Leopold Stokowski Returns To Britain 1972 - His Creative Final Years
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Leopold Stokowski returns to Britain in May, 1972 -
His Creative Final Years
Leopold Stokowski in London circa 1972
Leopold Stokowski Returns to Britain
Since moving from London to New York City in 1905, Leopold Stokowski had
made New York his primary home. Even during his nearly three decades
directing the Philadelphia Orchestra, he had an apartment just off
Park Avenue in New York 1. However, by the late 1960s, the
context was changing in a way that caused Stokowski decide on a new
course - to move back to Britain in May 1972.
Stokowski’s Motivation to Relocate to Britain
As well as conducting in concerts and broadcasts around the world,
an important objective for Leopold Stokowski was to continue to make
innovative recordings of the repertoire he favoured. In the
mid 1960s, he had continued to do so. Since 1964, Stokowski
had been virtually an exclusive Decca / London Phase 4 artist
in the UK, though not in the USA where he made occasional recordings
for several other labels, such as Vanguard. It was the Decca
organisation who arranged his concerts in Britain, as well as the
recording sessions which followed. By having rehearsed and
performed the works in advance, session time and therefore cost,
was much reduced. By then, the musicians had the music
and Stokowski’s preferences well under their belts. Decca did,
however, have no objection to a few exceptional recordings,
such as Panufnik’s Universal Prayer for Unicorn, as it was
not something they wished to record themselves.
A number of factors influenced Stokowski to relocate from New York City,
where he had lived, primarily, since 1905. One of these was
the increasingly high cost of recording in the United States.
Since Stokowski wished to continue to make as many records as possible,
moving his principal base to Britain was attractive.
Stokowski and Decca/London Phase 4 Stereo
Decca/London had introduced Phase 4 Stereo in 1961, with
Stokowski as its leading classical artist. Stokowski’s series of
Decca / London Phase 4 Stereo recordings had been a considerable
success. 16 of the first 60 Phase 4 Stereo Concert Series
records were by Stokowski, and all sold well. Stokowski therefore
expected to be kept very busy with concerts and recordings once he’d
relocated to England.
June 1972 Stokowski 60th Anniversary Concert - London Symphony
It was on Wednesday, 22 May 1912, that Leopold Stokowski ascended
the rostrum at the Queen's Hall, London, to conduct for the first
time the London Symphony Orchestra, itself a youthful body some
eight years old.
The LSO had given its first concert in
1904 under Hans Richter, a conductor whom Stokowski was later
to describe as "the greatest I ever heard."
Now the young Stokowski was in charge of one of England's finest
orchestras and he immediately scored an outstanding success.
The Times wrote:
"Mr. Leopold Stokowski, who conducted the London Symphony
Orchestra in a concert of his own yesterday afternoon, was
educated at the Royal College of Music but his experience
as a conductor has been acquired chiefly in America.
This programme was evidently designed chiefly with the
object of showing his powers in various directions,
for it contained familiar works which are, as it were,
a conductor's test pieces. A conductor has to prove
his power in three directions: he must show that he knows
what he wants, that he can secure it from the players,
and most important of all, he has to convince his hearers
of the fitness of his judgement ... Mr. Stokowski gave
absolute assurance at once. The fact that he
conducted the Overture and the Symphony without a
score would not in itself count for very much but
his thorough knowledge of the music and of his own
intention with regard to it was shown in the instant
response of the orchestra to his requirements.
For good or ill neither work was what it would be
under a conductor who accepted the tradition of the
players. The Overture was deliberate in tempo,
but intensely alive with a big range of expression
from the reflective episodes to the powerful climaxes.
In the Symphony the definiteness of Mr. Stokowski's
conception and his control were equally sure ... In
general, whenever it was a question of working to a
climax Mr. Stokowski kept his goal well in view and
arrived at it precisely the right moment. This
made the peroration of the last movement extraordinary
fine and earned genuine applause from the audience.
Finally bare mention of the beauty of Mr. Zimbalist's
playing must suffice, together with the fact that
Mr. Stokowski’s accompaniment was completely sympathetic."
After Stokowski's return to London, a 14 June 1972 concert was
scheduled in which Stokowski commemorated the sixtieth anniversary
of that first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra
by conducting the identical programme with the orchestra: the
Wagner Meistersinger Prelude, Debussy's Afternoon of
a faun, the Brahms Symphony no 1, and as an encore, Tchaikovsky's
Marche slav. The Royal Festival Hall concert was
immediately sold out and a second concert in the larger
Royal Albert Hall was arranged for 15 June 1972.
A recording of the concerts was issued in a deluxe two record
Phase 4 Stereo commemorative box: London SPC 21080/1 and
Decca OPFS 3-4.
Wagner - Die Meistersinger Prelude (1867): In his book, Stokowski wrote:
"The Prelude to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
is a remarkable combination of counter-melodies, counter-rhythms,
and contrasted textures. The violins and cellos play in octaves
the theme of Walther's Prize Song - the double-basses, bassoons
and tuba play with detached tones the theme of the Meistersingers
in a deep register - the wood-winds and horns play a quick
staccato version of the theme that is played as the
Meistersingers march with their banner. Several
other themes are interwoven with these, but these three chief
themes sound together in a unique combination of countermelodies,
counter-rhythms and contrasted textures. The scope of
these contrasts of texture in music is limitless."
Debussy - Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
(1894): Stokowski wrote:
"Debussy's Afternoon of a faun is understood and
intensely enjoyed by almost everyone today. Not long ago
it was regarded by many as amorphous, unintelligible, and
immoral. It is music that tells a kind of story -
and is a tonal painting or translation into sound of a
poem by Mallarmé - and yet it is complete and perfect
if we listen to it as pure music. We may listen to
this masterpiece quite differently - as music which
expresses, through tone, ideal and imaginative forms
of sensuous beauty and voluptuousness - of suggestion
in the dim twilight of a remote and exotic land - a dream
picture of primitive Greece of an Arcadian and ideal
Glazunov - Violin Concerto in A Minor opus 82,
Silvia Marcovici violin:
Alexander Glazunov was born on 10 August 1865 in St. Petersburg.
He began studying the piano in his ninth year and started
composing when he was thirteen. By the time he was twenty
he had several excellent works to his credit and was considered
to be among Russia's foremost composers. In 1884
his 1st Symphony was successfully performed by Franz Liszt
at Weimar, and some years later he composed his two most
popular ballet scores Raymonda and The Seasons.
The Violin Concerto dates from 1905 and is in the three traditional
movements, each linked without a pause. This music is Glazunov
at his romantic best-always lyrical, with fresh and spontaneous
melodies. The writing for the violin is effective throughout
and the concerto - which is by turns elegiac, melancholy, melodious,
and joyous - fully deserves having established itself as one of
the best-loved concertos of our time.
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Brahms - Symphony No.1 in C Minor, opus 68:
Brahms was haunted by the shadow of Beethoven for many years,
and felt that after the Nine Symphonies of the "giant"
nothing more could be said in that form. Accordingly,
he turned to other forms for his music - two orchestral Serenades,
his First Piano Concerto, the German Requiem, and the
By the time he was in his forty-fourth year he felt ready
to produce his First Symphony - von Bülow called it "Beethoven's
Tenth" - and it received its first performance in 1877.
The two mighty outer movements, each of which commences with a slow
introduction, enclose a tranquil slow movement and a graceful
allegretto. Not only was Brahms’s First Symphony a totally
new form of expression for its period - it was in its own right
a masterly work, trenchant in expression, masculine in its
vigour, superb in its craftsmanship. And between the dignity
and sweep of the opening, and the glorious blaze of sound at the
close, there lies one of the most eloquent masterpieces in all
Tchaikovsky - Marche Slav in B-flat minor, opus 31
As an encore, Leopold Stokowski and the London Symphony Orchestra
play the remaining item from their first concert together in 1912.
Written in 1876, this patriotic piece utilises a number of Serbian
folk-tunes as well as the Tsarist hymn (which also appears in the
1812 Overture) and with its brilliant orchestration,
colourful melodies, and thunderous climaxes, it makes an effective
conclusion to a unique concert which provides yet another landmark
in the long, distinguished and illustrious career of
This Stokowski recording of the Stokowski Sixtieth Anniversary
Concert with the London Symphony Orchestra was issued in a
Decca two LP boxed set with the well-known 1912 Leopold Seyffert
portrait of Leopold Stokowski on the cover, Decca OPFS 3-4
and London album SPC 21090/91. The Meistersinger
Prelude was taken from the Royal Festival Hall concert, the
Brahms Symphony and Marche Slav performances from the Albert Hall
concert, and the others were edited from both concerts.
Decca OPFS 3-4 Stokowski Sixtieth Anniversary Concert Album
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June 1972 London Symphony - Stokowski Encores
On 13, 14 and 15 June 1972 during concerts in the Royal Festival Hall
and the Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra,
Stokowski recorded of some of his best-known transcriptions which
he often played during his generous concert encores:
Frederick Chopin - Mazurka in A Minor, opus 17, no 4
Franz Schubert - Moment Musical no 3 In F Minor, D 780
William Byrd: Earl of Salisbury Pavan, Howard Snell trumpet
Tchaikovsky - Chant Sans Paroles In A Minor, opus 40, no 6
Jeremiah Clarke: Trumpet Voluntary
Henri Duparc: Extase, David Gray horn
This Stokowski recording of encores was issued on London
LP SPC 21130.
London SPC 21130 issued 1975
September 1972 Czech Philharmonic - Bach Transcriptions and
Elgar "Enigma" Variations opus 36
Stokowski made a number of recordings with the Czech Philharmonic on
7 and 8 September 1972 in the House of the Artists, Prague, including of
Bach Transcriptions on 8 September:
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
The Toccata and Fugue in D minor is one of Bach’s most popular
organ compositions affording clear evidence of his widely
acknowledged prowess as an organist. This music was used
to striking effect in the Walt Disney film Fantasia, and
in the foreword to the published score of his transcription,
"Of all the music of Bach this Toccata and Fugue is among
the freest in form and expression. Bach was in the habit
of improvising on the organ and harpsichord, and this Toccata
probably began as an improvisation in the church of St. Thomas
in Leipzig. In this lengthy, narrow, high church the
thundering harmonies must have echoed long and tempestuously,
for this music has a power and majesty that is cosmic.
Its main characteristics are immense freedom of rhythm and
plasticity of melodic outline. In the sequence of
harmonies it is bold and path-breaking. Its tonal
architecture is irregular and asymmetric. Of all the
creations at Bach this is one of the most original.
Its inspiration flows unendingly. In spirit it is
universal, so that it will always be contemporary and
have a direct message for all men:."
Bach: Prelude no 8 in E flat minor, BWV 853 from the
The Prelude in E flat minor is one of the most poignant of the
Forty-Eight Preludes and Fugues which make up The Well-Tempered
Clavier. It is the Eighth Prelude in Book One and
may have had its origin in a work for violin; at any rate,
one authority feels that "the theme of the Prelude is so
impassioned and sustained that it calls for a sensitive violin
bow to do it justice." 2 Another commentator writes:
"The depths of human sorrow have surely never been more
faithfully reproduced than they are in this sublime Prelude.
Its style and feeling make one think of the Passion Music
settings in either of which it might find an appropriate
Bach: Geistliches Lied:
Mein Jesu, was für Seelenweh befällt
dich in Gethsemane BWV 487
Mein Jesu, was für Seelenweh befällt dich in
Gethsemanewas was composed by Bach in 1725 for Schemelli's
'Musical Song Book' and Stokowski has scored it for string
orchestra. "The poignance and intensity of expression
are among the highest in all Bach's music. Its fervour
and emotional depth show that Bach was not only a master
of fugue, polyphony, and all the technical resources of his
time, but was a supreme poet of impulsive rhapsodic feeling,
in whom heart and mind were equally powerful."
Bach: Chorale prelude: "Wir glauben all an einen
Gott" BWV 680
Of this Chorale-Prelude, Stokowski writes:
"In form this music is an organ fugue for three upper voices,
like flowing streams of tone, accompanied at intervals by
an entirely different theme played on the deep tones of the
pedals. This bass theme is strongly contrasted in
character with the theme of the three-part fugue sounding
above. In outline this pedal theme has the sound of
giant-like strides up and down the octave - from which comes
the familiar name of the 'Giant Fugue'."
Bach: Chorale "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn"
from "Christ Lag in Todes Banden" Easter cantata BWV 4
(left: Stokowski's score for
"Christ Lag in Todes Banden")
Bach was elected to the post of cantor at St. Thomas's Church
in Leipzig in 1723, and he produced his 'Easter Cantata' the
following year. Stokowski has taken the Chorale
'Jesus Cristus, Gottes Sohn' from the Cantata and
transcribed it for full symphony orchestra. "In this music
Bach has expressed the exultation and uplifted state of our
feelings at Easter. Against the deep solemn tones of
the chorale we hear the rapid counter-themes which contrast
with it and add to the excitement. For a brief moment
near the end the music is hushed and tranquil, like someone
in prayer. Then again it gradually mounts up from
low tones to the highest and ends in ecstasy."
Bach: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582
A passacaglia is a form derived from an ancient stately
dance of Spanish origin, and consists of a set of increasingly
elaborate variations over a ground bass. In this instance
the opening of the theme was borrowed by Bach from a 17th
century French composer, André Raison, and the work culminates
in a gigantic double fugue based on the first line of the
Passacaglia tune. Stokowski writes:
"The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor begins quietly and
gradually mounts up to a lofty height of noble emotion -
creating in us a state of exaltation in which we inwardly
perceive a glorious vision. It is in music what a
great Gothic cathedral is in architecture the same vast
conception - the same soaring mysticism given eternal
form. It is one of the most divinely contrapuntal
works ever conceived."
Stokowski has colourfully scored this music for a very large
orchestra, requiring piccolo, four flutes, alto flute, three oboes,
cor anglais, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons,
contra bassoon, eight horns, four trumpets, four trombones,
tenor and bass tubas, timpani, and strings.
In a survey of the symphony orchestra in America, John H. Mueller
felt that to those who wish to incorporate old composers as
living elements on contemporary musical life, some modernisation
would seem defensible: "Perhaps after all it is true that
the Bach organ - with its orchestral potentialities in its
manifold registration - attains its ultimate reatisation
in the Stokowski orchestra:' 4 More recently,
in a BBC radio tribute to Stokowski on his 90th birthday,
Hans Keller said: "The one-time organist of St. James's,
Piccadilly, is free of organistic prejudices; his orchestral
arrangements, his musical realisations, of Bach's organ textures,
decried as 'tasteless', throw the composer's contrapuntual
thought into clear relief, get as much of the musical truth
to the surface as possible. And if the king of instruments
sounds more dignified in tone, Stokowski's orchestra is
quite happy to let the dignity of the musical substance
speak for itself, speak with a capacity for dynamic
gradation and textural contrast which the old king can be
shown to despise at his peril: Many Bach-lovers may hate
Stokowski's approach, but Bach would have loved it.
Give me Stokowski's 'tastelessness' every time; those
who pride themselves on their taste have it instead of everything
In his book Music For All Of Us, Stokowski writes:
"If Bach were alive today, he would undoubtedly write
glorious music for the highly evolved modern orchestra.
He would find no limits to his expression, but would use
every resource of the orchestra of today as he used every
sources of the organ in his own time." 2
And heard through the orchestral transcriptions of Leopold Stokowski,
the music of Bach takes on new dimensions of sonority and feeling,
which, while beyond the resources of his own day, would surely have
brought him deep satisfaction to hear.
Stokowski conducting the Czech Philharmonic in 1972
That same 8 September 1972 Czech Philharmonic recording session
transcription of the Rachmaninov: Prelude in C sharp minor,
opus 3 no 2
Elgar's "Enigma" Variations opus 36 was
recorded with the Czech Philharmonic in the House of the Artists,
Prague on 7 September 1972.
Stokowski had long been an advocate of Elgar. During his three seasons
in Cincinnati, from 1909 to 1912, on November 24, 1911 he gave the US premiere of
Elgar's Second Symphony. 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.
Following a performance of the Enigma Variations work in
1929, Stokowski 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
These Stokowski/Czech Philharmonic recordings were issued on a London
Phase 4 Stereo LP SPC 21136 in 1975.
London SPC 21136 issued 1975
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January 1973 Beethoven Symphony no 7 and Egmont Overture and
Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnol
Stokowski's Score of Beethoven Symphony no 7 movement 4
On 17 and 18 January 1973 in Kingsway Hall, London with the New Philharmonia
Orchestra, Stokowski recorded the Beethoven Symphony no 7 and the
Egmont Overture, plus the Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnol.
All these works had been played in Stokowski’s Royal Albert Hall concert a
few days earlier. The Capriccio espagnol was combined
with a 7 September 1972 Czech Philharmonic recording of Scriabin's
Poem of Ecstasy and the Dvorak Slavonic Dance no 10 in
E minor opus 72 no 2, issued on Decca Phase 4 Stereo PFS 4333 and
London Phase 4 Stereo SPC 21117 LPs in 1973. The Beethoven Symphony
no 7 and Egmont Overture were issued on Decca Phase 4 Stereo LP PFS-4342.
Phase 4 Stereo London SPC-21117 and Decca PFS-4342
1973: Stokowski's Relationship with Decca
Daniel Oliver in his biography Stokowski - A Counterpoint of View
"...The reception of the Stokowski Beethoven Seventh was splendid...
After the Beethoven recording, there was relatively little that
was in the offering...A Youth Orchestra concert had been set up
as well as a concert in Croydon.
Since the whole purpose of moving to London had been largely
motivated by the opportunity of making many recordings, Stoki decided
that he should no longer be bound by an exclusive contract with Decca.
And to that point, he engaged Marty Wargo, who had previously been with
Decca, as a personal manager who would not only book concerts but arrange
recording dates with other companies. This obviously came as a
shock to Tony D'Amato [Decca recording producer] who had devoted ten
years to Stoki with Decca. Since Stoki wanted to be free of the
exclusivity restrictions...Tony went a step further and cancelled the
contract completely; there would be no more recordings for
So, the January 1973 Beethoven recording sessions were Stokowski's
final Phase 4 Stereo recordings.
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June, 1973: A Stokowski Premiere - Havergal Brian's Symphony
number 28 (1966)
Stokowski had given hundreds of premieres over six decades of conducting,
and in a BBC concert with the New Philharmonia in 7 June 1973 in the
BBC Studio number 1, Maida Vale, 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 of the Stokowski performance 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
Leopold Stokowski RCA Victor Recordings in the 1970s
Leopold Stokowski's oldest recording relationship was with Victor, beginning in
1917, more than 50 years before his new RCA Victor sessions in London.
Stokowski's many Victor recordings of the 1920s and 1930s were central
to his rise to world-wide fame. Following the termination of his
recording relationship with Decca, Stokowski returned to RCA Victor, but
not on an exclusive basis.
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July 1973: Dvorak "From the New World"
Dvorak's "New World" Symphony formed a basic part of Stokowski's
recorded repertoire right from his earliest days in the studios.
In May 1920, the Philadelphia Orchestra under its 38-year-old conductor
recorded a drastically truncated version of the slow movement
tailored to fit one 4 minute side of an old acoustic disc.
Five years later they made what seems to have been the world's first
electrical recording of any symphony for Victor's Red Seal
label. This was
the 1925 "New World" Symphony complete on five 78rpm
The sound was still very primitive, but within two years the
microphones were better able to cope with the wide range of
orchestral instruments. Victor inaugurated its
Musical Masterpieces series, and the first set issued was a
1927 Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra "Orthophonic"
rerecording of the Dvorak symphony - then still known as No. 5
- in the famous Victor album M-1.
This final "New World" was recorded with the New Philharmonic Orchestra
on 2 and 4 July 1973 - made when Stokowski was in his 92nd year
and was his sixth recording of the work. On its initial
release it was enthusiastically welcomed by Edward Greenfleld in
"All in all, this account is a
version alternately to caress and excite the ears of any
listeners who have ever warmed to the magic of Stokowski."
This recording with the New Philharmonic Orchestra was made on 2 and 4 July
1973 in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London. RCA Victor issued
this recording in a 2 record set, with the second record also containing
the famous M-1 recording of October 1927. The 1973 recording had
been recorded in quadraphonic sound, and was later released on CD with
"Dolby Surround" encoding, allowing surround sound playback
on appropriately equipped sound systems.
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September 1973 Tchaikovsky - Symphony no 6 " Pathétique"
It is notable that when Leopold Stokowski was born In 1882, Tchaikovsky
was in his active prime. In addition, that same year of
Stokowski's birth saw the first performance of one of
Tchaikovsky's most popular works, the 1812 Overture.
Eleven years later Tchaikovsky began work on what was to be his
sixth and last symphony, and on its completion in August 1893 he
wrote: "I'm very proud, and I think It's one of my best works."
However, to his nephew Bob, the work's dedicatee, he confided that
he should consider it "unsurprising if it is little appreciated
- it won't be the first time this has happened".
Tchaikovsky's doubts were fully realized at the symphony's
first performance, in St. Petersburg on 28 October 1893.
The tragic finale that faded away to complete silence was
something quite novel in symphonies where audiences
expected triumphant endings, and according to Tchaikovsky
"it caused not so much displeasure as bewilderment."
However, in many orchestral concerts of those days, the
thrilling third-movement march acquired an independent
life of its own and indeed appeared as one of the items
on the all-Russian program marking Stokowski's official
conducting debut. This took place in Paris with the
Colonne Orchestra in 1909, and featured his first wife-to-be,
Olga Samaroff, as soloist in Tchaikovsky's First Piano
Concerto. Despite his inexperience with orchestras,
Stokowski achieved, in the words of one commentator:
"a most pronounced success. He is a magnetic conductor,
with a firm and incisive beat, who has absolute control
over himself and his men, and whose musicianship is never
In 1973 Stokowski - then In his 92nd year - conducted the
"Pathetlque" Symphony for the last time when
he made this RCA Victor recording. It had been preceded by
two concert performances, also with the London Symphony Orchestra
- one at the Fairfleld Halls in Croydon, just outside London,
the other in the capital's Royal Albert Hall. Of the
first performance, music critic Ronald Crichton wrote:
"A brilliant performance of the march may turn its successor
into a mere epilogue. Here the finale was given its full
stature, with enough Slavonic grief to drown the whole of
Croydon in a sea of tears."
Of the original LP issue, Records and Recording critic Ates Orga
"In the final analysis, Stokowski's account is a deeply
personal one, with as much of himself in it as Tchaikovsky...
If you want emotional fulfillment, this will be an especially
desirable performance, and if you want brilliant orchestral
playing and sound, this recording will again be essential.
As a reminder of Stokowski’s art it is superlative."
RCA Victor issued this 5, 7, 10 September 1973 recording of the
"Pathetlque" Symphony in 1974 on LP disc RCA ARL1-0426. This recording was
also one of the RCA Quadradisc quadraphonic LPs issued in 1975: RCA ARD1-0426.
RCA Quadradisc ARD1-0426 quadraphonic
LP of the Tchaikovsky "Pathetlque" Symphony .
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October 1973: Wagner - Music from Rienzi, Die Walküre,
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tristan und Isolde
Royal Philharmonic 15, 16, 19 October 1973:
- Rienzi Overture
- Die Walküre Magic Fire Music
- Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Act III -
- Tristan und Isolde Prelude and Llebestod - Act III
Although somewhat disparagingly referred to by present day critics
as "bleeding chunks," orchestral excerpts from Wagner's
operas have been a mainstay of the concert hall repertoire
right from the composer's own time. Indeed, Wagner's
London concerts of 1877, given at the Royal Albert Hall,
consisted of precisely those highlights from his music-dramas
that have retained their popularity outside the opera house.
Certainly in the London in which Leopold Stokowski grew up,
Wagner's music was much to be heard in orchestral concerts,
under such champions as Hans Richter (Wagner's associate
conductor for his 1877 concerts) and Sir Henry Wood, whose
first Promenade concert, in 1895, commenced with the
Rienzi Overture and thus prefigured the "Wagner Nights"
that were introduced the following season and became an
established feature of the Henry Wood Proms for many
decades to come.
Stokowski himself was to be an ardent Wagnerian once he
had moved from the organ loft and chorus-master podium
to became one of the 20th-century's greatest conductors.
For instance, his first concert with the London Symphony Orchestra,
in May 1912, began with the Meistersinger Prelude. Three weeks
later he conducted an all-Wagner program at the Queen's Hall
in which he directed the accompaniment for the celebrated
soprano Lilian Nordica in Isolde's Narrative and Brunnhilde's
Immolation. The London Times wrote:
"In this remarkable performance, Mme. Nordica had an
admirable colleague in Mr. Leopold Stokowski, who conducted
the New Symphony Orchestra bath with her and in some Wagner
selections for orchestra alone (including the Tannhäuser
Overture and The Ride of the Valkyries).
He showed great power in dealing with the G6tterdammerung scene,
and particularly In carrying an the fine conception of the music
which Mme. Nordica had placed before us, up to an overwhelming
climax in the orchestral ending of the opera."
A few months later, an October 11, 1912, Stokowski began his long
association with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Wagner again
featured prominently on his programs, starting with his very
first concert, which concluded with the Overture to Tannhäuser.
Programme of Stokowski's first
Philadelphia Orchestra concert 1912
A week later he was accompanying Ernestine Schumann-Heink in
Erda's Scene from Das Rheingold and the Waltraute Scene
from Götterdämmerung, while the following month we
find him conducting the Kaisermarsch, the Overture
to Rienzi and the Prelude to Lohengrin in a
concert that also saw the Philadelphia premiere of Elgar's
Five years later Stokowski and the Philadelphians became one
of the first great American ensembles to make recordings,
initially by the acoustic method. Not surprisingly,
Wagner was high on the lists of composers to be recorded.
In fact, Stokowski's three most-recorded composers over his
60 years in the studio were Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Bach,
the last as transcribed by the conductor himself.
The Overture to Rienzi was also something of a Stokowski
speciality. He made
his first recording of it acoustically in 1919
remade it electrically in 1927
, both with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Victor Talking Machine acoustic disc 74602 of 8 May 1919
He often included the Overture to Rienzi
in his concerts, and the 1973 recording - his fourth and
final one of this overture - followed an appearance with
the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1973 at London 's
Royal Festival Hall, where it prefaced several other
Wagner items, including the Suite from Act III of Die Meistersinger
and the "Magic Fire Music" from Die Walküre.
In the Financial Times, Max Loppert wrote:
"It was the Wagner 'bleeding chunks' we had come to hear,
and never had they seemed more replete with red corpuscles.
A brilliant, exultant Rienzi Overture was fiercely dramatic but not
coarse ... whilst the Prelude and 'Liebestod' from Tristan und Isolde
was given with the long-lined swell that made me bitterly regret not
having heard Stokowski do Wagner in its proper place. Still, who
knows? He is only 91 ..... " 4
The 1973 recordings encapsulate the Wagner recordings Stokowski
made as a celebrated nonagenarian. Even here he was
exploring new ground, for the Suite from Die Meisterslnger
is the only recording he made of this material
(though he had made a 10-inch 78 of just the Act III Prelude).
Similarly, he had never recorded the conventional orchestral version
of the Prelude and "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde,
favoring Instead his own symphonic synthesis - an extended sequence
derived from various segments in the opera.
These October 1973 recordings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
in Barking Town Hall, London, were issued in 1975 on RCA Red Seal
LP ARL 1-0498. These recording sessions were recorded by RCA in
quadraphonic sound and were later released on CD with
"Dolby Surround" encoding, allowing surround sound
playback on appropriately equipped sound systems.
RCA Victor ARL1-0498
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March 1974: Beethoven Eroica and Coriolan Overture
Leopold Stokowski never recorded a complete set of the Beethoven
symphonies during his 60 years of activity in the recording studios,
but instead concentrated on just a few of the nine with which - both
on disc and in the concert hall he produced splendid, even memorable,
1927 78-rpm Victor set of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony
was a case in point: an incredibly vital performance,
unbuttoned and ebullient, with dancing rhythms and an unmatched vibrance from the Philadelphia Orchestra's string section,
this was to remain one of the landmarks of Stokowski's recording career.
Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-17 of 1927
A few years later, in 1931, Stokowski - ever the innovator made
a special recording of the Beethoven Fifth
to inaugurate RCA's first
(and ill-fated) attempt to introduce long-playing records onto
the market. The Great Depression put an end to this scheme,
and two decades were to pass before the LP came to stay,
leaving Stokowski's first Beethoven Fifth to become a
The only other Beethoven recording from his Philadelphia period was
made in 1934 -
a performance of the Ninth Symphony
the 78-rpm sets of Albert Coates and Felix Weingartner featured
the choral finale sung in English, It wasn't until 1945 that
Stokowski recorded the "Pastoral" Symphony (with the New York City
Symphony Orchestra), and in his later years he rerecorded that work,
along with the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies.
The obvious omission during those early years was a Stokowski/Philadelphia
recording of the "Eroica". Perhaps RCA did not feel it
necessary in the 1930s to add another version to those conducted
by Coates, Mengelberg and Koussevitzky already in its catalog.
In any event, the decades went by, and it wasn't until he gave
an all-Beethoven concert in London on February 10, 1974,
that Stokowski - now a venerable nonagenarian - was given
the opportunity to immortalize his reading of the "Eroica."
The recording sessions with the New Philharmonia Orchestra took place
on 25 and 27 March 1974.
When this recording was first issued, it elicited from the
Gramophone magazine's Richard Osborne the comment that
"a potent disc. The fact that at the age of 93 Stokowski
should choose to conduct his first-ever recording of the
'Eroica' - and conduct it with a vitality which would daunt,
and an authority which would elude, most living rivals - is
sufficient testimony to the fact that music-making is a thing
of mind and spirit, nothing physical"
The Coriolan Overture, also recorded during these sessions on 28 March 1974,
dates from 1807 and was written not for a production of
Shakespeare but for a drama by Heinrich von Collin, a minor
Viennese poet of the day. Here (another first in his discography)
Stokowski drives the music ever onward in the fiercely dramatic
style of his great rival Toscanini.
These two March 1974 Beethoven performances were recorded with the
London Symphony Orchestra in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London on
38 March 1974, and were issued by RCA in 1974 on LP ARL1-0600.
This recording was also issued in RCA Quadradisc quadraphonic
LP issued in 1975: RCA ARD1-0600.
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May 1974: Stokowski's Final Public Concert: Klemperer, Brahms,
Ravel, Vaughan Williams
Stokowski's final public concert was with the New Philharmonia
Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall on 14 May 1974, consisting of:
- Klemperer - Merry Waltz (1915; revised 1970)
- Vaughan Williams - Fantasia On A Theme by Thomas Tallis
Stokowski's score of the Vaughn Williams Tallis Fantasia
- Ravel - Rapsodie espagnole (1907)
- Brahms - Symphony no 4 (1885)
Stokowski became a nonagenarian in 1972 and two years later, he decided to
give up public concerts and concentrate on making records in the time
remaining to him. His last concert in the UK took place on
14 May 1974 with the New Philharmonia: the first half sandwiched the
Tallis Fantasia between Otto Klemperer's Merry Waltz
and Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole, and a blazing Brahms 4th Symphony
rounded off a truly historic event. Programming Vaughan Williams
in his last public concert is not only a tribute to a composer whom he
found "a remarkable man - very profound, very warm", but
was also a glowing finale for a master conductor who,
although often controversial, nevertheless remained one of the most
exciting occupants of the 20th century's concert hall podiums.
A BBC recording of this 14 May 1974 'Proms' concert from the
Royal Albert Hall was issued in 1995 on a BBC Radio Classics CD BBCRD 9107.
BBC Radio Classics CD
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June 1974: Brahms Symphony no 4 and Academic Festival Overture
Brahms was one of the German masters whose music Stokowski espoused
during his long career. Brahms' four symphonies featured fairly
regularly on his concert programs, and in the very early days of
electrical recording he and the Philadelphia Orchestra were among
the first of the great conductor/orchestra combinations to make
78-rpm sets of all of them.
The performance recorded 17 and 20
June 1974 with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, the last Stokowski
was to give of the Fourth Symphony, found him in a decidedly
urgent mood. Perhaps he was unwilling - like Toscanini
before him - to be seen to be slowing down as a result of old
age. Nevertheless to the Gramophone reviewer,
Richard Osborne, the recording was:
"a surging account of Brahms's Fourth Symphony, surging and
strongly contoured… There are many details, the moulding of
tempi and the shaping of paragraphs, that bespeak a long experience
and deep love of the music…there are things in both the first and
last movement which are spaciously, movingly done, and the slow
movement is a delight… Stokowski has a few powerful truths to
communicate to us here." 3
When one bears in mind that the conductor was in his 93rd year at the time,
the tempestuous vitality of the reading becomes even more astonishing,
especially as it would be just as remarkable from a conductor
several decades younger. Leopold Stokowski. whatever his
faults may have been, surely deserved his legendary status.
June 1974 Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
As was the case with the Beethoven Eroica, this 21 June 1974
recording of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture was
Stokowski's only commercial recording of the work. On one
occasion, for a London concert during his last years, he featured the
chorale finale Sir Malcolm Sargent imaginatively arranged for the work's
peroration, though the present recording is of the usually performed
purely orchestral score. The music was written in 1880
(a mere two years before Stokowski's birth) in response to an
honorary doctorate conferred on the composer by the University of
These 1974 Brahms performances were issued by RCA in 1974 on LP
ARL1-0719. This recording was also one of the RCA Quadradisc
quadraphonic LPs issued in 1975: RCA ARD1-0719.
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July 1974 Bach: Toccata and fugue in D minor, BWV565
Stokowski also recorded his transcription of the Bach Toccata and fugue
in D minor, BWV565 with the London Symphony Orchestra on 27 July 1974
for RCA, but this performance was not issued at that time. However, it was
issued on CD as part of the Stokowski Stereo Collection
issued in 1997; this recording and rehearsal on RCA 0926-68643-2,
along with fascinating rehearsal excerpts for the recording session.
August 1974: Mahler Symphony no 2 in C minor - "Resurrection"
It was with the American premiere of Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony
("Symphony of a Thousand") that Leopold Stokowski and the
Philadelphia Orchestra were launched to international fame in March 1916.
The work had obsessed Stokowski ever since the summer of 1910, when
he had attended the rehearsals and first performance in Munich under
Mahler's direction, and when he became music director in
Philadelphia in 1912 he immediately made plans to introduce
the massive symphony to the United States. Its success was
so great that the entire production-orchestra, chorus and soloists-
had to be transported to New York where the work aroused even more
tumultuous acclaim, with Stokowski's achievement making worldwide
Performers and program for Mahler Symphony no 8 in the Academy of Music, 2 March 1916
Stokowski's championship of Mahler didn't end there; he also gave the
American premiere in Philadelphia of Das Lied von der Erde in
December 1916, and in May 1921 he conducted the "Resurrection"
Symphony for the first time. At the outset this work had a
somewhat checkered career; in March 1895 in Berlin, under
Richard Strauss's direction, the first three purely orchestral
movements were given, and it wasn't until the end of the year
that Mahler himself conducted the first complete performance.
Even then Mahler felt that the huge and imposing first movement,
which he had completed in 1888, five years before composing the
remainder of the work, could be presented as an independent symphonic
tone poem, and in March 1896 he detached it from the symphony and
conducted it under the title Totenfeier (Funeral Ceremony).
The music grew from ideas generated by Mahler's First Symphony,
a quasi-autobiographical work whose "hero" has died,
and who in the Second Symphony's first movement is being carried
to his grave. The music takes the form of a gigantic and
solemn march - "a mighty dirge of tragic character," to
quote Bruno Waiter. Mahler himself left various comments
on the music, and of the first movement he wrote: "We are
standing beside the coffin of a man beloved. For the last
time his struggles, his sufferings, his accomplishments pass
through the mind... And in this deeply stirring moment, when
the confusion and distractions of everyday life are swept away,
a voice of awe-inspiring solemnity pierces us to the heart.
'What next?' it says. 'What is life-what is death? Will we live
forever in eternity? Is it all a hollow dream or does life and
death have a meaning?' This is a question we must answer if we
are to go on living."
The second movement, a leisurely Ländler, has a Schubertian
feel to it and is both a happy remembrance of the past and
a sad recollection of lost youth and innocence.
The remaining three movements, all directed in the score to follow
each other without pause, commence with a flowing scherzo,
a kind of ghostly, mocking dance, which features the biting,
sardonic wit that was to influence much of Shostakovich's music.
"The spirit of disbelief and denial has taken
possession of the hero. He looks at the superficiality of life's
turmoil, and loses along with his childlike innocence the profound
strength that only love can bring, He despairs of himself and of
God, The world and life itself begin to seem unreal, like a dreadful
nightmare. Utter disgust for all living seizes him, tormenting and
driving him to an outburst of despair."
The fourth movement is a solemn yet simple setting for mezzo-soprano
and reduced orchestra of Urlicht (Primal Light), one of the
folk poems in the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn whose
verses Mahler also used in his Third and Fourth Symphonies.
"The stirring words of simple faith sound in the hero's ears:
'I come from God and shall return to God!'"
The immense finale is launched immediately with a great cry of
anguish and culminates with verses adapted from
Friedrich Klopstock's ode Auferstehung (Resurrection),
set for two women soloists and chorus. "We are again
faced with terrifying questions... The end of all life has come;
the Last Judgment is at hand... The earth trembles, the graves
burst open, the dead rise up and march forth in an endless
procession. The great and the humble of this earth - kings and
beggars, the just and the godless - all push forward.
The cry for mercy and forgiveness sounds fearfully in our
ears… the Last Trumpet of the Apocalypse sounds, and in the
eerie silence that follows we hear a distant nightingale,
like the last tremulous echo of life on earth.
Then the gentle sound of a chorus of saints and
heavenly hosts is heard: 'Arise, yes, you will arise!
Eternal life He will give who called you.' And behold:
there is no Judgment - there are no sinners, no righteous,
no great. no humble. There is no punishment and no reward.
A feeling of overwhelming love shines over us with
understanding, and illuminates our souls."
This performance of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony
was the last of several Stokowski gave during the final decade
or so of his long life. In 1963 he made his first
appearances at the celebrated Henry Wood Proms Concerts
in London and conducted the work for the first time
since 1921. The Times found the performance:
"superb by any standards - meticulously loyal, noble, and deeply
felt out of long and thoughtful experience... The numerous choirs and
the London Symphony Orchestra deserve all praise for a memorable
performance, but in the end we return to Mahler and to
Mr. Stokowski who understands this symphony so thoroughly."
Back in the United States, he conducted further performances with
the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1967, and the American Symphony
Orchestra in 1971 before returning to England and making this,
his only recording of any of Mahler's works, at the age of 92.
The New York Times called Stokowski's performance:
"an astonishing achievement... he turns it into a gripping,
one might almost say operatic, experience. Another recorded
milestone for this extraordinary nonagenarian."
The wheel had come full circle; a champion of the great composer
in his younger days, Stokowski was able to look back over
six decades to the time when he saw Mahler himself at work,
and right at the end of his own life commit to disc one of
the finest choral symphonies ever written.
Stokowski's recording of the Mahler Symphony no 2 was made with
the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Brigitte Fassbaender
mezzo-soprano, Margaret Price soprano. During July and August,
some 9 sessions were done, including on 19 (for a recorded rehearsal),
22, 25, 27 July 1974 and 10, 11, 14 August 1974.
It was issued by RCA in 1974 on a two LP set RCA Red Seal ARL2-0852.
This recording was also one of the RCA Quadradisc quadraphonic LPs issued
in 1975: RCA ARD2-0852.
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October 1974: Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings and
Francesca da Rimini
Recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in Brent Town Hall, London
9, 12, 13 October 1974. Issued by Philips in 1975 on Philips LP
album 6500 921. This session was also recored in quadraphonic sound
and was later issued on a Super Audio CD which could be played in
a quadraphonic sound system: Pentatone PTC 5186 122.
Philips LP album 6500 921
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November 1974: Wagner: Götterdämmerung highlights
Contained Stokowski's arrangement of music from Die Götterdämmerung:
Prologue: Siegfried's Rhine Journey (Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt)
Act 3: Siegfried's Funeral Music (Siegfrieds Tod)
Act 3: Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene (Brunnhildes Schlussgesang)
Among Stokowski's many recordings during his career of his arrangements
of Wagner's music, perhaps particularly controversial - in 1974
in what turned out to be the last time he conducted Wagner - was
turning Brunnhilde's Immolation into a kind of orchestral tone poem,
with the vocal line taken by various instruments.
The precedent for this had been set, of course,
in the published score of the Prelude and "Liebestod,"
where Isolde's part is similarly orchestrated. At any
rate, Stokowski's final Wagner recordings far RCA have a
special autumnal glow, brought about by a lifetime's
association with the composer's music.
These excerpts from Die Götterdämmerung were recorded
with the London Symphony Orchestra in EMI Studio number 1,
Abbey Road, London on 11, 12, 13, 15 November 1974.
It was issued by RCA in 1975 on RCA Red Seal LP ARL1-1317.
These recording sessions were recorded by RCA in quadraphonic sound
and were later released on CD with "Dolby Surround" encoding,
allowing surround sound playback on appropriately equipped sound
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April 1974: Bach - Stokowski Transcriptions
By making orchestral arrangements of Bach's music right from his
early days with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski
introduced to listeners dozens of the composer's less familiar
keyboard and chamber works. Since his death, Stokowski's colourful
transcriptions have also been taken up by other conductors who have
found them to be effective and refreshing additions to the
repertory. These realisations have their critics, of course,
but no one - least of all Stokowski himself - claimed for
them an authentic sound or style. Stokowski would merely
say that had the modern symphony orchestra been available to
Bach he would undoubtedly have made use of it.
Chaconne (from Partita for Violin No. 2, BWV 1004)
In 1717 Bach became music director to Prince Leopold Anhalt-Köthen.
During the six years in this appointment he composed some of his
greatest secular music, including a set of six works for solo violin
consisting of three sonatas and three partitas. Stokowski
transcribed several movements from these works, and he recording
two for in this 1974 album. Of the Chaconne, Charles O'Connell
"... it reveals the genius of Bach in an inspired utterance
which even he never again equaled, and it forces the violin into
ways of grandeur and magnificence that are almost unbelievable.
A work conceived on so grand a scale can find its ultimately
convincing expression only through the greatest of instruments
- the orchestra."
Stokowski's transcription, which glances occasionally toward
Busoni's piano arrangement, ranks as one of his finest.
He treats Bach's composition as a constant stream of pure
melody yet follows the composer's outlines to a remarkably
faithful degree. The opening chords (for cellos) give
way to a gigantic set of variations, which are expertly
contrasted by strings, wind and brass. The large
orchestra is sparingly used, and only at the end Is there
a "towering crest of sonority and a prodigious outpouring
of sound" that utilizes the entire orchestral force.
The final bars consist of a coda of Stokowski's own devlslng
- a most effective reminiscence of the opening cello theme.
This orchestration of the Chaconne was first performed in
Philadelphia on 19 December 1930, and it was one of the
Bach transcriptions Stokowski was most frequently requested
to record In modern sound.
Preludio (from Partita for Violin No. 3, BWV 1006)
In 1731, ten years after he had written the solo violin works,
Bach made a spectacular arrangement of this Preludio for
trumpets, oboes, timpani, strings and concertante organ,
and it became the introductory movement of his Cantata No. 29.
Stokowski has reverted to the original work in an orchestration
that exists in two versions - one for strings alone,
the other for strings, flute and oboe, the version recorded here.
Ein feste Burg
The origins of this chorale melody date back 150 years before
Bach was born. Martin Luther adapted the melody from
the Gregorian chorales of the "Graduale Romanum" and
set it to his paraphrase of Psalm 46 (A Mighty Fortress Is Our
God). There have been several harmonisations of the
tune, but Bach's setting is the best known. Stokowski’s
transcription is of the Lutheran melody at its simplest,
beginning quietly, moving with contrast through the various
sections of the orchestra and ending with a climax of
magnificent power and sonority.
Aria "Air on the G-String"
(from Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068)
This music acquired popularity through an arrangement made in 1871
by August Wilhelmj entitled Air on the G String.
Stokowski's adaptation reverts to the original key of D, and
in it the melody is shared by the cellos and the violins.
the conductor wrote:
"The first performance of this music after Bach's time was in
February 1838 in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Mendelssohn conducting.
During the preceding 88 years since Bach's death, so far as we know,
no one had publicly played this masterpiece. Yet today almost
everyone interested in music know and loves this melody."
"Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578
This Is one of the most delightful of Bach's organ works, and
in the forward to the published score of his transcription,
Stokowski provided the following commentary:
"Bach is supreme master of the fugue, and although this fugue
is short it is one of his greatest creations. In its orchestral
form it begins with the single voice of the oboe. Later the
English horn plays the same theme In a related key, followed
by the bassoon, bass clarinet and contra-bassoon. As each
new Instrument enters, the complex weaving of the counterpoint
becomes always richer, and the fugue ends with all the instruments
sounding like a triumphal chorus."
Arioso (Sinfonla from Cantata No. 156)
Bach wrote the Cantata No. 156 in 1729, and its opening Sinfonia
- a sublime adagio scored for oboe, strings and continuo -
is an arrangement he had made of the slow movement in his
Clavier Concerto No. 5 in F minor. This in turn was
adapted from a no-longer-extant violin concerto that had been
written some years earlier. Stokowski has arranged the
less elaborate cantata movement and transposed it from F major
to G major. In Bach's Sinfonia the oboe has the melody
throughout, but In Stokowski’s full-blooded orchestration
this has been given to the string players, with accompaniment
from the harps and other sections of the orchestra.
"Sleepers, Awake" ("Wachet auf, ruft uns
die Stimme", BWV 645)
This is one of Stokowski's earliest transcriptions (the
Philadelphia Orchestra first performed it under his direction
in 1915), yet it is only now receiving its first commercially
issued recording. The chorale melody "Wachet auf, ruft
uns die Stimme" from 1599 and has been attributed to
Philipp Nicolai. Bach used the melody in his Cantata No. 140,
and when he later arranged several cantata movements as
organ chorale-preludes he took the tenor aria from No. 140,
and it became the first of the six "Schübler Chorales."
Stokowski's orchestration contrasts the strings and woodwinds
in an echo effect, while the brass have the majestic,
"Komm, süsser Tod" (Geistliche Gesänge No. 40, BWV 478)
"This poignant and soul-searching melody was composed by Bach
about 1736. It is one of the melodies published by Schemelli
in his book of sacred songs, 'Musicalisches Gesangbuch.'
Bach edited the songbook, providing several of his own compositions
and adding figured bass to other melodies. In giving this
sublime melody orchestral expression, I have tried to imagine
what Bach would do had he the rich resources of the orchestra
of today at his disposal."
"Komm, süsser Tod", which was placed as the concluding
selection of this album at Maestro Stokowski’s request,
typifies his whole approach to the art of transcribing
Bach's music, recognizing as it does the warmth of
emotion, the variety of expression and the colour
and melodic beauty inherent in the works of the great
It remains only to be noted that one of these Bach recording
sessions took place on Stokowski's 92nd birthday. As he
made his way to the podium at the start of the session,
the London Symphony musicians broke into a spontaneous
rendition of "Happy Birthday". Smiling, the
conductor launched straight into a rehearsal of the first
item on the schedule, the warmth of the occasion and
the enjoyment generated being fully evident in the
These Bach transcriptions were recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra
in St. Giles Parish Church, Cripplegate, London on 16, 18, 19 April 1974,
and issued by RCA in 1974 on LPs RCA ARL1-0880 and later on
RCA AGL1-3656. This recording was also one of the
RCA Quadradisc quadraphonic LPs issued in 1975: RCA ARD1-0880.
RCA ARD1-0880 quadraphonic Quadisc of Stokowski's Bach Transcriptions
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1975 Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade
As with many recordings made with the newly developed electrical
system in the mid-1920s, Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra
was the first conductor to make an electrical recording of
Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. His first complete
recording of Scheherazade was made in October 1927
(he had recorded truncated excerpts by the old acoustic method
in 1919 and 1921).
Victor Musical Masterpiece album M-23 of October 1927
He was to record Scheherazade four more times during
his long career, starting with a 78rpm Philadelphia remake in
1934. The remaining three versions were - rather curiously
- all made with leading British orchestras: the Philharmonia in
1951 (the year he returned to London as a guest conductor for
the first time in many years); the London Symphony Orchestra in
1964; and finally this 1975 performance with the Royal Philharmonic,
made when Stokowski was 93 years old and representing the
last time he was to conduct the work.
The work had its premiere in 1888 (Stokowski was then a six-year-old
London schoolboy) and proved to be Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular
composition. Originally he had prefaced the score with an
explanatory note: "The Sultan Schahriar, persuaded of the
falseness and faithlessness of women, has sworn to put to death
each of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana
Scheherazade saved her life by interesting him in the tales she
told during one thousand and one nights. Pricked by curiosity,
the Sultan put off his wife's execution from day to day, and at
last gave up entirely his bloody plan... ." However, the
composer subsequently discarded this picturesque program,
inviting the listener instead to hear the piece purely as a
kind of four-movement symphony of oriental character, though
with the solo violin portraying Scheherazade herself, the work
also has a concertante feel about it.
Age had not dimmed Stokowski's vitality when he came to make his
fifth recorded realiza1ion of this celebrated score. Writing
of its initial LP release in the Gramophone,
Edward Greenfield described it as an:
"...electrifying and colorful reading, sensuously beautiful as
one would expect... the Stokowskian concentration and persuasiveness
will be hard for anyone to resist."
In High Fidelity, R. D. Darrell wrote:
"This latest Stokowski version of Scheherazade is both
endlessly fascinating in its own right and outstanding as an
exemplar of the Old Sorcerer's undiminished, in some ways even
increased, personal powers."
This performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra featured Erich Gruenberg
as the violin solo. It was recorded in n EMI Studio number 1,
Abbey Road, London on 26, 28 February 1975 and 3 March 1975, and
was issued by RCA in 1975 on LP ARL1-1182. The performance had
been recorded in quadraphonic sound, and was later released on CD with
"Dolby Surround" encoding, allowing surround sound playback
on appropriately equipped sound systems.
RCA ARL 1-1182
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Leopold Stokowski Columbia Recordings in the 1970s
Throughout Leopold Stokowski's long and constantly innovating career,
it seemed that Columbia would take up Stokowski after the ending of
his recording with RCA Victor. This was the case at the very end
of Stokowski's career in the 1970s.
May 1976: Tchaikovsky Aurora's Wedding
Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty received its first
performances outside Russia in a London season staged by
Serge Diaghilev during 1921, but despite its artistic success
it was a financial failure. Diaghilev decided to salvage what
he could by devising a one-act "balletic fantasy" which
he entitled Aurora's Wedding,
since it consisted mainly of divertissements from Act Three
celebrating the marriage of Princess Aurora to Prince Desire.
In 1947, the most extensive recording of highlights then available
had been conducted by Leopold Stokowski in a lavishly illustrated
set of 78rpm discs. (This can be heard on Cala CACD0522.)
In 1953, Stokowski turned to Diaghilev's own selection of numbers
and made his first recording of Aurora's Wedding.
Over twenty years later in May 1976, at the age of 94, he returned to
this score for the last time.
Columbia/CBS LP disc M34560
This recording of Tchaikovsky's Aurora's Wedding with the National
Philharmonic Orchestra was recorded in the West Ham Central Mission,
London on 24 May 1976 and was issued by Columbia Masterworks on LP M 34560.
It was also later released on CD by Cala Recordings: CACD 0529.
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May 1975: Rachmaninoff - Symphony no 3
Although the repertoire of Leopold Stokowski was as wide-ranging
as that of any of the great conductors of the past, it was in
colourful and opulent music that he often excelled, and
he gave particularly full-blooded performances of notable
Russian scores both in the concert hall and on record.
In his role as champion of the 20th-century composer, Stokowski
gave the American premieres of Shostakovich's First. Third, Sixth
and Eleventh Symphonies, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring,
Les Noces, Song of the Nightingale and
Oedipus Rex, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky and
Sixth Symphony, Scriabin's Divine Poem, and the music
of a great many other Russians, from Amirov to Zimbalist.
It was therefore inevitable that he should also become closely
associated with Sergei Rachmaninov. Their collaboration began
in 1910, when Stokowski was still in his first season with the
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Rachmaninov was making his
maiden visit to the United States. In his debut with
Stokowski, the Russian played his own Second Piano Concerto
in an 'upside-down' programme typical of the conductor at
that time: the concert started with the symphony (Schubert's
'Great C major') and finished with the overture (Wagner's
In 1912, Stokowski left Cincinnati to begin an illustrious
quarter-century tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra,
where his sensational introduction of Mahler's Eighth Symphony
(the 'Symphony of a Thousand') to the United States in 1916
brought him international fame. The following year,
Rachmaninov found himself caught up in the Bolshevik revolution;
its turbulent events caused him to leave the country for good,
and from 1918 he made his home in America. Stokowski
immediately resumed contact, and the following year they
collaborated again, in a performance of the newly revised
First Piano Concerto. In 1920, Stokowski gave the
American premiere of Rachmaninov's choral symphony The Bells.
The occasion marked the beginning of a long line of first
performances in which each new orchestral piece by
Rachmaninov was introduced by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Indeed, Stokowski became the dedicatee of the next work -
the Three Russian Folk Songs for chorus and orchestra -
which he gave in a double premiere in 1927 with the
Fourth Piano Concerto, the composer at the keyboard.
By then the two musicians had begun their celebrated collaboration
in the recording studio. In 1924 they had made an acoustic
78rpm set of the Second Piano Concerto, and five years
later, following the introduction of the electrical process,
they re-recorded it and provided posterity with a gramophone
Rachmaninov with Victor recording in 1924
Their recording of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,
following its premiere in Philadelphia in 1934, soon acquired
similar status. When Rachmaninov began work on his
Third Symphony in 1935 it was natural that Stokowski would
have the first performance. Many years before, the
conductor had written: "I have the impression of the
greatest sincerity always in Rachmaninoff's works, and although
they are often complex, it is an organised complexity,
and it is this which produces the effect of simplicity."
Certainly the Third Symphony is more 'complex' than its
predecessor; and technically too this is a much trickier
score, with many tempo and metre changes, complicated off-beat
cross-rhythms, and sudden switches of mood. Rachmaninov,
of course, had the superbly virtuoso Philadelphia Orchestra
in mind when he was writing the work, and the result might
also be seen as a kind of 'concerto for orchestra' in a
quasi-symphonic three-movement framework.
The first performance took place on 6 November 1936.
Rachmaninov thought the symphony was "played wonderfully",
but the reviews were mixed. Although the noted American
music critic Lawrence Gilman wrote of the work's "sweeping
cantabile phrases, darkened by moods of melancholy brooding and
impassioned stress", it was received with dismissive notices
elsewhere. Indeed, Rachmaninov found a considerable critical
reaction taking place to his music during his lifetime, rather
as Sibelius and Vaughan Williams did during theirs." This
response to one of the greatest Russian-born musicians of the
first half of the 20th century reached its nadir in the notorious
entry in the fifth edition of Grove's Dictionary (1954),
which contains such references as "...severely limited...
monotonous in texture... artificial and gushing."
Its additional assertion that the "enormous popular success
some few of Rachmaninov's works had in his lifetime is not
likely to last, and musicians never regarded it [sic] with
much favour" can now be seen as utterly risible.
For his part, Stokowski never conducted the Third Symphony
in public again. One conjecture is that this may have
been due to the poor reception of the premiere.
Certainly it seems likely that the pervasive and persistent
negative critical opinion of Rachmaninov's music coloured
Stokowski's programming, since in subsequent years he
conducted only isolated performances of such works as
The Isle of the Dead, the Second Symphony, the
Third Piano Concerto (with William Kapell and the
New York Philharmonic in 1949), the Symphonic Dances
(with the Houston Symphony ten years later), a revival
of the Three Russian Folk Songs (with the
American Symphony Orchestra in 1966) and, on a few
occasions, the Paganini Rhapsody. One piece
which clearly retained its appeal for Stokowski, however,
was Vocalise, a wordless song for voice and piano
dating from 1912 which the composer later orchestrated.
When at the age of 93 Stokowski returned to the Third Symphony
for the present recording, it was the fifth time he had
gone into the studio with its chosen coupling (though only
the first and last were in Rachmaninov's own arrangement).
That the nonagenarian Stokowski was able to re-learn such a
work as the Third Symphony after a gap of nearly 40 years was
a remarkable feat, but he had on hand a specially selected
band of top-flight London musicians and soloists in the
National Philharmonic Orchestra. As Ates Orga wrote
of the original LP release:
"... it has authority, excitement , knife-edge dramatic
tension, and an absolutely splendid orchestral contribution...
Stokowski evidently still revels in [the symphony's] richness,
its masterful orchestration, its vast melodic wealth... The
sound is typically spacious and luminous… insatiable romantics
have cause to be grateful."
This record of Rachmaninov's Symphony no 3 and Vocalise was
recorded with the National Philharmonic Orcechestra in EMI Studio number 1,
Abbey Road, London on 28 and 30 April 1975 and 1 May 1975.
Along with the Desmar Stokowski String Sound
recording, it is one of the finest in sound and features a unique
performance of Stokowski's long recording career. The recording
was issued in 1975 by Desmar Records on DSM 1007 LP.
Desmar DSM-1007 LP
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August 1975: Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
In January 1896, Leopold Stokowski (1882- 1977) entered the Royal College
of Music in London at the age of 13 as its youngest student. At that
time another music student, some ten years older than Stokowski, was also
attending the college. His name was
Ralph Vaughan Williams, and since both he and Stokowski
studied the organ under Sir Waiter Parratt during the
spring term of 1896, it seems quite possible that the ir paths may have
crossed. Indeed, at the time of Vaughan Williams's death, Stokowski
recalled: "When I was a student at the Roya l College in London,
I knew him as a teacher. But later I learned to know him more
intimately and found him to be a remarkable man - very profound,
very warm ." However, Vaughan Williams did not teach
at the college until 1920, so presumably Stokowski was
remembering him as a helpful older student. In any event,
both men went on to greater things: Vaughan Williams to become
one of England's finest composers, Stokowski one of the century's
Stokowski first took up Vaughan Williams's music during the 1920s,
when he conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in performances of
A Sea Symphony and A Pastoral Symphony.
In 1943 he gave the Fourth Symphony with the NBC Symphony Orchestra,
and six years later he made the first recording of the Sixth Symphony,
with the New York Philharmonic. He gave the Sinfonia antartica
an early American hearing with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1954,
and played the Eighth Symphony twice in England, the first time
with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1957 in the presence of the
composer, the second at the 1964 Proms with the BBC Symphony.
In 1958, a month after the composer's death, Stokowski paid special
tribute to Vaughan Williams with the American premiere of the
Vaughan Williams and Stokowski in 1957
There were many other Vaughan Williams works in Stokowski's repertoire,
but it was the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis that he
returned to the most. He first conducted it in 1926, and when
he recorded the work in 1952, he asked the composer about the music's
origins, Vaughan Williams replied:
"I feel much honoured that you have recorded my Fantasia.
About 1567 a metrical psalter was printed, entitled 'The Whole Psalter
translated into English metre which containeth 150 Psalms.' At the end
of the book there are nine tunes in four parts by Thomas Tallis.
This tune is the third and it referred to the third mode."
Tallis's melody, which Vaughan Williams had resurrected for the
English Hymnal to the words "When rising from the bed of
death", forms the basis of one of his best-loved works.
First heard in Gloucester Cathedral in 1910 under the composer's baton,
the Tallis Fantasia is written for large string orchestra, solo quartet
and a second, smaller body of strings set at a distance, a disposition
whose 'echo' effect makes unique play of the cathedral acoustic
Vaughan Williams was writing for.
For that early LP, Stokowski wrote his own note:
"Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis spans the
16th and 20th centuries - it is timeless and universal in its
expression and appeal. The theme is in an ancient ecclesiastical
mode, and the mysticism of Vaughan Williams and Tallis blend
as if coming from the spirit of one man. Tallis was recognized
as a master musician by Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. 20th
century Vaughan Williams has many sides to his musical
personality... His music sings of the most ancient, and most
modern, of his native land… those who love beauty, deep
emotion, and the unseen mystery of life, will find intense
joy in listening to it."
In 1974, Stokowski featured the Tallis Fantasia in his final
public concert of 14 May 1974 at the Royal Albert Hall; he conducted
the work for the last time when he made the present recording with
the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on 16, 18, 19 August 1975.
Of its initial LP release, Edward Greenfield wrote in the
"Stokowski's concern for tonal balance brings some radiantly
beautiful antiphonal effects... the RPO strings play most
beautifully with rich, ripe tone... As to the sound, this
is one of the most resplendent Stokowski records we have
had from his last Indian summer in the studio."
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August 1975: Henry Purcell and Antonin Dvořák
In April 1949, Stokowski conducted a New York Philharmonic
programme which commenced with Sir Henry Wood's Purcell Suite,
a set of five numbers arranged from various works
by Henry Purcell.
The work presumably prompted thoughts of devising a similar suite
in Stokowski, who had by then transcribed for symphony orchestra
many compositions by a later Baroque master, J. S. Bach.
Stokowski's own suite was first heard in New York the following
December: among the music included is Dido's Lament from
Dido and Aeneas, that great outpouring of grief to the
words 'When I am laid in earth'. This movement came to
acquire a life of its own, and when conducted by Andrew Davis
at the Last Night of the Proms in 1995 (the Purcell tercentenary)
it was listened to by the vast audience in a silence every bit
as eloquent as the arrangement itself.
Although in his early years Stokowski occasionally conducted
several of Antonin Dvořák's works, for the most part the
one composition he featured regularly in his repertoire was
the New World Symphony, which he recorded no fewer
than six times over a span of nearly 50 years. The
Serenade for strings, however, he conducted only once,
at the age of 93 for the present recording. The work dates
from 1875, when the composer was in his mid-30s
(roughly the same age as Vaughan Williams when he conceived his
similarly popular Tallis Fantasia). There are five short
movements. A nostalgic opening Moderato is followed
by a waltz with an ardent trio; the central Scherzo gives
way to a romantic suffusion of mood, while the Larghetto which
follows has the passionate, moonlit qualities of a nocturne;
it features a beautiful theme that is recalled in the
high-spirited Finale. Despite his unfamiliarity with
Dvořák's score, the nonagenarian Stokowski produced
a performance which had critics reaching for their
superlatives. In Records and Recording,
Geoffrey Crankshaw wrote:
"I have never heard finer string playing than this… Dvořák's
Serenade is interpreted with a freedom of phrase which never
trespasses into licence. How subtle is Stokowski's beat in
that superb first movement, how delicate his rubato in the Valse,
how tender his expression in the Larghetto. Here is humanity
indeed, large-hearted and devoid of sentimentality... All in all,
this is a record of startling beauty."
This record titled The Stokowski String Sound, one of the finest
in sound and performance of Stokowski's long recording career, comprising
the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, the Purcell transcription,
and the Dvorak Serenade for strings with the
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded 16, 18, 19 August 1975
was issued in 1975 by Desmar Records on DSM 1011 LP.
Desmar DSM-1011 LP
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March, 1976: Stokowski Conducts Great Overtures
recorded 15 March 1976 by the National Philharmonic Orchestra in the
West Ham Central Mission, London.
Beethoven: Leonora no 3, op. 72a
Schubert: Rosamunde Incidental Music D797 - Overture,
Berlioz: Le carnaval romain opus 9 - Overture,
Mozart: Don Giovanni K 527 - Overture
Rossini: William Tell (1829) - Overture (Michael Winfield English horn, William Bennett flute,
Francisco Gabarro cello),
First issued in 1977 on Pye LP PCNHX 6 notes by Edward Johnson and issued
by dell'Arte on LP DA 9003 in 1981, and CD by PRT on disc PCN6 in 1985.
Pye LP PCNHX 6
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November 1976: "Stokowski Spectacular"
In November, 1976, Leopold Stokowski recorded for Pye Records a number of
short works in Quadraphonic Stereo. These were a selection of popular
classical favourites which were all previously recorded by him about fifty
years previously on 78 rpm records. In some cases this Pye album contains
his only subsequently recorded performances of these works. It was in 1917
that Stokowski began to make records which by modern standards were extremely
primitive. In 1925 electrical recording was introduced and
Stokowski became the first conductor to make electrical recordings with a
symphony orchestra, in Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre. In those
days the format of the three or four minute record helped to decide the
repertoire, with short orchestral pieces clearly the most suited to
the medium. So here, in newly recorded quadraphonic sound, are some
of the pieces which formed such a basic part of Stokowski's early recorded
In his book Music for All of Us, published in 1943, Stokowski wrote:
"The recording of music has done wonders in the past. It will
do even greater miracles in the future. The first step is to make
the recorded music exactly like the original. The next is to
surpass the original and to achieve the dream of musicians - of
making music still more beautiful and eloquent. In the future
there will be no limits - and music will reach new heights of
tonal quality, power, delicacy and beauty."
Pye Records expressed the believe that the present quadraphonic
"Stokowski Spectacular" would be a step in the direction
which Stokowski foresaw so many years ago.
John Philip Sousa (18541932): "The Stars and Stripes
What better way to commence a programme of exciting and varied
music than with a rousing Sousa march! He was popularly
known as the "March King" and his greatest marches seem
to embody the very essence of 'Americana'. "The Stars and
Stripes Forever" has had such tremendous popularity that
some enthusiasts started a movement to have it officially
declared the American national anthem! This music becomes
even more exhilarating when performed as here, in Stokowski’s
own dazzling orchestration.
Modeste Moussorgsky (1839-1881): Entr'acte from
Moussorgsky died in 1881 leaving his five-act opera "Khovanchina"
unfinished and it was later performed in editions prepared by both
Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich. The opera is concerned with
an intense power struggle in Russia when Peter the Great was a
child. Stokowski has published a 'symphonic transcription'
of the Entr'acte in Act IV and he writes:
"Of all the inspired music of Moussorgsky, this is one of the
most eloquent in its intensity of expression. A man is going
to his execution. He has fought for freedom - but failed.
We hear the harsh tolling of bells, the gradual unfolding of a
dark and tragic melody, with undercurrents of deep agitated tones,
all painted with sombre timbres and poignant harmonies."
Stokowski conducting the "Stokowski Spectacular"
Johann Strauss Jr. (1825- 1899) "Tales from the
Vienna Woods" - Waltz, Op. 325
Known as the 'King of the Waltz', Johann Strauss Jr. published
no fewer than 479 compositions waltzes, polkas, marches,
operettas and other works. He had the gift of an
inexhaustible wealth of melody and was capable of writing
his music down at an astonishing speed. In its way,
the Waltz "Tales from the Vienna Woods" is a wonderful
symphonic tone-poem, complete with introduction and
postlude, both of which feature a solo zither. In
between comes an irresistible flood of melody which evokes
the very heart of Imperial Vienna. It is of interest
that Leopold Stokowski performs this music in its most
complete form, the first time he has done so on record.
Michael Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859- 1935): "Procession of the Sardar"
(from Caucasian Sketches)
This colourful Russian march is the most popular number in
a Suite of four pieces which the composer wrote in 1895 as
a souvenir of the time he had spent in Georgia. It is
based on a Zeytun marching theme and is constructed in the
spirit of Zeytun war songs. The first time the
Caucasian Sketches were conducted by Leopold Stokowski
was when he made his London debut with the New Symphony Orchestra
at the Queen's Hall on 18 May 1909. The the Musical Times wrote:
"In this pleasant piece of light music based upon themes of
an Eastern character the efforts of the conductor were met with
Emanuel Chabrier (1841 -1894): España Rapsodie
Chabrier visited Spain in 1882 and was totally captivated by the
Spanish folk music he heard there. His enthusiasm for the
'malaguena' and the ‘Jota Aragonesa’ were transmuted into
his España Rapsodie of which Falla wrote: "I venture
to say that no Spaniard has succeeded better than Chabrier
in giving us such authenticity and genius." This brilliant
display-piece, with its exotic and fiery orchestration, has been
recorded only once before by Stokowski, on a 78 rpm record
made in 1919 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In this
vivid new recording, an old particular favourite comes up
as fresh as new paint.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Andante Cantabile
(from the String Quartet in F, Op, 3 no, 5)
This delightful music has previously been performed by Stokowski
under the title '18th Century Dance'. It comes from one of
over eighty string quartets which the Austrian composer wrote
and has also been known as Haydn's ‘Serenade'. Although
there has in fact been some dispute over the authorship of this
music, it still remains an exquisite 'miniature' and is
especially charming in the orchestration made by
Leopold Stokowski for strings and woodwinds.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Danse macabre
(solo violin Sidney Sax)
This is the most popular of Saint-Saëns’s short orchestral
works and closely follows the poem of the same title by
Henri Cazalis, which may be paraphrased thus:
"Zig, zig, zigl Death, with grim rhythm, beats upon the
graves with his bony heels. At the hour of midnight he
summons the dead from their graves with a waltz which he plays,
zig, zig, zig, on his weirdly tuned fiddle, The night is dark
and the wintry winds are Sighing; moans are heard through the
linden trees as the white skeletons dart through the darkness,
leaping and dancing in their spectral shrouds.  Zig, zig, zig,
the ghosts are gaily dancing, their bones rattling on the
tombstones, Then suddenly the early-morning cock crows.
The waltz is at an end as the skeletons hurry back to their
graves. Dawn has interrupted the Dance of Death!"
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Hungarian Dance no 1 in
Brahms wrote four sets of Hungarian Dances for piano duo
and utilized existing gypsy tunes as well as providing
original melodies of his own. So successful were
these piano duets that Brahms orchestrated several of
the dances as did his fellow composer Antonin Dvorak.
The first Hungarian Dance is also one of the most popular
and is heard here in an orchestral transcription by Stokowski
which fully conjures up the passionate abandon of the Magyar
Peter llyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893): "Solitude"
opus 73 no 6
Tchaikovsky's fame largely rests on his orchestral output - several
symphonies, concertos, ballet scores, tone poems and overtures.
But he was also a master of the smaller forms and wrote a great
deal of solo piano music and songs. The song "Again, as before,
Alone" dates from the end of Tchaikovsky's tragic life and
under the title "Solitude" has been transcribed for
orchestra by Leopold Stokowski with poignantly effective
colouring. This is a good example of an orchestral
transcription bringing to a much wider audience beautiful
music which might otherwise be neglected or forgotten.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869): "Hungarian March"
(from The Damnation of Faust)
In 1848, Berlioz began composing The Damnation of Faust,
basing it on a French translation of Goethe's book which had
so excited him when he first read it many years earlier.
Initially called an "Opera de Concert" and later a
"Legende Dramatique", the work contains this brilliant
march which was originally written by a court musician at the
time of Prince Rakoczy. Berlioz transcribed and
orchestrated it for inclusion in The Damnation of Faust
wherein Faust watches the Hungarian army departing for the
battlefield. It is easily one of the highspots of a
remarkable score and makes an effective and rousing
conclusion to this album of short orchestral masterworks.
These recordings with the National Philharmonic Orchestra were made in
the West Ham Central Mission, London on 17 November 1976 and issued on
a Pye Records QS quadraphonic disc 12132 in 1977.
Pye 12132 QS quadraphonic Stereo LP disc
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July 1976: Stokowski Encores
Encores transcribed by Stokowski:
Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee
Debussy: Claire de lune from Suite bergamasque
Chopin: Mazurka in B minor, opus 24-4 No. 17
Debussy: Evening in Granada
Ottocar Novacek: Perpetuum mobile opus 5 no 4
Tchaikovsky: Humoresque opus 10 no 2
Albéniz: Fête Dieu à Seville from Ibéria
Shostakovich: Prelude in E minor. opus 34 no 14
Rimsky-Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible: Prelude Act III
Chopin: Prélude no 24 in D minor opus 28 no 24
Like Sir Thomas Beecham with his "lollipops", Leopold Stokowski
was an inveterate "encore-giver". He would often turn
to his audiences at the end of an exciting concert and ask
"Would you like to go home now?" With the resounding
"No!" that followed, he would introduce an encore or two,
these frequently being his own transcriptions of short
You can hear an example of this from the "Proms" concert given in the
Royal Albert Hall, London on 17 September 1964, when Stokowski speaks to
the traditionally vocal Proms audience. His encore was the
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on "Greensleeves"
Click here to listen to (download) the 1964 Stokowski Proms Encore
In today's climate of musical opinion, transcriptions and arrangements
often tend to be looked down upon by the more intellectual arbiters of
musical taste, and the concert-going public may well be deprived by
this attitude of hearing some superb essays in the orchestral
transcription form. Notable among neglected large-scale
realizations are the magnificent Schoenberg arrangement of
Brahms's G Minor Quartet and Felix Weingartner’s quixotic
orchestration of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata. Deservedly,
Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition
maintains its position in the concert hall and on record, but there
are many lesser-known smaller pieces that have usually begun life
in two-stave keyboard form and that have gained an added dimension
when their creators, or other equally adept musicians, have clothed
their skeletal forms in orchestral fabrics.
Transcriptions, in whatever medium, have much that is interesting
to offer in revealing new aspects of the music, and in sounding as
effective, or more so, in their new forms than in the originals.
In addition, the great transcriber will display his musical skill
and ingenuity in transplanting the technicalities of the
instrumental writing of the original into that of the new medium
and effectively substituting for any of its deficiencies.
Foremost among noteworthy transcribers was Leopold Stokowski,
and most of the transcriptions he conducts in this album derive
from piano literature. The originals are, of course,
still available to those of a purist inclination who wish
to hear them, but it is equally true that many keyboard pieces,
particularly those of a descriptive nature, cry out to be realized
in a range of tone-colors not to be found on the piano, and those
who respond to the excitement of orchestral sonorities will
undoubtedly find much to enjoy in this selection.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan
is set in legendary times and concerns a prince searching for
his father, the Tsar Saltan, from whom he was estranged as
a child. In order to avoid the Tsar's enemies, the
prince is turned into a bumblebee by the Swan Princess,
whom he had earlier saved from a nasty death. The
brief interlude depicting the flight of the Bumblebee has
appeared in many arrangements but is here played largely
as the composer wrote it, except for the instrumental
substitution of some vocal lines and a strengthening
of the percussive element.
Frederic Chopin's piano pieces, in their orchestral form,
are usually heard in arrangements made by various musicians
for the ballet Les Sylphides. Leopold Stokowski's
transcriptions of several of Chopin's piano compositions
present the composer not so much as the rather fey character
of legend but as someone with rich Polish blood coursing
through his veins. A mazurka is a national Polish
dance in triple time, and many of Chopin's mazurkas
elaborate the simple dance form with Polish folk tunes
and peasant rhythms.
Claude Debussy was first and foremost a composer for the
piano, and he was able to evoke from the instrument highly
personal sonorities and harmonic patters of a musically
impressionistic nature. He aimed a achieving specifically
"French" music, exquisite in detail and concerned
primarily with atmosphere, nuance and mood. Stokowski
has transcribed the famous Clair de Lune from the
Suite Bergamasque which Debussy completed in 1905.
This sensuous picture of a moonlit night here finds its realisation
in particularly effective instrumentation, notably in the delicate
woodwind solos and the lingering arpeggios of the vibraphone.
And the version here of Debussy's Night in Granada (La soirée
dans Grenade) comes from a set of three piano pieces entitled
Estampes (1903). This languid and exotic music
depicts the Spanish city at twilight. In the distance can
be heard a serenade to the rhythm of a habanera, bringing
to mind the habanera movement in Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole.
Stokowski's transcription here receives its first commercially
Ottokar Nováček was a violinist and composer who was born in Hungary
in 1866. His Perpetuum mobile for violin and piano is in
Stokowski's own words, "a kind of 'etude' for the spiccato of
violins or violas, which has a kind of dark. sometimes sinister,
but always very imaginative quality." Originally scored by
Stokowski in 1940 for violas and percussion only, it has now been
revised so that the violins have the former viola part, accompanied
by a drone bass and some rather frightening interjections from the
winds, brass, percussion, and harp. This new version has been
recorded here for the first time and, as a study in virtuosity,
makes considerable demands on the string players' bowing and fingering
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky wrote over 100 pieces for piano, many
of which, despite being dismissed as salon music, show the composer
to be a delightful miniaturist. Stokowski has orchestrated several
of these compositions. The Humoresque is jaunty and rustic, and
features a popular tune that the composer first heard when on
holiday in Nice. This music will be recognized by those familiar
with the ballet The Fairy Kiss as one of the Tchaikovsky
pieces used by Stravinsky.
Isaac Albéniz was a prolific composer of piano music and his suite
Iberia is considered to be his rnasterpiece. This
collection of exotic piano pieces, with its exciting rhythms
and scintillating melodies, seems to need the modern symphony
orchestra to realize to the full its sweeping grandeur and
colourful gaiety. Festival in Seville (Fête-dieu à Seville)
(1905) depicts an ecclesiastical procession through the
flower-strewn streets of Seville. In Stokowski's orchestration
there is a beautiful passage where the trumpet, oboe, and
cor anglais each have a solo over a guitarlike accompaniment
of pizzicato cellos and harps. The procession resumes and
passes by, fading away into a rapt nocturnal epilogue.
Dmitri Shostakovich gave his Twenty-Four Preludes, Op. 34, their
first performance in Moscow in 1933, and two years later
Stokowski orchestrated the sombre E-flat Minor Prelude,
thus bringing this little-known music to a wide public. In
the foreword to his published transcription, Stokowski writes:
"At the beginning, the melodic line lies below the harmonic masses
that accompany it in the background. A powerful theme mounts intensely
to the highest sounds in the orchestra, as if to the point of an arch,
and then gradually flows down the other side... All through this music
is the fatalistic, heavy rhythm of three irregular accents which
persistently sounds between the melodic phrases. So much is expressed
with so few tones in this Prelude. Only genius can be so eloquent
First performed in St. Petersburg in 1873, Rimsky-Korsakov's opera
Ivan the Terrible is set in sixteenth-century Russia and
concerns the efforts of the tyrannical Tsar Ivan to subdue the
City of Pskov. Stokowski's own score of the Prelude to Act III
is subtitled "Symphonic Intermezzo" and bears the words:
"A dense forest near the Pechersky Mountains - Horns of
huntsmen heard in the distance - Storm - Blood-red Sunset."
Stokowski orchestrates the brief vocal moments and supplies a
concert ending utilizing thematic material already suggested
by the composer.
The National Philharmonic Orchestra was recorded performing this
music in the West Ham Central Mission, London on 12 July 1976.
The recording was released on CBS/Columbia Masterworks LP
M34543, and also later released on on Cala CACD 0529.
CBS/Columbia LP M 34543
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August 1976: Bizet: Carmen Suite and L'Arlésienne
Bizet: Carmen Suites 1 and 2 arranged by Stokowski:
Les Toréadors, Prélude, aragonaise, Intermezzo, Seguidille, Dragons D'Alcala,
Marche Des Contrebandiers, Habanera, La Garde Montante, Danse Bohème
Despite the critical failure of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles
(1863) and La jolie fille de Perth (1867), Bizet was convinced
he was on the right musical path. The tragedy of his short life
lay within the contradictions of his own personality since he was
particularly lacking in self-confidence and needed more acclaim
than he actually received to sustain him in his musical convictions.
His generally poor health, coupled with constant anxiety over the
success of his music, led to his death at the age of 36.
Then Paris suddenly discovered that it had lost one of its finest
composers. Carmen dates from the last year of Bizet's
life and received its first performance at the Opéra-Comique on
3 March 1875. This opera resulted from a commission to
write a three-act work, and Bizet chose to adapt the Prosper Mérimée
story that had appeared in 1845 and had absorbed his interest
for some time. Although the scene is set in Seville, Bizet
did not feel obliged to travel to Spain to derive his inspiration
but drew instead on authentic Spanish tunes and the "feel"
of flamenco rhythms and harmonies in order to produce a masterpiece
of color, drama and supreme musical invention.
Two orchestral concert suites have been made from the music in
Bizet's opera, and in this recording Leopold Stokowski presents
the most popular selections in contrasting sequence that begins
with the famous "Toreador" Prelude to Act I and concludes
with the dazzling Danse Bohème - music that epitomizes
Bizet: L'Arlésienne Suites 1 and 2 arranged by
Ouverture, Menuetto, Adagietto; Carillon, Pastorale, Menuetto; Farandole
L'Arlésienne was first performed at the Paris Vaudeville
on 1 October 1872 and is a melodrama in three acts adapted
by Alphonse Daudet from one of his own short stories.
The plot resembles Carmen in certain respects.
It deal with the violent passion formed by a young farmer for
a sensual girl from Arles (who never, however, appears on stage),
and the "eternal triangle" is completed by a young
peasant girl whose love for the farmer is unrequited.
Nevertheless, he becomes engaged to her in order to forget
his fickle former lover, only to commit suicide by throwing
himself out of the window on the eve of the wedding.
The 33-year-old Bizet was commissioned to write the incidental
music for the play and, in all, he composed 27 numbers.
The music passed unnoticed during the first production,
and the play ran for only 15 performances. However,
Bizet enlarged and adapted some of the numbers into an
orchestral suite of four movements, and it became one
of the few works he wrote that achieved immediate popularity
during his own lifetime. After his death, his friend
Ernest Guiraud adapted more music into a second concert
suite that went on to rival the first in popularity.
The opening "Ouverture" of the First Suite falls
into three sections and begins with a march tune based
on an old French carol which is subjected to four
variations; the succeeding Andante features the solo
saxophone in one of its earliest appearances in serious
classical music, and the "Ouverture" concludes
with a passionate theme representing the farmer's love
The first "Menuetto" was played as an intermezzo
between the second and third acts of the play, and the
"Adagietto" accompanied a touching scene where
two old people, formerly lovers, met again after a
separation of fifty years. The "CarilIon"
features the French horns in imitation of bell chimes
and has a tender middle section that seems to comment
on the sadness o unrequited love.
The Second Suite opens with a "Pastorale" that has
as its middle section a delightful Andantino interlude.
The second "Menuetto" was taken by Guiraud from
La jolie fille de Perth, and the
"Farandole" brings the entire selection to a
lively conclusion with a dazzling re-statement
of the old French carol with which the First Suite opened.
Bizet's Carmen Suites 1 and 2 and L'Arlésienne Suites 1 and 2,
without the Intermezzo in Suite 2 were recorded with the
National Philharmonic Orchestra in EMI Studio number 1, Abbey Road,
London on 23, 25, 27 August 1976, and issued on CBS/Columbia LP M 34503.
Columbia M 34503
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November 1976: Sibelius - Symphony no 1 and Swan of Tuonela
Stokowski - A Sibelius Champion
During his long career, Stokowski championed many living composers
both in the concert hall and on records. In particular, Sibelius
was foremost among those whose music he helped popularise.
In 1910, during his debut American concert season, Stokowski introduced
the Finnish composer's First Symphony to his Cincinnati audiences.
Two years later, now with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he gave the city
its first hearing of the Second Symphony. Most notably, Sibelius's
last three symphonies received their American premieres in Philadelphia
under Stokowski's direction, no 5 in 1921, and nos 6 and 7 both in 1926.
Stokowski and his Philadelphians made the first recordings of Finlandia
(in 1921) and The Swan of TuoneIa (1929). This and a 1930 remake
of Finlandia were best-selling 78s that helped to bring Sibelius's
name to music lovers worldwide. Stokowski also made the premiere
recordings of the Fourth Symphony (1932) and Violin Concerto with
Jascha Heifetz (1934). However, the latter remained unissued
until the advent of CD, as did the first US recording of the
Seventh Symphony, made in 1940 by Stokowski and his
All-American Youth Orchestra.
Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela was something of a Stokowski
'speciality': he made four recordings of the piece between 1929 and 1976.
The Maestro's depiction of the noble swan, floating majestically on
the black fathomless river in the mythical Finnish land of death, is
here superbly realised by the National Philharmonic Orchestra,
a specially constituted ensemble of top British musicians engaged
for recording sessions.
This recording of the Sibelius Symphony no 1 in E minor opus 39, and the
Swan of Tuonela (1895) was perfored by the National Philharmonic
Orchestra on 2, 4, 5 November 1976 in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London
and issued on CBS/Columbia LP M 34548.
Columbia M 34548
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April 1977: Brahms - Symphony no 2 and "Tragic Overture"
In 1976 and 1977, Stokowski made several recordings with the
"National Philharmonic Orchestra". The National Philharmonic Orchestra
was a specially constituted ensemble of top British musicians engaged for
recording sessions under some of the world's finest conductors.
Formed and led by violin virtuoso Sidney Sax, it frequently had in its
ranks notable principals from the major London orchestras and members
of renowned chamber ensembles. The violin section would often
contain such well-known players as Hugh Bean, Desmond Bradley,
Bela Dekaney, John Georgiadis and Kenneth Sillito. The woodwinds
would include William Bennett, David Theodore and Michael Winfield,
whilst the horns and brass featured players of the calibre of Alan Civil
and John Wilbraham. Famous cellists such as Reginald Kilby, and
well-known percussion and timpani players like Tristan Fry, helped
to complete a marvelous orchestra. It was Hugh Bean who remarked
after making a National Philharmonic recording with Stokowski that
"these have been among the most exhilarating sessions" in which
he had ever played.
These works, the Brahms Symphony no 2 and "Tragic Overture" were
recorded with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in EMI Studio number 1,
Abbey Road, London on 4, 5, 9 April 1977. They were issued on a
CBS/Columbia Masterworks LP M 35129 in 1977 and later on CD by
Cala Recordings CACD-0531.
Columbia M 34129
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June 1977: Bizet - Symphony in C and Mendelssohn Symphony no 4
"Italian" - Stokowski's Final Recordings
In these, his very last recordings made only a few weeks before his
death at the age of 95, Leopold Stokowski conducts two sparkling
symphonies of the nineteenth century in a coupling which brings
together the most vivacious orchestral works of two young composers
who had a great deal in common. Both musicians produced
their earliest masterpieces at the age of seventeen -
Mendelssohn his Midsummer Night's Dream Overture in 1826,
Bizet his Symphony in C in 1855; both composers spent happy days
under Italian skies and were inspired thereby to write delightful
music - in Mendelssohn's case the Italian Symphony, in Bizet's the
Suite Roma; and both composers suffered from poor
health resulting in premature deaths for each of them in their
Mendelssohn's visit to Italy came about as part of a tour which
the young man undertook to further his musical education.
He had been a child prodigy who had made his first public
appearance at the age of nine and had begun to compose
prolifically immediately thereafter. His musical apprenticeship,
so to speak, culminated in the concert tour which began in
April 1829, with visits to England, Scotland and Wales.
In the following year the young Felix was off again,
arriving in Italy in the autumn of 1830 and reaching
Rome in November. "The air is warm and the
sky cloudless", he wrote, "everything is lovely and
glorious." The young musician immersed himself
at once in a whirlpool of socialising, studying, sightseeing
and attending all the musical performances which the
Eternal City had to offer.
His Italian Symphony began to occupy his thoughts almost
immediately on his arrival in Italy and in the space of
two or three months he had made rapid progress on the work,
completing the sketches in Naples in April 1831. The
symphony had its premiere under Mendelssohn's baton in
London on 13 May 1833 but despite its success, the composer
was never really satisfied with the work and although he made
many revisions to the music it still remained unpublished at
the time of his death.
Stokowski with Roy Emerson, producer of Stokowski's last recordings
In a curious way, Mendelssohn captures the feel of the hot
Italian atmosphere simply by scoring much of the music in
the upper registers of the orchestral instruments.
Thus the opening pages of the first movement find the
violins playing the principal theme predominantly on their
topmost E string. This, together with the woodwinds
being featured in their highest registers, produces an
effect of extreme, almost harsh, brilliance. The
second movement, with its measured tread in the cellos
and basses, has been described as an 'elegaic processional',
whilst the third is a traditional Minuet and Trio.
The finale is a Neapolitan Saltarello (a kind of fast
jumping-dance popular in sixteenth century Italy) which
brings back the headlong forcefulness of the first movement,
but whereas that was in the key of A major, this is in
A minor. It was most unusual for an early nineteenth
century symphony to end in a minor key and, as one
commentator has noted, its frenzy is 'almost macabre'.
Can there have been a strange and foreboding cloud on
that bright Italian horizon?
Like Mendelssohn, Bizet had shown prodigious gifts at an
early age, studying music with his parents before going
to the Conservatoire at the age of nine in 1848.
During his student years he came strongly under the
influence of the great French composer Charles Gounod
who commissioned the young man to make a piano reduction
of his own First Symphony in D. It appears that
Bizet's Symphony, which was written not long afterwards,
was closely modelled on Gounod's. By a curious
quirk of fate, the Gounod work has not survived into
modern concert life, whereas Bizet's 'model' has
achieved and maintained a wholly deserved popularity!
Even so, the Bizet Symphony received no performances during
the composer's own lifetime and only came to light as
recently as 1933, being given its premiere under
Weingartner's direction two years later. There are
throughout Bizet's Symphony such innumerable flowing
melodies, vigorous rhythms and entrancing harmonies
that the resulting sophistication quite belies the
student's tender years. There is in this work
as much, if not more, musical character as can be
found in any of the works of the seventeen-year-old
Mozart. Particularly felicitous is the beautiful,
almost 'oriental' melody for the oboe in the second
movement, whilst the 'moto perpetuo' theme on the
string in finale looks forward prophetically to the
bull-fight music in Carmen.
Although Leopold Stokowski had recorded the Bizet Symphony
once before in early mono LP days, it was a work he rarely
(if ever) conducted in concert. Similarly, this disc
contains his only recording of a Mendelssohn symphony and
it is believed that prior to the recording sessions he had
not previously conducted the Italian Symphony since 1917
in Philadelphia, some sixty years before. For a conductor
in his mid-nineties, the fiery energy generated in these
performances - not least in the Bizet Symphony finale - is
little short of astonishing.
Columbia Masterworks LP M 34567
Bizet's Symphony in C major (1855) and the Mendelssohn Symphony no 4
"Italian" (1833) were recorded with the
National Philharmonic Orchestra in EMI Studio number 1, Abbey Road,
London on 31 May 1977 and 2, 4 June 1977 and issued on CBS/Columbia
LP M 34567.
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Click here to read the
Edward Johnson article on
Leopold Stokowski and British Music.
Click here to read the
Edward Johnson article on
Leopold Stokowski and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
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 - visit
Edward Johnson has also worked closely with Guild Music
on the Guild Historical series:
Edward Johnson has collaborated with Andrew Rose of
Pristine Classical in Rose's restorations of legendary recordings,
including a number of excellent and rare Stokowski. Visit
1 page 885. Daniel, Oliver. Stokowski A Counterpoint of
View. Dodd, Mead & Company. New York, New York.
1982. ISBN 0-396-07936-9
2 page 27. Wilkinson, Charles W.
How to Play Bach's 48 preludes and fugues.
William Reeves Press, Fleet Street. London. 1939.
3 Fuller-Maitland, John Alexander. The 48:
The Well-Tempered Clavier. Oxford University Press. London. 1925.
4 page 209. Mueller, John Henry. The American Symphony
Orchestra: A Social History of Musical Taste. Indiana University Press.
Bloomington, Indiana. 1951.
5 Stokowski, Leopold.
Music For All Of Us. Simon and Schuster.
New York, New York. 1943.
If you have any comments or questions about this Leopold Stokowski site,
please e-mail me (Larry Huffman) at e-mail address:
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1 United States Census 1930.
2 need Greenfield citation. Gramophone Magazine.