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Leopold Anthony Stokowski was born 18 April 1882 at 13 Upper Marylebone Street, Middlesex County, London. Stokowski was the oldest of three children born to Kopernik Joseph Boleslaw Stokowski, a cabinet maker, and Annie Marion Moore Stokowski. His background on his father's side was Scots and Polish, on his mother's Irish and English. He was raised in the Church of England, and with his younger brother Percy, sang in the choir of St. Marylebone Church. Leopold was named after his grandfather Leopold Stokowski who had emigrated to England from Poland in the 1840s or early 1850s.
Little is known about Stokowski's earliest musical training. In addition to learning choral music, he played the organ and violin. He was admitted to the Royal College of Music in January 1896 at the age of 13. His skill as an organist developed rapidly and on 25 June 1898 at the age of 16 he was elected to membership in the Royal College of Organists. Stokowski was engaged to be organist and choir director at St. James's Church Piccadilly in 1902. The same year he also entered Queen's College, Oxford. His part-time study was arranged by Sir Hubert Parry, the director of the Royal College of Music and a full professor of music at Oxford. Stokowski received his Bachelor of Music degree on 19 November 1903.
In 1905 he was offered the job of organist and choir master at St. Bartholomew's Church, 44th and Madison Avenue in New York City. The church's rector, the Reverend Leighton Parks, had traveled to England in search of an organist for his church. At this church, whose members included J.P. Morgan, Stokowski transcribed a number of orchestral works to be played on the organ. Through Maria Dehon, one of the sopranos in the church choir who often held musical parties in her home, Stokowski was introduced to the pianist Olga Samaroff, who was already making a name for herself in New York's musical world. Samaroff had debuted with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony in Carnegie Hall in January 1905 and later that year she performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Fritz Sheel. Stokowski, still young and unknown, inaugurated a series of organ recitals at St. Bartholomew's and was popular with the choir and congregation, but sometimes found himself in conflict with the rector. Stokowski was ambitious to conduct and resigned his position at St. Bartholomew's as of 30 August 1908.
Stokowski spent his summers in Europe and made his debut as an orchestra conductor in Paris on 12 May 1909. He had spent the previous fall and spring writing to Mrs. Christian Holmes (née Bettie Fleischmann), director of the board of the Cincinnati Orchestra Association, who was looking to hire a new conductor. Some of the groundwork for Stokowski's search for this position may have been laid by Olga Samaroff, who had family connections in Cincinnati and knew Mr. and Mrs. Charles Taft as well as Bettie Holmes. Stokowski arrived in Cincinnati on 29 May 1909. On May 17 his selection as conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra was announced in the press.
His first season with the Cincinnati Orchestra was a great success with audiences and critics. In 1910 Stokowski met Rachmaninoff who was on his first visit to the United States. Rachmaninoff played his Second Piano Concerto with Stokowski and the Cincinnati Orchestra on January 21 and began an association that would continue to develop in Philadelphia. After announcing their engagement on 8 April 1911, Stokowski and Olga Samaroff were married quietly on 24 April. They continued to pursue their individual careers and spent time in Europe in the summers, particularly in Munich. Stokowski resigned his position with the Cincinnati Orchestra in 1912, citing differences with the board of Directors. When conductor Carl Pohlig left the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1912, Stokowski was free to accept an offer to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra beginning in the fall of 1912.
Stokowski's years as conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1936 transformed this ensemble into one of the greatest in the world, noted for its precision, sonority, brilliance, and a particularly distinctive string tone. He achieved international recognition in 1916 with the first American performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony no. 8, performed with nearly a thousand singers and an orchestra of 110 players on the stage of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The nine performances in Philadelphia and one in New York at the Metropolitan Opera were sold out to wildly enthusiastic crowds.
The first acoustical recording made by the Philadelphia Orchestra was made under Stokowski's direction on 22 October 1917 at the Camden, New Jersey studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company, later the Radio Corporation of American. Stokowski studied acoustics and sound recording technology. With Dr. Harvey Fletcher of Bell Laboratories, he helped develop a binaural recording scheme. He was interested in the architectural design and acoustics of orchestra halls and was eager to contribute to plans to build a new hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1920s to be called the "Temple of Music." Stokowski experimented with the seating of members of the orchestra, encouraged free breathing for his brasses and winds and free bowing for the strings to achieve new effects and balance in orchestral sound and to accommodate acoustical differences in the halls where the Philadelphia Orchestra played.
In March of 1922 Leopold Stokowski was the first recipient of the $10,000 "Philadelphia Award" created by Edward W. Bok and awarded to the individual who rendered the most valuable service to the city of Philadelphia in the preceding year. Stokowski formed a close friendship with Edward Bok, managing editor at the Curtis Publishing Company, publishers of the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal. Edward Bok's wife Mary Louise Curtis Bok founded the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1924 as a school for especially talented music students who had developed beyond the training that was given them at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Leopold Stokowski served as an advisor to the Board of Directors and conductor of the Curtis Student Orchestra.
In May of 1923 papers spread the news that Stokowski and Olga Samaroff were separating and had signed an agreement to share equal custody of their daughter Sonya born the previous year. Their divorce was granted in June of 1923. On 18 May 1924 the first concert by The Philadelphia Band was held at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. This group of 120 men was organized and trained by Stokowski for Philadelphia's Music Week 1924. Known popularly as Stokowski's "Band of Gold" it was conceived of as the largest and most highly trained military band in the United States. At about the same time Stokowski inaugurated children's concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, starting a tradition which has continued to the present.
On 11 January 1926 Stokowski married Evangeline Brewster Johnson, daughter of the late Robert Wood Johnson, founder of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company. They were married at the bride's home on Park Avenue in New York City after a courtship lasting only a few weeks. They had two children, daughters Luba, born 2 January 1927, and Sadja, born 26 October 1930.
In 1932 Stokowski inaugurated a series of Youth Concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia. Designed to attract young people from ages thirteen to twenty-five with low ticket prices, the concerts were enormously popular, and hundreds of people were regularly turned away at the doors. A Youth Concert Committee was formed to help run the concerts and publicize them, the young people chose the music on the program, and a representative of this committee attended meetings of the Orchestra Board of Directors. From this beginning a Youth Movement was started, including a Youth Orchestra conducted by Sylvan Levin, a Youth Chorus conducted by Harl Macdonald, and informal groups meeting to play or study music. A drama group was formed as well, and in 1935 a magazine titled Youth was published documenting the activities of these various groups, all of whom saw Leopold Stokowski as their inspiration and prime mover.
Some members of these early groups followed Stokowski throughout his career. Among them were Natalie Myra Bender, who worked as Stokowski's assistant and sometime copyist for many years, and Natalie's friend Faye Chabrow. Natalie and Faye both worked as his personal assistants on and off through the years, particularly after 1955. Natalie Bender accompanied Stokowski to England when he moved there in 1972. She and his assistant Jack Baumgarten took care of his household and assisted with his affairs until the time of his death.
One writer has estimated that Stokowski premiered some 2,000 new or unplayed works in his long career (Smith 1983, 29). Many were the first performance of works of European composers in the United States; many were world premiers. Stokowski premiered Stravinsky's ballet Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) with Martha Graham (1930); Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck (1931); and Schoenberg's Die Glückliche Hand (1930); Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex (1931); Prokofiev's Pas d'Acier (1931); Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (1932); and Carlos Chavez's ballet H.P. with costumes and set by Diego Rivera (1932). He premiered Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (1932); Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no. 4 with the composer at the piano (1934) as well as Rachmaninoff's Symphony no. 3 (1936); and Sibelius's Symphonies no. 5 (1921), no. 6 (1926), and no. 7 (1926). Stokowski championed the works of American composers, including compositions by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Gian Carlo Menotti, Alan Hovhaness, Wallingford Riegger, William Shuman, Jose Serebrier, Elie Siegmeister and many others.
In November 1934 Stokowski premiered William Levi Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music; it was the first performance by a major U. S. symphony orchestra of the work of an African-American composer. Stokowski's interest in African-American music predates this premier by many years. In 1928 he corresponded with Philadelphia contralto Marian Anderson and her manager Billy King about the possibility of a performance by Anderson with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He was also interested in seeing copies of the African-American music in her repertoire. (Marian Anderson Papers, Ms. Coll. 200, Folder 5462)
In 1936 Stokowski announced his resignation from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy signed a three-year contract as the orchestra's conductor in January 1936, and Stokowski signed a contract as co-conductor to perform approximately twenty concerts with the Orchestra. Stokowski retained the studio and apartment he had rented since 1932 from the Philadelphia Art Alliance at 1716 Rittenhouse Street, but moved to Hollywood. During the summer of 1937 filming began on the motion picture 100 Men and a Girl, in which Stokowski starred with Deanna Durbin. In December of 1937 Evangeline Johnson filed suit for divorce from Stokowski, desiring a more stable home life for their daughters. Stokowski's name was linked romantically to Greta Garbo and several cryptic telegrams in the Stokowski Papers allude to her career.
Meetings regarding plans for an animated feature with a classical music score took place in Walt Disney's studio in 1938. On 25 January 1939 Stokowski signed a contract with Walt Disney for Fantasia. Much of the music was recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in April 1939 and the film opened in 1940.
The Leopold Stokowski Papers at the University of Pennsylvania are particularly revealing of Stokowski's interest in electric instruments and his plans to start an electric orchestra in California in 1938 and 1939. Included in Stokowski's notes on this project are lists of instrumentation, programs, repertoire, and budgets for the orchestra, which he hoped would be able to rehearse and perform at the University of California, Berkeley. He was also intensely interested in the relationship between color and sound and his correspondence with his attorney in Philadelphia, Joseph Sharfsin, includes a drawing for a trademark "COLORHYTHM" with Stokowski's instructions to register the trademark.
In 1939 as the war approached, Stokowski organized a concert to benefit the Hollywood Committee for Polish Relief. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Committee for Polish Relief was chaired by Stokowski's friend, Mary Louise Curtis Bok (Evening Bulletin, 6 Dec. 1939). Throughout his career Stokowski showed a strong interest in young musicians, both women and men, auditioned thousands of them, and encouraged them in their careers. In 1940 he founded the All-American Youth Orchestra and toured Latin America with these young musicians during that summer. In 1941 the Youth Orchestra toured fifty-four U.S. cities, Canada, and Tijuana Mexico. The second World War meant the end of world touring and financial support for the All-American Youth Orchestra. Stokowski accepted an offer to co-conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra with Arturo Toscanini in 1942 and 1943. In the 1944-1945 season, with support from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Stokowski founded and conducted the New York City Symphony. In April of 1945 Stokowski married Gloria Vanderbilt in Mexacali, Mexico following Gloria's divorce from Pat di Cicco. They had two sons, Stanislaus, born 22 August 1950 and Christopher, born 31 January 1952. This marriage too ended in divorce after 10 years. People who knew Stokowski at this time, including his biographer Oliver Daniel and secretary Wendy Hanson, spoke of his strong attachment to his sons, his need to be involved in their lives, and his desire for their well being during a difficult divorce and custody suit.
In 1951, Stokowski took the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on a nationwide tour of Great Britain at the invitation of Sir Thomas Beecham, establishing a pattern of guest conducting there which would continue for more than twenty years.
The Contemporary Music Society was founded in 1952 by John Coburn Turner, Oliver Daniel, and Leopold Stokowski, among others. Stokowski conducted a concert under its auspices on 22 February 1953 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York performing Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, Halsey Stevens' Suite No. 1, Henry Brant's Signs and Alarms, Lou Harrison's Canticle No. 3, Peggy Glanville-Hicks' Letters from Morocco, and Jacob Avshalomov's Evocations.
At the urging of his manager, Andrew Schulhof, Stokowski accepted the position of conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1956 and continued in that position until 1960. The idea of building another orchestra appealed to Stokowski and he hoped to be able to raise his sons in Texas. As he had with earlier orchestras he refined the sound, premiered contemporary works and recorded extensively with EMI and Everest. Stokowski toured the Soviet Union in 1958 and played ten concerts with three Soviet Orchestras.
Eugene Ormandy invited Stokowski to return to Philadelphia in January 1959 to guest conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski performed Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro; Falla's El amor brujo, with Shirley Verrett as soloist; Respighi's The Pines of Rome; and Shostakovich's Symphony no. 5 to an enthusiastic standing ovation as Philadelphians welcomed him back after nearly twenty years absence.
Following the sudden death of Dimitri Mitropoulous in November 1960, Rudolf Bing of the Metropolitan Opera invited Leopold Stokowski to conduct the Opera's upcoming performance of Puccini's Turandot, scheduled for 24 February 1961. A few days before the end of December, Stokowski fell and broke his hip while playing with his boys. Although he was in pain during rehearsals and used crutches to enter the orchestra pit, his performance of Turandot was highly praised by the critics. The Met brought Turandot to Philadelphia on March 22 for a performance at Philadelphia's Metropolitan Opera House. Stokowski opened the 1961 Edinburgh Festival in August with a performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union. Leopold Stokowski founded the American Symphony Orchestra in New York City in 1962. Again, as he had done with the All-American Youth Orchestra, Stokowski auditioned and hired young musicians, many of them women and minorities, to play with a few seasoned hands. Stokowski conducted this orchestra without pay and made some of its deficits up out of his own pocket. In 1965 Stokowski succeeded in fulfilling a long-held desire B to give the world premier of Charles Ives' Symphony no. 4 with the American Symphony Orchestra. Stokowski was 83 years old; he rehearsed the symphony for two months with special funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. The performance, with three conductors, was a landmark. Stokowski recorded the symphony shortly thereafter.
On 1 May 1972, a few weeks after Stokowski had celebrated his 90th birthday, Stokowski submitted his resignation to the Board of Directors of the American Symphony Orchestra. Stokowski had made plans to move to England where he had contacts in the recording industry at London-Decca and where he could continue to guest conduct the London Symphony Orchestra. He bought an old farmhouse in Nether Wallop and made plans for its renovations. Stokowski conducted New Philarmonia in 1974 which was to be his last performance for the public in England. He continued to make recordings. In 1975 he was in the process of building a house near St. Paul de Vence on the Riviera in France, which Stokowski named Con Brio. There he met Marc Chagall and admired Matisse's chapel. The house was completed in 1976 and Stokowski spent time in France whenever he was not working on recordings in England.
Stokowski died at his home in Nether Wallop, Stockbridge, Hampshire on 13 September 1977 at the age of 95 years. He had made more than twenty recordings since his 90th birthday and was studying the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 in preparation for a recording session at the time of his death. Stokowski was buried in a private ceremony in the Marylebone Cemetery in London. His friend and admirer former Prime Minister Edward Heath delivered the eulogy.
This brief sketch of Leopold Stokowski's life cannot possibly cover all the significant events and contributions he made to music in the twentieth century. Stokowski had a strong desire to make great music accessible to people in all walks of life and welcomed developments in recording technology, film, radio, and television which made this possible. In 1943 he published a book titled Music for All of Us in which he tried to introduce both his technical and spiritual understanding of music to the public. In an interview with Robert Dumm in New York while Stokowski was conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Stokowski said, "My idea of conducting is something very simple. It is to try by every means possible to convey from the composer... his inspiration, the beauty of his music, the meaning of his music, the dynamic of his music, or perhaps sometimes the mystery of his music to the listener. And, we, the orchestra in between...we're merely means to an end. We=re like an electric wire that runs from one place to another and conveys electricity to a lamp, we might say, to give light."
Although Stokowski's collection of scores and transcriptions (University of Pennsylvania Ms. Coll. 350 and Ms. Coll. 351) was safely preserved following his death in 1977, his personal papers and effects were reportedly lost from the deck of a ship while being sent from England to the United States. The papers in this collection are therefore limited in scope and come from four sources: 1) correspondence and notes laid into Stokowski's scores plus a few other items, including awards and memorabilia; 2) donations from individuals with whom he corresponded, notably Sylvan Levin, Edna Phillips, Boris Koutzen (items donated by Nadia Koutzen), and others; 3) Stokowskiana collected by The Curtis Institute of Music; and 4) materials discovered in a trap door to the side of the firebox in the living room of the home Stokowski built at 9330 Beverlycrest Drive, Beverly Hills, California.
This last group of papers, donated to the University of Pennsylvania in July 1999 by the owner of the house, Stephan Simon, comprises incoming correspondence; carbon copies of Stokowski's outgoing correspondence; a few photographs; his notes on plans to form an electric orchestra; notes on housekeeping, employees, and gardening; bank statements; royalty statements; insurance records; and contracts. These date from ca. 1937-1946, although some of the contracts are earlier in date (as early as 1925), including recording contracts with the Victor Talking Machine Company (1929, 1930) and RCA Victor (1935, 1937-1940). These papers provide a rare glimpse into the conductor's everyday life after his move to California in 1936.
After Stokowski's death in 1977 his executor, Herman Muller, sought to place the collection of Stokowski's music in an institution where it would be accessible to students and scholars. The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where Stokowski had served as an early advisor to the Board and conductor of the Curtis Student Orchestra, received the collection on 8 May 1979. Shortly afterwards, in the fall of 1980, Curtis accepted the donation of Robert L. Gatewood's collection of Stokowski recordings and Gatewood's work on a comprehensive Stokowski discography (cataloged separately as Ms. Coll. 383). Other individuals made smaller donations of letters, memorabilia, photographs, and paintings of Stokowski to the Stokowski Collection at the Curtis Institute. In 1997 the Trustees of the Curtis Institute of Music decided to donate these scores and papers to the University of Pennsylvania, which holds the scores and papers of Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy and the scores and papers of contralto Marian Anderson. Since their arrival here, the Stokowski collections at the University of Pennsylvania have been augmented by additional donations including the Stephan Simon donation mentioned above; and the Oliver Daniel Research Collection on Leopold Stokowski comprised of research materials for Daniel's 1982 biography of Stokowski (Ms. Coll. 382).
Although the amount of original correspondence the Leopold Stokowski Papers is small, some of it is of great interest. Included is a typed letter to Curtis Bok dated 29 July 1941 following Stokowski's final break with the Philadelphia Orchestra in which Stokowski is supportive of the Orchestra, and therefore keeping his silence about the politics surrounding it. Stokowski, always forward looking, writes excitedly about his new venture, the All-American Youth Orchestra. The letter is signed "Prince," Stokowski's nickname in the Bok family. Stokowski wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt in February 1940 to gain her support and interest in the South American tour he was planning with the All-American Youth Orchestra. The most extensive correspondence in the collection are Stokowski's letters to his assistant conductor, Sylvan Levin, from 1929-1953, comprising over 100 items discussing details of management and rehearsals for the Philadelphia Orchestra; the preparation for Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex; and notes on singers and instrumentalists. Stowkoski's letters to Robert Gordon Sproul, president of the University of California, Berkeley, detail his plans to form an Electric Symphony Orchestra and his plans to rehearse and perform on the Berkeley campus in 1938. There is an autograph letter from Eugene Ormandy, dated 1 June 1937 regarding Stokowski's plans to conduct in Budapest that summer. There are also a few personal letters, including five letters from Stokowski to his daughter Sonya, dated 1937 to 1939 expressing his interest in her plans and his concern that her activities not be publicized for fear that she might be kidnaped (in the aftermath of the Lindbergh baby kidnaping).
Among the most interesting items in the Leopold Stokowski Papers is Stokowski's audition book. He auditioned hundreds of young performers, rated them on a scale and made comments about their performance and potential. The book is undated but many people who auditioned for him remember it, and it was in use during Stokowski's years with the American Symphony Orchestra, 1962-1972.
The Leopold Stokowski Papers include a limited number of Stokowski's programs (1916-1974). A more complete chronological listing of Stokowski's programs can be found in the Oliver Daniel Research Collection on Leopold Stokowski (Ms. Coll. 382). However, later programs of performances of Stokowski transcriptions are found here, dated 1977-1995, as the Stokowski transcriptions continue to be rented and performed by orchestras around the world.
Several hundred photographs of Leopold Stokowski are preserved and arranged chronologically in two albums. Additional oversize photographs are located in Box 41 and map drawer 61.
Awards and memorabilia in the Leopold Stokowski Papers include the parchment scroll designed and executed by Violet Oakley which forms part of the Philadelphia Award given to Stokowski in 1922 by Edward W. Bok. The Bok family donated an organ roll for a Duo-Art Aeolian Pipe Organ on which Stokowski recorded Bach's Passacaglia. The organ roll was given by Stokowski to Edward and Mary Louise Curtis Bok as a Christmas gift in 1925, and may be the only recording of Stokowski playing the organ.
BibliographyChasins, Abram. 1979. Leopold Stokowski : A Profile. E. P. Dutton. Daniel, Oliver. 1982. Stokowski : A Counterpoint of View. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co. Johnson, Edward, ed. 1973. Stokowski : Essays in Analysis of his Art. Kupferberg, Herbert. 1969. Those Fabulous Philadelphians. New York: C. Scribner's Sons. McGinn, Robert E. 1983. "Stokowski and the Bell Telephone Laboratories: Collaboration in the Development of High Fidelity Sound Reproduction," Technology and Culture Jan 1983. O'Connell, Charles. 1949. "Leopold Stokowski" in The Other Side of the Record. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Opperby, Preben. 1982. Leopold Stokowski. Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Midas Books. Smith, William Ander. 1983. "Leopold Stokowski: A Re-evaluation," American Music 1 no. 3 (Fall, 1983): 23-37. Smith, William Ander. 1990. The Mystery of Leopold Stokowski. Rutherford, [N.J.]: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Smith, William Ander. "Leopold Stokowski" American National Biography. Stokowski, Leopold. 1943. Music for All of Us. New York: Simon and Schuster. Wister, Frances Anne 1925. Twenty-five Years of the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1900-1925. Philadelphia: Edward Stern & Co.
Gift of Curtis Institute of Music, 1997 and Stephan Simon, 1999
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Margaret Kruesi
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of the Leopold Stokowski Papers and the preparation of this register were made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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