Penn Library

Leopold Stokowski:
Making Music Matter

Curated by Marjorie Hassen

Otto E. Albrecht Music Library
University of Pennsylvania

Stokowski and Contemporary Composers

It is sometimes forgotten that Stokowski championed works of living composers other than the so-called modernists, promoting the work of Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, and other twentieth-century adherents to traditional tonality. He reminded his own audience of this, lecturing in 1932 that "there is really no such thing as modern music. It is merely that some composers wish to speak in their own way."

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
London: Goodwind and Tabb, 1921
Conducting score marked for performance by Stokowski

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
London: Goodwind and Tabb, 1921
Inside cover of Stokowski's conducting score

It was common for Stokowski to paste into his scores all kinds of material related to the work at hand: photographs of the composer, postcards, letters, printed information about the work's composition, or occasionally his own comments. Into his score of the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis he pasted a letter he received from the composer that concerns the origin of the Tallis theme. Vaughan Williams' manuscript transcription of theme has also been preserved here.

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Symphony No. 4
Score in copyist's hand, marked for performance by Leopold Stokowski

Upon Charles Ives' death in 1954 all of the sketches and manuscript score material for his Symphony No. 4 were assembled and found to be complete, but the preparation of a performance score from his illegible hand proved a formidable task. Stokowski's two attempts to premiere the work during his tenure with the Houston Symphony Orchestra (in the 1956-57 and 1957-58 concert seasons) were thwarted by the publisher's inability to deliver a completed score and parts. It was not until 1965--under the direction of Theodore Seder, curator of the Fleisher Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia--that a score was completed and parts were produced. In April of that year Stokowski was finally able to premiere the Symphony with the recently-formed American Symphony Orchestra.

The complexities presented by Ives' multitude of polyrhythms was solved with the use of three conductors: Stokowski was at center, with one assistant at the back of the orchestra, responsible for the chorus, and the second at Stokowski's side to conduct when sections of the orchestra played completely divergent rhythmic lines. The premiere met with critical acclaim and, as Glen Gould wrote in High Fidelity/Musical America, "Leopold Stokowski's performance was a marvel of identification with the score. He is surely made for such music, or it for him, as the case may be, and one can recall again the debt which we owe to this superb artist, who has so often led us into an encounter with the great and/or problematic works of our age."

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Last update: Thursday, 16-Jun-2011 14:07:57 EDT
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