Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania


One of the most influential conductors of his generation, Leopold Stokowski was at the same time one of the most controversial. His progressive views, flamboyant presence on the concert stage, and innovative approach to music-making provoked both the epithets "genius" and "charlatan." He invented various myths about his heritage, going so far as to affect an unidentifiable accent that heightened the mystery he perpetuated. In his personal life, his three high-profile marriages (to the pianist and pedagogue Olga Samaroff; to Evangeline Johnson, the daughter of the founder of Johnson & Johnson; and to Gloria Vanderbilt, at the time of their marriage 42 years his junior), as well as his highly-publicized relationship with Greta Garbo at the height of her career, contributed even more so to the drama of his professional image.

Stokowski embraced everything modern, and synthesized music, art, and dance in ways that were new to American audiences. His interest in sound reproduction and transmission resulted in pioneering recordings utilizing the latest technological developments. And in his pursuit of the perfect balance and blends of color in the concert hall, he often experimented with the placement of players' seating by moving sections of the orchestra to different parts of the stage.

Stokowski on Orchestral Seating

From an interview with Klaus George Roy during a Cleveland Orchestra
intermission feature broadcast on 20 June 1971 on WQXR (New York City)

Leopold Stokowski was devoted to the performance of "modern" music and despite protestations from audiences and orchestra boards alike, he consistently programmed contemporary compositions alongside more canonical fare throughout his career. He was also criticized for tampering with the "classics" in his orchestral arrangements of Bach organ works, though these attained an enduring popularity.

Stokowski's unorthodoxy is perhaps his greatest legacy, for it was his willingness to take risks and challenge convention that occasioned his most significant triumphs. This exhibition focuses on the conductor's passion for all things musical and his life-long dedication to sharing his noble ideals with the public. With few exceptions the materials on display are a part of the Leopold Stokowski Collection, recently transferred to the University of Pennsylvania Library from the Curtis Institute of Music. In 1999 the National Endowment for the Humanities provided the Library with outright and matching grants to preserve, catalog, and make available to the public the archive of Leopold Stokowski. The core of the collection--Stokowski's conducting scores, manuscript orchestral transcriptions, and recordings--remained in the Maestro's possession until his death in 1977, at age 95. Stokowski offered clear direction in his will concerning the disposition of his musical treasures; even here, in his final public statement in support of his art, he reiterated the sentiment to which he had dedicated his entire career:

It is my profound wish that this entire collection shall be devoted to the advancement of fine music for the continued enjoyment of music enthusiasts throughout the United States, be they students of the arts, performing artists, or members of that vast audience of music lovers among the American public.

Logo credit: Line drawing of Leopold Stokowski by Ben Wolf

Table of Contents
The Path of a Conductor
The Conquest of Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Legacy
Champion of Modern Music
Music for All of Us
The Lure of Hollywood
Fantasia: Animating Music
Musical Transformations
Musical Selections
Interview Segments

Key Resource
Art Collections

Last update: Thursday, 04-Apr-2019 11:42:07 EDT
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