Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania

The Conquest of Philadelphia

With Leopold Stokowski's debut on 11 October 1912, the Philadelphia Orchestra crossed over the threshold into its first era of real significance. Succeeding the Germans Fritz Scheel and Carl Pohlig, Stokowski brought to the podium a distinctive musical talent as well as a flair for the theatrical. The conductor's principal biographer, Oliver Daniel, has written that Pohlig, for instance, "had conducted without using a score during concerts, but Stokowski made his doing so more dramatic. Just before raising his baton to give a downbeat he would pick up the scores that had been placed on his conductor's stand and, with a broad gesture, toss them onto the floor and push the stand to the side." Even at this early date, Stokowski was nurturing a reputation as a showman.

Stokowski on the Philadelphia Orchestra

Recorded March 1956

During his career in Philadelphia he also experimented with lighting effects, at one point conducting in a darkened hall with only his head and hands illuminated. When he stopped conducting with a baton, late in the 1929-30 concert season, his free hand gestures became something of a trademark. And in his continual pursuit to instruct concertgoers on proper etiquette, he did not hesitate to turn and speak directly to the audience when disturbed by their behavior. This he seems to have done with great finesse, for Philadelphia succumbed to the Maestro's charisma. In all his twenty-nine years with the Orchestra, Stokowski's popularity never took a major tumble.

Musically, he worked assiduously to achieve what would eventually become known as the "Stokowski sound." He encouraged "free bowing" in the strings and "free breathing" for the brass to eliminate the cessation of sonority in a musical phrase; he did not adhere to traditional orchestral seating arrangements but rather would move sections to different parts of the stage in the search for perfect balance; and his interest in acoustics led him to experimented with various shells and baffles to reflect sound.

Under Stokowski's directorship, programming expanded to allow for his broad musical interests and curiosities. His quest to perform contemporary works led to the Orchestra's premiere of an extraordinary number of important compositions during his tenure, beginning with the 1916 United States debut of Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony. This spectacular event, however, was only the inaugural in a continuing series of "firsts" that would include tours, radio broadcasts, and recordings.

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