Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Legacy

When Stokowski arrived in Philadelphia in 1912, he not only accepted responsibility for the conductorship of the Orchestra but immersed himself in the cultural and social life of the city as one of its premiere citizens. He maintained a close friendship with Edward Bok, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra board, and with Bok's wife, Mary Louise Curtis, participated in the founding of the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924. In that same year he created a symphonic band of 120 men that included all the members of the Orchestra's brass section. Dubbed the "Band of Gold" because its members played gold instruments and dressed in gold uniforms, the group enjoyed a triumphant, albeit brief, run of two seasons under Stokowski's direction.

His devotion to the musical interests of young people led to the creation of a series of Philadelphia Orchestra concerts for children in 1921. In March 1933, he initiated "Youth Concerts" for audiences aged thirteen to twenty-five. At Stokowski's request, a Youth Concert Committee was formed whose young members oversaw program choice and other matters related to the performances. The concerts were an overwhelming success and with Stokowski's encouragement an entire "Youth Movement" was born, dedicated to fostering music and arts among young people.

With the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski continued to make both commercial and experimental recordings as new technologies were developed. His concert programs also continued to reflect his interest in "new" music, but by the mid-1930s the Orchestra Board, concerned with diminishing revenues, asserted its belief that Stokowski's programming accounted for a decline in audience attendance. The conductor's disagreements with the Board over this and other artistic and managerial issues mounted until late in 1934 when, in a typically dramatic fashion, he released an open letter to the press airing his grievances and essentially resigning from the Orchestra.

While in the end Stokowski would not completely sever his ties with Philadelphia until 1941, the 1935-36 season was the first in a new chapter for him and for the Orchestra both. At this time, Eugene Ormandy was engaged as co-conductor, with responsibility for the majority of the year's concerts, and Stokowski began his gradual withdrawal from the city. He pursued other interests, among them Hollywood films, and he embarked on what would be an active concert and recording schedule in the United States and Europe. Although he would become associated with many different ensembles over the next decades, one of his most enduring legacies was the elevation to national stature of the musical life of Philadelphia.

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Last update: Thursday, 28-Mar-2019 13:45:33 EDT
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