This great conductor was born on 18 April 1882 and died on 13 September 1977. There is much confusion about his life, a lot of it due to his own meddling with his biography, in some ways trying to recreate his life much like it was music. For example, he was not born of Polish and Irish parents as is often stated in notes in discs.
Stokowski’s began his conducting career at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1909, at the young age of 27. Prior to that he had been organist at churches in England and New York. After a few years in Cincinnati, however, Stokowski moved on to the Philadelphia Orchestra and molded it into one of the finest orchestras in the world. In fact, Rachmaninoff claimed that the Philadelphia WAS the finest orchestra in the world.
Stokowski arrived in Los Angeles January 2, 1938 to record the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with a hand-picked orchestra of 85 Hollywood session musicians 3. These recordings had some technical difficulties as to synchronization, but Stokowski approved them and they were used in the final film. However, Walt Disney had decided that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice short film needed to be expanded to a full-length movie, in order to be financially viable. After discussing added musical selections with Stokowski, Disney secured the rights to Le Sacre du Printemps in April, 1938 5. In December, 1939, Stravinsky visited the Disney studios, and although in later years he was critical of Fantasia, Stravinsky at the time seemed supportive.
Fantasia was issued in 1941 and 1942, and was released again many times over the years, and continues even today to play in some theaters. It has been widely sold in DVD, in several restored versions. The music sound track of Fantasia by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra has never been out of the recording catalogues, since it was first issued by Disney Studios on LP in 1957 in stereo on Disney’s newly-formed record label: “Disneyland Records”.
Stokowski sought to combat Nazi propaganda touting the wonders of Hitler youth with an artistic statement from young emissaries of the free world.
But his goal was not entirely selfless, as he seized the opportunity to vent his frustration with RCA, his record company, which had refused to sponsor a Stokowski tour but then launched one with Toscanini, its other star conductor. While his Philadelphia Orchestra remained under exclusive contract to RCA, Stokowski would face no such constraints with an entirely new ensemble. And so he created one, arranged a contract with rival Columbia and then proceeded to cut with his new orchestra many of the works that RCA had wanted him to record.
Announcements for the 1940 troupe generated 15,000 applicants. The finalists were selected through five rounds of local, state, regional and national auditions. The members represented all 48 states and included many women, a rarity in orchestras at the time. Intensive, concentrated rehearsals were followed by tours of the US and South America.
Leopold Stokowski was a frequent visitor to the [New York] Philharmonic over the years, appearing with the Orchestra on nearly 200 occasions, taking part in Young People’s Concerts, and, in the 1940s, leading the Orchestra on tour. During the 1949-50 season he shared the position of Principal Conductor with Dimitri Mitropoulos. In his last appearance with the Philharmonic, on February 8, 1969, he led a program of music by Bach and two modern works inspired by him: Lukas Foss’s Phorion, and Rock Variations and Fantasy on a Brandenburg Concerto, written and performed by the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble.
Perhaps the most internationally famous conductor ever, Toscanini rose to instant stardom when he put down his cello and jumped up to the podium to fill in for the conductor during a performance of Verdi’s opera Aida. It was 1886; he was 19, and it was the first time he’d ever conducted.
The last time he’d conduct a live performance was in 1954, 68 years later. By then, he was the first conductor to have appeared regularly on television, and was certainly considered the first true media star of the conducting world.
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