Leopold Stokowski Returns To Britain 1972 - His Creative Final Years
Stokowski Returns to Britain
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.
Stokowski in 1910
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 existence."
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.
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 Haydn Variations.
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 symphonic literature.
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 Leopold Stokowski.
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
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, Stokowski writes:
"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 Well-Tempered Clavier
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 place." 3
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'."
Stokowski's score for "Christ Lag in Todes Banden"
Bach: Chorale "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn" from "Christ Lag in Todes Banden" Easter cantata BWV 4
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 else."
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 included Stokowski's 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 cease."
These Stokowski/Czech Philharmonic recordings were issued on a London Phase 4 Stereo LP SPC 21136 in 1975.
London SPC 21136 issued 1975
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 wrote:
"...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 Decca..." 1.
So, the January 1973 Beethoven recording sessions were Stokowski's final Phase 4 Stereo recordings.
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.
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 shellacs.
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 number 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 the Gramophone:
"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." 2
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.
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 doubt."
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 wrote:
"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 "Pathetique" Symphony
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 First Symphony.
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 and remade it electrically in 1927, both with the Philadelphia Orchestra (and both fine recordings).
Rienzi Overture, 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
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, results. His 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 unsuccessful) 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 collector's item.
The only other Beethoven recording from his Philadelphia period was made in 1934 - a performance of the Ninth Symphony that, like 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 this was:
"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.
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 (1910)
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
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 Breslau.
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.
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 front-page news.
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. Mahler wrote:
"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.
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
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 systems.
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 wrote:
"... 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, inspiring melody.
"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 Baroque master.
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 finished recording.
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
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
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.
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 Flying Dutchman).
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 classic.
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
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 greatest conductors.
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 Ninth Symphony.
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 Gramophone:
"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."
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
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
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 repertoire.
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 Forever"
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 "Khovanchina"
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" quadraphonic recoding;
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 hearty approval."
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 G minor
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 mood.
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
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 instrumental pieces.
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"
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 issued recording.
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 techniques.
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 and concentrated."
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
August 1976: Bizet: Carmen Suite and L'Arlésienne Suite
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's genius.
Bizet: L'Arlésienne Suites 1 and 2 arranged by Stokowski:
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 for L'Arlésienne.
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
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
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
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 late thirties.
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.
Other Articles by Edward Johnson about Leoopold Stokowski
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. calarecords.com
Edward Johnson has also worked closely with Guild Music on the Guild Historical series: guildmusic.com
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 pristineclassical.com
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.
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