Leopold Stokowski Biography
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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
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
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.
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Stokowski the Organist
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.
Stokowski Goes to New York
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,
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.
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Stokowski's Beginnings as an Orchestra Conductor
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,
Stokowski's First Orchestral Concert in Paris 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.
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Stokowski's London Debut - 1909
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,
Stokowski Becomes Conductor in Cincinnati - 1909
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 November 26, 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.
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Leopold Stokowski and Olga Samaroff Married - 1911
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
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.
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Stokowski Becomes Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra - 1912
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.
June 13, 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 year4.
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
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Stokowski Becomes Friends with the Boks
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
Stokowski with the Mary Louise Bok and Edward Bok before 1920
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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.
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Stokowski Conducts the US premiere of Mahler Symphony no 8 - 1916
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.
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Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra make their First Recordings -
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
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.
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Stokowski Divorced form Olga Samaroff 1923 and Marries Evangeline Brewster
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, 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).
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Stokowski Travels to Europe and Asia 1927-1928
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
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Stokowski Reorganizes the Philadelphia Orchestra
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
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
Stokowski Produces Music Drama and Ballet
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.
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Stokowski Resigns as Music Director of the Philadelphia
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
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.
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The 1936 Philadelphia Orchestra Tour
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
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Stokowski and Greta Garbo Travel to Italy; Stokowski and
Evangeline Brewster Johnson Divorce
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
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Stokowski Goes to Hollywood
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'.
The Birth of '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.
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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
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.
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Stokowski Creates the All-American Youth Orchestra
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.
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The NBC Symphony Orchestra 1941-1943
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
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
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The New York City Symphony 1944-1945
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.
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1945- Stokowski Marries Gloria Vanderbilt
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
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The New York Philharmonic 1947-1950
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,
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.
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The Houston Symphony Orchestra 1955-1961
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.
Houaton 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.
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.
March, 1960 - Stokowski Returns to Philadelphia
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
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.
1961 - Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera
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.
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
"...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.
The American Symphony Orchestra 1962-1972
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
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. 35
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New Activities in the United Kingdom 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.
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Among the great conductors of the twentieth century, Leopold Stokowski had a unique and
- Unique in the variety and quantity of his performances and
recordings of music, and especially of new music, from composers of all musical
- 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
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
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