Leopold Stokowski and British Music - by Edward Johnson
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Leopold Stokowski and British Music
An Appreciation by Edward Johnson
Reprinted from an article originally appearing in the
Classic Record Collector of Winter 2000
and revised by the author in September 2012.
Ralph Vaughan Williams and Leopold Stokowski in 1957
Stokowski goes native
British born and trained, Stokowski was a dedicated interpreter of his
country's music, as Edward Johnson shows
In 1977, the year of Leopold Stokowski's death, an early biographer claimed that despite
the maestro's London-based musical education, "even in his early years as a conductor
in America, Stokowski did not play much English music and later on it was conspicuous by its
absence from his programmes." The author of those words could be forgiven, since at that time
John Hunt's Leopold Stokowski Discography and Concert Register
(1996) was a long way from being
published. Although not absolutely complete, it is the concert listing that provides the most
fascinating glimpses of the conductor's range, confirming that his commercial recordings were by
no means representative of his concert repertoire and showing that English music played a part
in his programmes from the very beginning. We find, for example, that while still an organist at St
James's, Piccadilly, Stokowski was conducting small theatre ensembles in London, and in November
1904 he performed Elgar’s Salut d'Amour during the interval of a Jerome K. Jerome play.
During his three seasons in Cincinnati, from 1909 to 1912, he learnt the basic
orchestral repertoire and on November 24, 1911 he gave the US premiere of
Elgar's Second Symphony. The Cincinnati Times-Star was unpersuaded of the
work's merits: "Elgar does not convey the belief that symphonic writing
is the most sympathetic medium for his undeniable genius. The composition is pleasant
and it is interesting; but it is not great, nor in any sense convincing."
Undeterred, Stokowski introduced more Elgar to Cincinnati the following year
in an all-British programme that included the Enigma Variations.
Later, in one of his first concerts in Philadelphia, where he had moved from
Cincinnati in 1912, he introduced Elgar's First Symphony to his new
audiences and, in October 1918, conducted the Prelude and
Angel's Farewell (the composer's orchestral arrangement
of the opening and close of The Dream of Gerontius),
Carillon and Le drapeau BeIge. Stokowski performed
more Elgar in New York in 1922 when he and his Philadelphians
accompanied the Belgian cellist Jean Gérardy in the Cello Concerto.
The New York Times was unimpressed: "The thematic material
is not rich; it is spun out, sometimes pretty thin …altogether the
substance of the concerto is rather tenuous."
Leopold Stokowski in 1915
Since Elgar was obviously not considered a great composer in America,
Stokowski performed little else of his music thereafter, apart from the
Enigma Variations. However, following a performance of
this work in 1929, he wrote a famous letter to the composer:
"I have just been
conducting your Variations in Philadelphia and New York, and feel I must thank you for
such a profound and intense musical pleasure as I received from them ... your
Variations gave me the most powerful impression of eternal vitality and
architectural design - and also of something very difficult to express, a
floating upward into a mystical level where time and space seem to
Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis made its
Philadelphia debut in October 1926, although one critic found
it "grave, sombre and melancholic". Like the
Enigma Variations, however, this was one English masterwork
that was to remain in Stokowski's repertoire for many years to come.
Stokowski's score of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia 1
The English enfant terrible of those times was
William Walton, whose Belshazzar's Feast was programmed by Stokowski
during January 1934. The Musical Courier reported that "the chorus of
400 did well and Mr Dudley Marwick sang excellently". Gustav Holst died in
May of that year, so as a tribute Stokowski conducted The Planets for the first time the
following November. The tragedy is that although by now he had become an inveterate
recording artist, none of the music of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton or Holst was to feature
on Stokowski's Philadelphia 78rpm recordings. The nearest he came to performing English music
on shellac discs was in his own arrangements of Handel's Water Music and
Overture in D minor, and two short pieces by William Byrd.
Click here to listen to Stokowski's 1937 recording of William Byrd - Earl of Salisbury
Pavane and Gigue
On leaving Philadelphia, Stokowski formed the All-American Youth Orchestra for two summer
tours, 1940-1941. His next major appointment came when Toscanini withdrew from the NBC
Symphony at the start of the 1941-1942 NBC season. The war had its own influence on
Stokowski's NBC programmes and he often advocated music from Allied countries. England
was represented in 1943 by what The New York Times described as "a remarkable
performance of Holst's great mystical tone-poem, The Planets"
(Cala CD CACD0526). It was followed a month later by a broadcast of Vaughan Williams's
Fourth, which the same newspaper declared to have been "a most satisfactory
reading of this great symphony" (Cala CD CACD 0528.)
Cala CACD 0526 (left) features a tremendous 1943 NBC broadcast of Holst's The Planets,
while CACD 0528 (right) has an equally electrifying reading from the same year of
Vaughan Williams's Symphony no 4. This, and a 1944 broadcast of Butterworth's
A Shropshire Lad on the same CD, were Stokowski's only performances of
Stokowski became a chief guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony for
the 1946-1947 season and in January 1949 gave the New York premiere of
Vaughan Williams's Sixth. He immediately made its first recording (Sony compact
disk SMK58933), beating Sir Adrian Boult to that honour by 48 hours! "The
more I study Vaughan Williams's Symphony in E minor," wrote
Stokowski, "the more I have the impression that this is music that will
take its place with the greatest creations of the masters".
For his Columbia 78rpm sessions several weeks later, Stokowski calmed
down somewhat from the hectic tempos he had adopted in his concert performances;
but even so, the symphony's total timing of 29'09" makes his the fastest version
on record. Reviewing the later LP transfer (Am. Col. ML4214), the
American Record Guide wrote: "Stokowski's reading is unblemished
by interpretative excursions, and the orchestra gives a stunning
Cala CACD 0537 with a beautifully restored Vaughan Williams Symphony no 6
In 1952, Stokowski made the first of his two recordings of the Tallis Fantasia - also in New York
- with a hand-picked ensemble of top session players described on the LP label as "His Symphony
Orchestra" (Victor long play LM 1739; HMV ALP 1205). The American critic Irving Kolodin,
in alliterative mood, wrote: "Stokowski and his singing strings are
in superlative sonority here, producing prodigies of purple plush passage-playing".
The Gramophone was less impressed: "Substantial vibrato in the
string tone lends to it a warmth suitable for many works, but quite inappropriate for the remote
tranquility of the Fantasia". Nevertheless, the composer was delighted and on September 24,
1952 wrote to Stokowski: "I feel much honoured that you have recorded my Fantasia",
attaching his own hand-written copy of the original Tallis hymn tune.
Stokowski conducts the Tallis Fantasia: (above left) Cala CACD 0542 with
His Symphony Orchestra, recorded 1952 for RCA Victor; (above right)
Bridge 9074 with the Symphony of the Air, recorded "live" in 1960.
(below): Stokowski's Tallis score with Vaughan Williams' letter pasted on
the final page. 1
In May 1954, Stokowski made his first television appearance in England as well as two radio
broadcasts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He had already conducted Edmund Rubbra’s
Fifth Symphony in a 1952 Maida Vale concert ("the greatest performance I have ever
heard" was the composer's verdict) and continuing in the same vein the maestro
told the BBC: "One of the things I would like to do is to conduct as much as
possible the music of the most talented British composers of today".
His broadcasts included Malcolm Amold’s Beckus the Dandipratt and
Alan Rawsthorne's Symphonic Studies, with Amold Bax’s Tintagel
and Vaughan Williams’s Dives and Lazarus also featured at Stokowski's own request.
Malcolm Arnold was delighted and wrote to the maestro: "Thank you very much for the
wonderful performance of my overture Beckus the Dandipratt. I am extremely grateful and
consider it a great honour that you should conduct a piece of mine."
However, as with so many of Stokowski's broadcasts of the early 1950s, no recordings were
made (clearly no one foresaw the creation of the BBC Legends label), so his highly-praised
performances of Rubbra, Bax, Rawsthorne and Arnold have been lost in the mists of time.
Stokowski rehearsing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra,
For Stokowski's first British TV concert on May 7, 1954, the BBC had requested
"a little music by Purcell, whom many regard as the greatest of all
English composers", so the conductor duly included his own
five-movement Purcell Suite. (It was recorded by Matthias Bamert and the
BBC Philharmonic in their Stokowski Transcriptions series and
released on Chandos CHAN 9930.) Fortunately, Stokowski's entire programme
has survived in the BBC-TV archives - excerpts were used in the video
Great Conductors of the Past (Teldec DVD Video 42667).
Teldec DVD Video 42667 - The Art of Conducting: Great Conductors of the Past.
Excerpts from Stokowski's 1954 BBC TV concert are also uploaded on You Tube:
his own five-movement "Purcell Suite" and the finale of Arnold Bax's Tintagel
Stokowski conducted The Planets again on
August 28, 1956 with the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and the following week made its
first stereo recording (Capitol long play SP8389).
Despite receiving short shrift from the British
record critics ("The approach to this score is
basically wrong" fumed Trevor Harvey in The
Gramophone) the LP sold well over 6,000 copies
in the UK alone and when reissued on the Music
for Pleasure label achieved further sales of more
than half a million. So much for bad reviews ! (EMI Classics CDM5 65423-2)
In August 1961 Stokowski opened the Edinburgh Festival with Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder
and an LSO concert which included Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra.
At the work's conclusion the composer rushed onto the stage to kiss the maestro's hand.
"The composer bowed his delight from the platform" reported one critic,
"as well he might, for he'll possibly never hear his fine work better played."
Fortunately this concert was recorded and much of it, including the Tippett, was issued by
BBC Legends in 2001.
BBC Legends BBCL 4059-2 containing the Edinburgh Festival August 22, 1961
performance of Michael Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra
On July 23, 1963, Stokowski became the first
major international conductor to appear at the
Proms in front of a packed Royal Albert Hall.
William Glock, the BBC’s new Controller of Music,
had wanted some Schoenberg but Stokowski
demurred. Although he had championed
Schoenberg extensively over the years, he preferred
to perform "an interesting composition by a modern
English composer". Glock gladly proposed Britten's
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell
instead: "It is a brilliant and effective piece" he told
Stokowski, "and would be a splendid tribute for his
50th year" (BBC Legends CD BBCL4005-2).
To read a selection of newspaper reviews of Stokowski's July 17, 1963,
all-British London concert
The 1964 Proms saw Stokowski giving a
performance of Vaughan William’s Eighth
Symphony, a work he had first performed in the
composer’s presence in 1957. Many critics had
been so besotted by the notion that Stokowski
was forever tampering with scores that Noel
Goodwin, writing in the Daily Express, claimed
there were "two unscored cymbal clashes". In
truth, the orchestral parts came from the BBC's
own music library and Stokowski played the
music exactly as written, as can be heard when
following the recording of his broadcast (BBC Legends BBCL 4165-2).
BBC Legends BBCL 4165-2 containing the September 1964
Royal Albert Hall Proms "live" recording of Vaughan William’s Symphony no 8
The major lacuna in Stokowski's immense discography had been the Enigma Variations, so
this omission was rectified with a "live" Phase 4 recording made in Prague during
September 1972. Sadly, Stokowski injured himself on his way to the Czech capital;
but he insisted in going through with the two concerts and it was from
these that the final edit was made. The tentative air is explained by the
circumstances, but many critics were still able to hail Stokowski's Czech
Philharmonic Enigma for its warmth and nobility. The Elgar scholar Jerrold Northrop Moore
reviewed the LP for Gramophone: "The entire performance has an astonishing personality of
its own, as has everything Stokowski touches ... it does something vital for the Variations which
no other interpretation I know has done ... it is very much a performance for Elgarians as well as
Stokowskians" (Cala CD CACD 0524).
Cala CACD 0524 with Elgar - Enigma Variations
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Luckily, Stokowski recovered sufficiently to conduct the work again in
the Royal Albert Hall the following January with the New Philharmonia.
With the maestro in better shape, and an orchestra which - unlike its Czech
counterpart - knew the work inside out, the result was a "masterly"
performance which, wrote Martin Cooper in The Daily Telegraph, was
"the finest I have ever heard". But another fine
Stokowski performance went unbroadcast.
Stokowski had given hundreds of premieres over six decades of conducting,
and in a BBC concert with the New Philharmonia in 1973 he gave his last -
the 28th Symphony of Havergal Brian. The composer had once described
Stokowski as "an individual genius" adding that "it
would be an event to hear him perform a symphony of mine".
Stokowski had heard a tape of Brian's Sinfonia Tragica
and because of his interest in the work, the BBC producer and composer
Robert Simpson sent him the scores of several unperformed Brian symphonies
so that he could select one for a "first performance".
Stokowski chose No. 28 - a work Brian had written at the age of 91.
Stokowski was himself 91 when he conducted it, causing reviewer
Anthony Payne to contemplate "the uniqueness of the event".
A "pirate" LP was issued in California ascribed to
Horst Werner and the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra
(Aries Records LP1607).
Falsely attributed to "Horst Werner", Aries LP1607 contained Stokowski's
Havergal Brian Symphony no 28 with the New Philharmonia
On May 14, 1974, Stokowski made his final public appearance at the Royal Albert Hall when
he conducted the New Philharmonia in a performance of Vaughan WilIiams’s Tallis
Fantasia. In this reading, wrote Edward Greenfield, "the echo phrases had an
ethereal stillness, while the solo strings up front shone like stars"
(BBC Radio Classics CD BBCRD9107; reissued on BBC Legends BBCL 4205-2).
Stokowski still remained active in the
recording studios and returned to the Tallis Fantasia for the last time in August 1975
when he made his second recording of the work for the Desmar label. Here the strings
of the Royal Philharmonic took part, leading to reviews quite different to those
Stokowski had received a couple of decades earlier: "I have never heard
finer string playing than this" wrote Geoffrey Crankshaw in Records and Recording,
"with the terraced perspectives of Vaughan Williams's masterpiece conveyed to
something near perfection". Happily this was reissued on CD by EMI Classics
and also on Newton Classics. This performance remains a golden-toned tribute to one of
the 20th century's greatest conductors.
Stokowski conducts the Tallis Fantasia:
(left) BBC Legends BBCL 4005-2 with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded "live" in 1974;
(right) Newton Classics 8802025 with the Royal Philharmonic, recorded 1975 for Desmar and
also reissued by EMI in 1998.
As John Hunt’s Concerts Register shows, Stokowski performed many works by other
British composers as well as the obvious masters - such as Walford Davis,
Roger Quilter, Hubert Parry, Arthur Bliss, Cyril Scott, Kenneth Leighton,
and so on - and my selection does not include his orchestral transcriptions
of Byrd, Purcell and Handel or the music of such Commonwealth composers as
Percy Grainger, Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Arthur Benjamin. So far from British
music "being conspicuous by its absence from his programmes",
it is likely that Stokowski played as much of it as any other conductor of a similar
eminence who was not domiciled in the UK, and possibly more than those who were.
Cala CACD 0539 includes the US Premiere in 1958 of Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no. 9,
described by Percy Grainger as seeming to be
"perfect in every way".
Please visit Classical Recordings Quarterly
(formerly Classic Record Collector) for articles on great artists
and rare recordings of the past; histories of record companies;
interviews and CD / DVD reviews, etc. by
clicking here. (http://crq.org.uk/)
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LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI'S BRITISH REPERTOIRE
This selection is listed alphabetically by composer and sequentially
by the year of Stokowski's performances.
Carte Blanche Ballet Suite (1963)
Black Mountain Prelude (1949)
Ceremonial and Flourish (1957)
Beckus the Dandipratt (1954)
Mêlée Fantasque (1925)
Introduction and Allegro (1928)
Symphony No.28 (1973)
Passacaglia from Peter Grimes (1946; 1960: 1964)
Piano Concerto (1949)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell (1953; 1963)
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (1972)
A Shropshire Lad (1944)
Henry Walford Davies
Parthenia Suite (1912)
A Solemn Melody (1920; 1956)
The Canterbury Pilgrims (1949)
Salut d'Amour (1904; 1913)
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (1911; 1912)
Symphony No. 2 (1911)
Symphony No. 1 (1912)
Enigma Variations (1912; 1913; 1917; 1920; 1921; 1929; 1946; 1964; 1972; 1973)
Prelude and 'Angel's Farewell' (arranged by the composer)
from The Dream of Gerontius (1918)
Le drapeau Belge (1918)
The Music Makers (1920)
Choral Suite From The Bavarian Highlands (1920)
March and Choral Epilogue (1920)
Cello Concerto (1922)
The Dream of Gerontius (1925)
Three Dances from Henry VIII (1911; 1913; 1914)
Festival Te Deum (1922)
Choral Hymns from the Rig-Veda (1923)
Japanese Suite (1925)
The Planets (1934; 1943; 1956; 1963; 1964)
Primavera Romana (1951)
In the Mountain Country (1949)
Blest Pair of Sirens (1922)
A Children's Overture (1921; 1923)
Symphonic Studies (1954)
Symphony No. 5 (1952)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1920) with the composer as pianist
Charles Villiers Stanford
Irish Symphony (1912; 1924)
Irish Rhapsody (1919)
Songs of the Sea (1921)
Overture Di Ballo (1912; 1913)
Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage (1956)
Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1961)
Ralph Vaughan Williams
A Sea Symphony (1921; 1922)
A Pastoral Symphony (1924)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (1926; 1933; 1948; 1952; 1962; 1963; 1974; 1975)
Symphony No. 4 (1943)
Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1943)
Symphony No. 6 (1949; 1951)
Fantasia on 'Greensleeves' (1949; 1964)
English Folk Songs Suite (1954)
Five Variants on 'Dives and Lazarus' (1954)
Sinfonia Antartica (1954)
Serenade to Music (1955)
Symphony No. 8 (1957; 1964)
Symphony No. 9 (1958)
The Old 100th (1970)
Belshazzar's Feast (1934)
Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (1949)
Partita for Orchestra (1960)
Symphony No. 2 (1961)
The Elizabethans (1960)
Press Reviews of Stokowski's July 17, 1963, all-British
Leopold Stokowski's all-British London concert of July 17, 1963 was
covered extensively in the London press, as shown in the selections below:
The Times July 18, 1963
Mr. Stokowski's Return
FROM OUR MUSIC CRITIC
Mr. Leopold Stokowski has returned once again to his native city, and last
night at the Albert Hall gave his first concert on this visit, in aid of the new
building fund of the Royal College of Music where he was once a student. The
programme consisted of works by three other distinguished alumni, and the
London Symphony Orchestra was augmented by numerous present students
from the college, instrumental as well as (in Holst's Neptune) vocal. In his
eighties - incredible to read that this sturdy, upright frame was born in
1882 - Mr. Stokowski remains one of the most adventurous of all conductors,
and his repertory grows with the years. For this concert his choice of music was
doubtless intended to remind a London audience that R.C.M. composers have
sent their music out all over the world; for Holst's The Planets and
Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia have their champions among
orchestras and conductors everywhere.
But even when they are prefaced by the cheerful, expert, undemanding
Carte Blanche suite, by John Addison, they form a programme of
more limited interest (as the size of the audience confirmed) than their
individual merits may lead one to infer. And the special refinements and
sensuous beauties that Mr. Stokowski can bring to them are not best
appreciated in the woolly, over-reverberant acoustics of the Albert Hall.
It could be seen that he placed a row of violas on his right, in front
of the cellos and the woodwind, double basses, brass, and percussion were
raised behind the rest of the orchestra, and had no difficulty in making
every note tell. The battery of Mars (including Mr. Stokowski’s
controversial gong roll at the end), the whooping horns in Jupiter,
and the hectic cries in Saturn were all impressive; but
Neptune sounded too loud and unmysterious, and in Mercury
one took precision and brilliance for granted, when one wanted to
hear and marvel.
The Tallis Fantasia was shaped carefully and with grandeur; there was no
fear that it would fall into undisciplined rhapsodizing, indeed the most uplifted
and passionate episode was kept, perhaps, on too taut a rein, with too
strongly marked a pulse to convey the effect of visionary exaltation. A musical
occasion, certainly, but not quite the memorable one that was expected.
Daily Telegraph July 18, 1963
Stokowski’s Magic Touch
by David A. W. Money
VIVID COLOURS IN ENGLISH MUSIC
The occasion of a concert in aid of the New Building Fund of the Royal College of Music
brought a former student, Leopold Stokowski, back to the rostrum at the Albert Hall
last night in charge of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Superb artistry by this veteran American with the touch of the magician
made a representative English programme into a glory of vivid colours.
With his eloquent playing, Erich Gruenberg fulfilled his role of leader
to an unusual degree and the main body of the orchestra was matched in
excellence by all the added instruments.
Past members of the RCM, Vaughan Williams, Holst and John Addison
(ballet suite "Carte Blanche") were the chosen composers.
The "Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis" (for strings) had an
almost unearthly beauty in its lingering sonorities, the divided
orchestra and solo quartet merging and ebbing with the inevitability
of great waves breaking. Elemental, too, is Holst’s "The Planets,"
given with immense virtuosity.
D. A. W. M.
David A. W. Money (1912-2009) was Daily Telegraph music critic and also a
Royal College of Music graduate.
The Daily Mail July 18, 1963
Stokowski and the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall
by Percy Cater
Stokowski’s generous bid last night to help the Royal College of Music, which
trained him, failed, I fear - because of the apathy of the so-called musical public.
This must have been one of the most depressing experiences in the career of a
celebrated master of the rostrum. The sight of the vast hall, less than
half-filled, heartbreaking undoubtedly to the College, was enough
to daunt Stokowski and his colleagues.
I tell those who might have attended and did not that they had one of the
misses of their lives. The London Symphony Orchestra played for the inspired
conductor as brilliantly as it would have done if the place had been full
to the brim and the seams.
From the wit and smartness and fresh charm of John Addison’s Carte Blanche
ballet suite, we proceeded to the earnest beauty of Vaughan William’s Fantasia
on a Tallis Theme, which, whatever revaluations time imposes on this
composer’s work, will go down the ages, I believe, as the true memorial.
And in Holst’s The Planets Stokowski evoked, with scarcely a
vehement gesture, gusts and storms, winged chatter, whimsical
heartiness and finally the mystery of voices dying in space.
Throughout the concert he gave us timbres and refinements of
sound such as we rarely hear. It was a programme by a connoisseur
The Observer July 21, 1963
by Peter Heyworth
Can it be that the name of Leopold Stokowski, one-time
organist at St. James’s, Piccadilly, and former student at the Royal
College of Music, is no longer one to conjure with? I prefer to
assume that the half-empty Albert Hall which greeted him on Wednesday,
when he conducted a concert in aid of the R.C.M.’s rebuilding
fund, was due to the end-of-season absentmindedness that is
apt to afflict London's punch-drunk concert-goers.
But the absentees missed a remarkable concert, for Stokowski’s
hand (he is another batonless conductor) has lost none of its
cunning with advancing years. What stands behind his genius for
orchestral sound is the utterly precise pointfulness of each unflurried
gesture - a characteristic in welcome contrast to the wild and
largely irrelevant gesticulating practised by a disturbing proportion
of our young conductors.
The result of Stokowski’s mastery was that the L.S.O. put forth a
sheen-like quality of sound. His restrained account of Vaughan
Williams’s Tallis Fantasia was exquisitely shaped, and the character
of each of Holst’s seven “Planets” (the works performed all by
former R.C.M. students) was superbly defined. A brisk tempo
and an incisive rhythm mercifully punctured Jupiter's intermittent
tendency to lapse from joviality into mere heartiness, Saturn
glowed with serene majesty, and only a miscalculation in choral
dynamics robbed Neptune of that air of desolate mystery as Holst
broods on the infinite wastes of time and space that surround
Peter Heyworth (1921-1991) studied at Balliol College, Oxford and as well
as a critic for the London Times and The Observer, he wrote
a definitive biography of Otto Klemperer.
What's On In London July 26, 1963
FACING THE MUSIC
by Joan Hadleigh
At the time of writing, on the first summer Sunday for six full weeks
it is blessedly too hot to analyse the contradictions in the London musical
scene. At least, it's a task beyond my current strength. Let's list some of
Start with Stokowski. A simple question: why was the Royal Albert
Hall barely half-full for one of his rare London concerts? The programme
was not pop enough? Maybe, but items like The Planets are not
that advanced. And even if they had been, does this mean that
the works are suddenly more important than their performer?
Too much of a performer? I thought, briefly, that here at last was
a generation that knew not Fantasia. And then I wondered if this was a
generation which knew only Fantasia, which dismissed Stokowski only as a
showman, a spectacular in a current world of would-be spectaculars and
Anyone who does think this way is merely ignorant. Stokowski is a
marvellous conductor: individual certainly, eccentric even on occasion;
but capable of achieving unique, exciting, and vastly stimulating results.
Anyone who pays to hear Celibidache should pay to hear Stokowski. Their
results are different, but comparable, while fascinatingly individual.
So it's an enigma. The London Symphony Orchestra played beautifully -
but there was too much room left in the hall for the wondrous sounds
they and their conductor achieved.
Click here to read the
Edward Johnson article on
Stokowski and Vaughan Williams.
Click here to read the
Edward Johnson article on
Leopold Stokowski Letters.
Edward Johnson is a widely recognized musical scholar and expert on
Leopold Stokowski. Benefitting from his extensive musical archives and those of his friends
and fellow scholars, Edward Johnson has been instrumental in creating the superb series of
Stokowski restorations on the Cala CD label.
The Cala Records Stokowski recordings referred to above are available both as downloads and
via mail order from their website:
Edward Johnson has also worked closely with Andrew Rose of
Pristine Classical to restore a number of excellent and rare Stokowski
recordings, from the acoustic to the stereophonic eras:
as well as with Guild Historical, who have also released several historic
On Pristine PASC133 (left) Stokowski conducts Vaughan Williams's Greensleeves and
Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue.
Guild GHCD 2392 (right) includes short pieces by Purcell and Handel.
1 photographs of Stokowski's score taken by Larry Huffman,
courtesy of the Libraries of the University of Pennsylvania,
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