Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania

Houston Symphony Orchestra

Leopold Stokowski and Harpo Marx

Stokowski served as conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra from 1955 to 1960. At the end of his tenure he became particularly disenchanted with his post in a "provincial" city, as invitations from major orchestras in the United States and Europe grew in number. At the same time he was fighting prevailing racial discrimination. He faced objections to his attempts to engage the African-American mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett, and he created a stir when he indicated his intention to use a chorus from a black university in a performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. It was only after Stokowski's resignation from Houston that the Orchestra's management finally relented, and a performance of the work was planned for the 1961-62 season, with Stokowski as guest conductor. The two all-white choruses that had been engaged for the performance, however, withdrew, and the Orchestra canceled the performances. Not for the first time, Stokowski aired his grievances in the press, but none of the three Houston newspapers printed his letter in full.

While in Houston, Stokowski maintained his dedication to contemporary music and presented a number of premieres during his five-year tenure. Among these were world premieres of works by Alan Hovhannes and Henry Cowell, and United States premieres of works by Jean Sibelius, Aram Khachaturian, Olivier Messiaen, and Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 11 was also recorded for Capitol Records.

Leopold Stokowski and the Houston Symphony Orchestra
Photographer: Jim Thomas

Leopold Stokowski Conducting the Houston Symphony Orchestra
ca. 1957

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