic Music Director Artur Rodzinski. Stokowski's first Philharmonic concert was on December 26, 1946 37. Just weeks later, during the first week of February 1947, Artur Rodzinski resigned from the New York Philharmonic without completing the 1946-1947 season. 36
Following the departure of Rodzinski, beginning in the 1947-1948 season, the New York Philharmonic was conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leopold Stokowski both as guest conductors along with other guests such as Charles Munch and George Szell, and with Bruno Walter as "Music Advisor" 38. Then, in the 1949-1950 season, Stokowski and Mitropoulos were each named "Co-Principal Conductor". In May, 1950, the Philharmonic Board announced the appointment of Dimitri Mitropoulos as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.
Stokowski conducting the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall:1948
During 1947-1950, Stokowski made a series of excellent recordings with the Philharmonic: Copland - Billy the Kid, Griffes - The White Peacock, Ippolitov-Ivanov - Caucasian Sketches - In the Village, Khachaturian - Masquerade Suite, Messiaen - L'Ascension, Schoenberg - Gurre-Lieder - Song of the Wood Dove, Sibelius - Swanwhite - Maiden with the Roses, Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet Overture Fantasy, Tchaikovsky - Francesca Da Rimini, Tchaikovsky - Serenade for Strings - Waltz, Vaughan Williams- Symphony no 6, Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on Greensleeves, Wagner - Overture to Rienzi, Wagner - Overture to the Flying Dutchman, Wagner - Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music, Wagner - Siegfried's Journey Down the Rhine, and Funeral Music.
Columbia ML-4212 Vaughn-Williams Symphony no 6 and Messiaen L'Ascension
Stokowski and the Philharmonic also recorded the Mozart - Symphony no 35 Haffner. The Haffner was Stokowski's only recording of a Mozart symphony, other than the May 9, 1919 acoustic recording of the third movement of the Symphony no 40 K550 . Stokowski had given the premiere of the Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) tone poem The White Peacock during a concert of Friday, December 19, 1919, along with two other Griffes compositions. Sadly, Griffes died during the influenza epidemic only four months after this concert.
Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic also presented a monumental performance of the Mahler Symphony of a Thousand Symphony no 8 on April 6, 1950. Although not commercially recorded, a several good private recordings of this performance are available. This concert reproduced the success of the famous Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra US premiere of the Mahler work of March and April 1916. However, it did not preclude the New York Philharmonic Board from announcing in December, 1949 that Dimitri Mitropoulos would become Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1950-1951 season.
Following the New York Philharmonic decision to appoint Mitropoulos as Music Director, Stokowski cut his relations with the orchestra for the following season and departed for Europe during the Summer of 1950. During 1951-1954, Stokowski was a guest conductor of orchestras in Europe and the US, including at the 1951-1952 Festival of Britain, his first conducting in the UK since his concert of June 14, 1912.
In 1954, the Houston Symphony was looking for a new Music Director to succeed Efrem Kurtz. When Board President Ima Hogg approached Stokowski's manager Andrew Schulhof, Schulhof told her that Stokowski was ready to make a change 40. This was apparently the case, since within days, Stokowski, then age 73 had signed a three year contract as Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra beginning with the 1955-1956 season.
Houston in 1957
There was something of a cultural disconnect from the beginning; among Stokowski's first requests was to meet a cowboy (from whom he received a deputy sheriff badge, a proud Stokowski possession) which was the sort of image sophisticated Houstonians were seeking to change. Also, Stokowski insisted on calling the city "Hooo-stun", again perhaps not to the taste of Houstonians. However, Stokowski did bring excitement and television broadcasts, and an extensive recording program. In his season-opening concert, In his October, 1955 first Houston concert Stokowski conducted the premiere of the Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) Symphony no 2 Mysterious Mountain, which was broadcast nationally on NBC.
As well as his exciting programming and reinvigorating of the Houston musical sceen, Stokowski brought an active recording program to Houston. These recordings were the result of Stokowski's contracts with Everest Records and with Capital/EMI. His recording program included: Reinhold Glière - Symphony no 3 "Ilya Mourometz" in 1957, Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony no 11 in 1958, Carl Orff - Carmina Burana in 1958, Alexander Scriabin - Poeme d'Extase in 1959, Brahms: Symphony no 3 in 1959, Fikret Amirov - Aserbaidjan Mugam in 1959, Richard Wagner - Parsifal - Act III "Good Friday Spell, Symphonic Synthesis in 1959, Richard Wagner - Die Walküre - Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music in 1960, Bela Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra in 1960, Chopin-Stokowski - Mazurka no 13 in a minor opus 17 no 4, Waltz no 7 in c sharp minor opus 64 no 2 and Prelude no 24 in d minor opus 28 no 24 in 1960, and Thomas Canning - Fantasy of a Hymn Tune by Justin Morgan in 1960.
Stokowski - Houston Symphony recording of Glière "Ilya Mourometz"
When his initial three year contract ended in 1958, Stokowski and the Houston Symphony agreed on a series of annual contracts. However, Stokowski spent less and less time in Houston and in 1961, ended his work in Houston. The ending was somewhat traumatic, as it had been in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and the New York Philharmonic. In a letter sent to the Houston newspapers, Stokowski labeled the Houston Symphony Board as being narrow and also racist. So, in spite of several seasons of great music-making, and a string of fine recordings still admired today, the relationship did not end without fireworks.
In 1959, Eugene Ormandy suggested that Leopold Stokowski return to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra. The resulting February 1960 concerts were Stokowski's first with the Philadelphia Orchestra since April 3, 1941. Not only did Stokowski reseat the orchestra to his Philadelphia seating of two decades ago, he also had restored the metal conductor's podium which had been built for him in the 1930s. These concerts were constructed with Stokowski's inspired programming, and were enthusiastically received by both the audience, with a sustained standing ovations, and by the critics. Stokowski's success was recreated in New York and fine transcriptions of the concerts have since been issued, including from Pristine Classical. Stokowski returned for subsequent Philadelphia seasons, including a Fiftieth Anniversary concert on February 8, 1962, commemorating his first Philadelphia concert of October 11, 1912. Oliver Daniel wrote that "...between February 15, 1960 and February 13, 1969, [Stokowski] had conducted the orchestra fifty times, not counting his appearances with the Robin Hood Dell..." 39.
Although Stokowski had performed a number of operas in concert form, and even semi-staged, he did not have the experience of the opera house music director, such as Weingartner, Toscanini, Walter, Klemperer, Kleiber, Szell or Leinsdorf. Dimitri Mitropoulos was to have conducted Puccini's Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera during February to April, 1961, but his sudden, early death in November, 1960 at age 59 prevented this. Stokowski was then invited by Rudolf Bing to conduct Turandot in Mitropoulos' place which Stokowski readily accepted.
Despite great physical discomfort (Stokowski had slipped why playing with his sons and had broken his hip in December, 1959), Stokowski prepared thoroughly. He detected errors in the printed score of the Puccini work, involved himself in lighting and costumes, and separately rehearsed singers and chorus. On opening night, the audience gave the cast and Stokowski an extended ovation.
Leopold Stokowski with Franco Corelli, tenor and Rudolph Bing, behind
However, later reactions were less favorable. Since so much controversial has been written about the 1961 Stokowski Turandot performances, the lengthy details are omitted here. Some critics appreciated the sonority and brilliance of the orchestra, but others heavily criticized the lack of Stokowski cues for the singers, and the lack of the orchestra following the singers and the stage action. Particular comment centered on the baton-less, smooth gestures, perhaps less visible in the opera house. Robert Sabin in Musical America wrote:
"...[Stokowski] elicited lush and beautiful sounds from the orchestra. The stage brass could not apparently see his beat (given without stick) and wavered in several places, though no such catastrophe occurred as did at one performance last season, when they came in fortissimo in the wrong place..." 32
Although the New York critics (and also Sir Rudolf Bing) would be merciless in criticism, not all reviews were negative. The eminent critic Winthrop writing in the New Yorker wrote:
"...The conducting of Leopold Stokowski, who got to the podium on crutches (he is still recovering from a serious accident to his hip), is extraordinarily dashing and vivid, and the cast is of such high quality that few opera houses in the world could touch it..." 33
Controversy, which the musical press seemed to relish, continued to be aired, and as Oliver Daniel writes: "...After the two performances [in December 1961] for which he had signed a contract, Stoki resigned..." 27.
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 !..." 29
The American Symphony Orchestra beginnings were not without various crises, including an orchestra manager who disappeared, some said with part of the orchestra funds 34. However, Stokowski, somewhat 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 Asian 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 composition. 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. 35
Stokowski Returns to Britain in 1972
Stokowski's focus on recording as a key activity was a central part of his career since his first recordings in 1917. His relocation back to England, the country of his birth reflected this focus. By the early 1970s, recording in the United States, and particularly in New York became so expensive that the major record companies more and more restricted their recording to Europe. Particularly in London, with its five great orchestras was easier, and much cheaper costs and musician fees, London was one of the world's most favorable locations for Stokowski's recording projects.
Stokowski relocated to Hampshire, south of London in 1972. During his last, vigorous recording period 1972-1977, he made records for CBS-Columbia, Decca/London, Desmar, Pye, and RCA. His last record, made for CBS-Columbia with the National Philharmonic was yet another surprise. It coupled the Bizet - Symphony in C major recorded June 4, 1977 with his first commercial recording of a Mendelssohn symphony: the Symphony no 4 in A major "Italian" recorded May 31 and June 2, 4, 1977. Both are vital, energetic recordings, with the "Italian" having a springy step and invigorating reading that makes it surprising that this symphony was not a central part of the large Stokowski repertoire. A fitting final pair for career that is, so far, unmatched in innovations and landmark recordings over 65 years.
Leopold Stokowski died on September 13, 1977 at his home in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, UK, aged 95.
Among the great conductors of the twentieth century, Leopold Stokowski had a unique and fascinating career:
- Unique in the variety and quantity of his performances and recordings of music, and especially of new music, from composers of all musical persuasions.
- Unique in his role in disseminating music to the public and in particular, the American public. This was done through Stokowski's innovative repertoire, innovative concert formats, youth concerts, and pioneering broadcast techniques. This dissemination of music was further benefited by Stokowski's flair for promoting himself and his music and by the popularity of his stream of recordings from 1917 to 1977.
- Unique in his involvement with the development of recorded sound. Stokowski was involved in orchestral recording from the acoustic to the quadraphonic eras, and in pioneering efforts in High Fidelity and stereophonic recording with the Bell Laboratories.
Stokowski portrait by Elias Goldensky circa 1923
Stokowski's most important legacy is not in his biographical details, briefly summarized above, but in his music-making, and particularly the unmatched riches of his sixty years of recording. Please visit the pages listed below that document this recorded legacy year-by-year.
If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site, please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address: email@example.com
1 page 13, 14. Daniel, Oliver. Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. Dodd, Mead & Company New York 1982 ISBN 0-396-07936-9
2 page 46, 47 Daniel op. cit.
3 pages 58 - 60. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. Hawthorn Books. New York. 1979. ISBN 0-8015-4480-7
5 page 137 Daniel op. cit.
6 August 25, 1914 from New York Passenger Lists, Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
7 pages 108-111. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
8 Measuring Worth; Institute for Measurement of Worth. http://www.measuringworth.com
9 pages 159, 160. Daniel op. cit.
10 page 21. Smith, Rollin. Stokowski And The Organ. Pendragon Press. 2004. ISBN 157647103-9
11 page 372. Bok, Edward William. The Americanization of Edward Bok: The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy 1922. Charles Scribner's sons. 1922.
12 page 113, 114 Wister, Frances Anne Twenty-five years of the Philadelphia orchestra (1900-25) Edward Stern & Co, Philadelphia. 1925.
13 Kline, Donna Staley. An American Virtuoso on the World Stage: Olga Samaroff Stokowski. Texas A&M University Press. 1997. ISBN-13 9780890967621
14 Robinson, Paul. Stokowski, with Discography by Bruce Surtees. Macdonald and Jane's. London. 1977. ISBN 0-354-04232-7
15 Gutmann, Peter. Forever Young. Classical Notes. 1999. http://www.classicalnotes.net/columns/youthweb.html
16 page 181-184. Smith, William Ander. The Mystery of Leopold Stokowski Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. New Jersey 1990. ISBN-13: 978-0838633625
17 Stokowski in Capri with Greta Garbo. New York Times. New York, New York. March 2, 1938.
18 Kline, Donna Staley. An American Virtuoso on the World Stage: Olga Samaroff Stokowski Texas A&M University Press. College Station, Texas. 1997. ISBN-13: 9780890967621.
19 Source: Find A Grave Memorial# 8563085. Grave location: East Finchley Cemetery; East Finchley, London, England, Plot: D10790.
20 page 205. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
21 Photo from Musical America magazine. Trade Publications Corporation. New York, New York. September 15, 1928.
23 pages 379-383 Daniel, Oliver. Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York. 1982. ISBN 0-396-07936-9
24 pages 293-311. Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 2007. ISBN-13: 9780679757474.
25 pages 360-361. Starr, Kevin. The Dream Endures: California enters the 1940s. Oxford University Press, USA. 2002. ISBN-13: 9780195157970.
26 page 4. Disney and Stokowski Will Try Something New for the Movies. The Clearfield Progress. Clearfield, PA. April 3, 1939.
27 pages 775-776. Disney Idea. The Indiana Evening Gazette. Indiana, PA. April 7, 1939.
28 page 748. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
29 page 233. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. op. cit.
30 pages 62-66. Frank, Mortimer H. Arturo Toscanini - The NBC Years. Amadeus Press. Portland, Oregon. 2002. ISBN 1-57467-069-7.
40 page 748. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
31 pages 198-191. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. op. cit.
32 Sabin, Robert. MET - Turandot. Musical America. New York, New York. March 1961.
33 Sargeant, Winthrop. Turandot. The New Yorker. New York, New York. March 4, 1961.
34 pages 72-73. Rich, Alan. The American Symphony: Death and Transfiguration. New York Magazine. New York, New York. October 1, 1973.
35 page 237. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. op. cit.
36 page 298-299. Peyser, Joan. The Music of My Time. Pro Am Music. White Plains, NY. 1995. ISBN-13: 9780912483993.
37 page 514. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
38 page 521. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
39 page 748. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. op. cit.
40 pages 214-224. Chasins, Abraham. Leopold Stokowski - A Profile. op. cit.
41 Carr, Jonathan. Mahler: A Biography. The Overlook Press. Woodstock, New York. 1998. ISBN 0-87951-802-2.
42 pages 6-7. Daniel, Oliver Stokowski A Counterpoint of View. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York, New York. 1982. ISBN 0-396-07936-9