Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania


Music for All of Us

I believe that music can be an inspirational force in all our lives--that its eloquence and the depth of its meaning are all-important and that all personal considerations concerning musicians and public are relatively unimportant--that music comes from the heart and returns to the heart -- that music is a spontaneous impulsive expression -- that its range is without limit--that music is forever growing - and that music can be one element to help us build a new conception of life in which the madness and cruelty of wars will be replaced by a simple understanding of the brotherhood of man.
--Leopold Stokowski
Music for All of Us


Although Stokowski may not always have been successful in achieving his goals, he appears to have worked single-mindedly throughout his life to share his musical vision with the world. This vision, at times negatively impacting on his career, was rooted in his desire to bring music of the "masters" to the greatest number of people, including children and youth; to create opportunities to perform the works of twentieth-century composers; and to provide performing opportunities for young, talented, musicians. He also exploited technological means of communication at his disposal, including recordings, radio and television broadcasts, and films, all of which offered the potential to reach a much wider audience than was possible in a concert hall.

Stokowski's formation of the All American Youth Orchestra in the summer of 1940 and its subsequent tour of Latin America were a triumph for the conductor, who was disappointed never to have toured abroad with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski auditioned young players across the country and assembled an impressive group of musicians. To this he added a nucleus of Philadelphia Orchestra members--including a number of first-chair players--to provide a sense of stability to the ensemble. Columbia Records agreed to sponsor the tour as well as to record the group, and after only two weeks of rehearsals in Atlantic City, the Orchestra sailed for Rio de Janeiro. Concerts in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo followed and were met with rave reviews.

In 1944 New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia proposed the creation of a symphony orchestra for the newly-opened City Center of Music and Drama. La Guardia believed that if ticket prices were set low and performances were scheduled at 6:00 in the evening, concerts would attract people on their way home from work. Stokowski was approached to conduct the new orchestra, which he wanted to model on his conception of the All American Youth Orchestra by gathering a core of professionals, supplemented with young, aspiring musicians. The instrumentalists were not salaried, since the orchestra's budget was rather meager; instead they were paid on a per-concert basis. Stokowski, it appears, worked without compensation.

The New York City Symphony made its debut on 9 October 1944 in the first of a series of successful concerts, many of which were "standing room only." Stokowski, however, was soon at odds with the organization's board, which wanted to economize while he was encouraging expansion. In frustration, he submitted his resignation in July 1945.



The American Symphony Orchestra, founded in New York on 26 April 1962, was unquestionably one of Stokowski's greatest projects. Just past his eightieth birthday, Stokowski held daily auditions in his apartment as he searched for the most talented musicians he could find. He also engaged several "apprentice" conductors who, like him, worked without salary. And as would be expected, Stokowski planned that contemporary works, particularly those by American composers, would be a major part of the Orchestra's repertory.

The ASO made its debut on 15 October to critical acclaim. Under the headline "Have Baton, Will Travel," Winthrop Sargeant remarked in the New Yorker that Stokowski "exerts a unique personal force and a feeling of indomitable authority communicates itself to an orchestra in such a manner that the musicians are swept along into doing things that one would hardly think possible."

Stokowski served as Music Director of the Orchestra until his move to England in May 1972 at the age of 90. With the exception of a brief hiatus due to financial uncertainties, the group has continued to perform and stands as a reminder of the conductor's musical ideals.

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