Leopold Stokowski, a legend in this century's music, died yesterday at his country home in Wiltshire, England, after suffering a heart attack. He was 95.
They called him "Stokie," the millions who saw and heard him conduct over 7,000 concerts, and the millions more who knew him as one of the longtime giants in the recording of classical music. Two generations of moviegoers came to know his name and face from "Fantasia," the innovative animated film he made with Walt Disney.
They called him "a 19th century man with a 21st century mind." Some called him a "poseur," or a "man of limited ability." But to most he was a conductor of supreme genius, unforgettably possessed of true charisma long before that world became over-used.
He was a genius whose greatest talents exploded in front of an orchestra. The fact that the first orchestra with which this occurred happened to be in Philadelphia made the Phrase "THE Philadelphia" one of the golden landmarks in musical history. Some say he make it the world's greatest orchestra, a ranking they believe it retains under his successor, Eugene Ormandy.
In a profession whose most famous practitioners have always had a strong aura of glamour, Leopold Stokowski exuded far more than the amounts collected by even the most renowned conductors. Throughout the years of his greatest fame, when his music was proving irresistible to hundreds of thousands of listeners, Stokowski's personality proved overpowering to many of those lucky enough to get close to him.
In his career that led from London to New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Hollywood and the rest of the world, he was married three times and three times divorced. To the general public, the romantic peak of his career came about mid-1937 to mid-1938, when his name was linked with that of Greta Garbo, with whom he eventually lived in Europe for about five months.
When the romance was over, Garbo simply said that Mr. Stokowski had taken her to some beautiful places and shown her some beautiful things. He was 56 and she was 33 at the time.
The man whom many called "Stokie" was named Leopold Boleslawowicz Stanislaw Antoni Stokowski. Although the records of his birth are clear and complete, he often spent time and violent energy trying to cut five years off his age. He once wrote that "conductors are born, not made," but he made a public furor over just when and to whom he was born. In 1955, during a live broadcast of the University of Miami Symphony Orchestra under his direction, he disrupted the program with his shouting when the announcer said, "Leopold Stokowski was born in London in 1832."
"No, no, no, no, no!" came the famous voice over the air. "That is not true. I was born in 1887 . . ."
The announcer kept on reading the biographical material in front of him as if nothing had happened: "He was born of a Polish father and an Irish mother."
At this point, Mr. Stokowski literally screamed, "My mother was not Irish! This is terrible! Where did you get that stuff?"
In fact, "that stuff" comes from an official birth certificate that states that Mr. Stokowski was born in the Maryleborne district of London on April 18, 1882. His father, Kopernik Stokowski, was Polish and his mother, who was born Annie Moore, was of Irish descent. In recent years, like his famous fellow sharer of Polish musical genius, Mr. Stokowski abandoned his claims to fewer years than he actually had.
Since his father was well off, Mr. Stokowski was educated at the Royal College of Music and at Queen's College, Oxford, where he received a bachelor of music degree. With such distinctively English upbringing and education, nothing was more amusing than the periods in Mr. Stokowski's life when he would assume a strong Polish, or more often, a kind of vaguely Middle European accent.
Among his teachers at the Royal College were two of England's most prominent Victorian masters, Charles Villiers Stanford and C. Hubert H. Parry. In Mr. Stokowski's few excursions into composing, it is the spirit and tradition of these men that stand out most in the works of a man who became a flaming symbol of the newest and most avant garde orchestral programming.
At Washington Cathedral you can still hear, from time to time, his setting of the traditional Anglican anthem, "Benedicte Omnia Opera," written in the last year of his tenure as organist of St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue in New York City.
It was to fill this post that Mr. Stokowski in 1905 made the first of the countless Atlantic crossings that became a part of his life. He had already served for three years as organist of St. James Church in London's Piccadilly. To those duties the job at St. Bartholomew's added the responsibilities of choirmaster. This gave the future orchestral master an intimate acquaintance with the techniques and problems of handling large choruses and led directly to his first orchestral opportunity.
For it was not a play the organ or to compose that Leopold Stokowski had been born. Already, during the years in Piccadilly and New York, his fingers were itching not for the organ keyboard but for the conductor's baton. His heart was moving away from Sunday congregations to audiences in large auditoriums.
In the summer of 1908, Mr. Stokowski went back to visit Europe. In Paris he landed an assignment to prepare the chorus - see how the years in St. James and St. Bart's paid off - for a concert by the Colonne Orchestra. And, in the way of coming to pass for those who are ready for them, the conductor who was to have led the concert became ill. Who took his place? Leopold Stokowski, of course.
As it happened, there was in the audience at that particular Colonne concert a man named Lucien Wulsin. In spite of his European-sounding name, Wulsin was a citizen of Cincinnati, the head of that city's famous Baldwin Piano Company, and he was scouting around for an exciting new possibility for conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Wulsin did not need more than the single concert with chorus and orchestra to persuade the board of directors in Cincinnati to believe him when he said their new conductor should be Leopold Stokowski.
So in the fall of 1909, for a salary of $7,000, Mr. Stokowski went west from Park Avenue to the still-famous Music Hall in the Queen City.
Within two years he married the first of his three wives. She was Lucie Hickenlooper of San Antonio, Tex., but, as was often the case in those days, she had changed her name. She called herself Olga Samaroff, and labeled her art that of a "Pianiste." The combination had already made her one of the most popular soloists on the orchestral circuit, especially with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which had been established in 1900.
To the surprise of Cincinnati's music lovers as well as the board of directors of the orchestra, Mr. Stokowski decided, after three of the five years stipulated in his contract, that "he had not been given full authority over the orchestra, the audiences were unresponsive, and one of the city's music critics was conducting a vendetta against him."
After considerable argument pro and con, Charles P. Taft, head of the board and the brother of the President of the United States, sent Stokowski a check "for $875, which makes, with what you have received heretofore, your $7,000 salary for the year."
Expressing its view of the controversy, the board's letter added," . . . your recent behavior and repeated aspersions on members of the board of directors and your unfounded reflections upon the musical public of Cincinnati have destroyed your usefulness to the C.S.O. . . ."
It probably was the first public controversy in the career of a man who welcomed - indeed, often created - controversy for the rest of his life. It also happened, hardly by coincidence, to open the way for Mr. Stokowski to accept an invitation to become the new conductor of the orchestra with whose name and fame he was to become inextricably associated as no other orchestra and conductor had ever been before.
When he and Samaroff moved to Philadelphia, Mr. Stokowski was 30. He was 6 feet tall and crowned with an aureole of golden hair. Slim, blue-eyed, with aristocratic features, he was as striking-looking a figure as had ever stood on a podium. What's more he not only could conduct, he could enlarge and improve a good orchestra. He could bring its listeners both the great works of the established repertoire and the new music of the day, which included some of the most exciting masterpieces of this century.
The long list of important U.S. premieres that Mr. Stokowski gave Philadelphia included such giants as the Mahler Eighth Symphony, Schoenberg's "Gurre Lieder" Stavinsky's "Sacre du Printemps" - to which he gave both its orchestral premiere in this country, and its first performance as a ballet, the form in which it was originally cast, with no less than Martha Graham in the leading role. Philadelphia was the first American city to hear Mahler's song-symphony, "Das Lied von der Erde." Berg's "Wozzeck," Rachmaninoff's "The Bells," and Scriabins "Divine Poem."
The list went on to include Aaron Copland's "Dance Symphony," the Schoenberg Violin Concerto, Stravinsky's "Symphonies of Winds," "Oedious Rex," and "Song of the Nightingale," the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh symphonies of Silelius, Falla's "El Amor Brujo," and many other now standard works.
This flair for presenting valuable new music is one Mr. Stokowski never set aside. Long after he left Philadelphia, he presented the U.S. premiere of Olivier Messiaen's "Trois Petites Liturgies" while a guest conductor with the New York Philaharmonic, and in 1964 he brought out Henry Cowell's "Concerto for Koto," the first such work composed for the popular Japanese stringed instrument.
One of the controversies Mr. Stokowski stirred in Philadelphia was when he began to make orchestral arrangements of some of the greatest organ works of Bach. The "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," the "Passacaglia and Fugue," the "Little G Minor Fugue," and the "Chaconne" (which originally was for violin alone) all came out in full orchestral panoply to split audiences and critics down the middle. Mr. Stokowski stated his position bluntly, if, from the standpoint of history and musical scholarship wildly incorrectly.
He said, "Bach was just a sleepy old man, but a wonderful musician of course. If Bach or somebody else writes a piece of music, that doesn't interest me. It doesn't matter who has written it. The music appeals to me for what be done with it." Speaking of the "Passacaglia," he later wrote. "It is one of those musical creations whose content is so full and significant that its medium of expression is of relative unimportance."
It must be said, from the point of view of history, that Mr. Stokowski's transcriptions - and they were his own work and not that of any arrangers - did introduce Bach, if in highly debatable form, to many who would otherwise might rarely if ever have heard it. The majority in his audiences, both in Philadelphia and New York where the orchestra played regularly, liked it.
By 1916, four years after he took over the orchestra, the Philadelphia and Stokowski had become so widely praised that W. J. Henderson, the music critic of The New York Sun, wrote, "If Philadelphia wants to keep Leopold Stokowski, it had better not let him conduct any more concerts in New York."
An essential part of Mr. Stokowski's planning for the steady improvement of the Philadelphia Orchestra was the addition to its ranks of some of the finest instrumentalists in the world. In 1914, he engaged double bassist Anton Torello, whose son, Carl, joined the orchestra 20 years later and is still playing in it. In 1915. Marcel Tabuteau's oboe became one of the orchestra's greatest glories, to be joined in 1921 by the flute of William Kincaid, Hans Kindler, later the founder of the National Symphony here, was the principal cellist from 1916 to 1920. Saul Caston, joining at the age of 17, became its solo trumpet five years later.
The Academy of Music became the place for Philadelphia's young intellectuals to be on Saturday nights. Seats were scarce, in spite of subscribers who protested the amount of new music they were regularly served. Adverse criticism of the orchestra's playing practically disappeared. But about Mr. Stokowski's musical taste opinions were strongly divided.
After a performance of "The Passion According to St. Matthew" by Bach, New York Times music critic Olin Downes wrote, "The violin solo that accompanies the contralto solo, 'Erbarme dich,' came out sounding more like the Meditation from 'Thais.'"
Virgil Thomson, critic of The New York Herald Tribune, wrote in 1947, "We have two kinds of conductors, the traditionals and the independents, the former representing a knowledgeable approach, the latter a highly personalized ability to hold attention." This comment echoes directly Mr. Stokowski's own statement: "It doesn't matter who has written it. Music appeals to me for what can be done with it."
Critical opinion never deterred Stokowski, nor did it bother his devoted fans or the members of the board of directors who had by 1921, raised his salary to $40,000. The following year he received the first Edward Bok Award "for the year's most valuable service to the city of Philadelphia." This was only one of the hundreds of honors that continued in a long time up to the present.
In 1971, Yale University gave Mr. Stokowski the Henry Elias Howland Memorial Prize, an award that goes "to a citizen of any country in recognition of distinguished achievement in literature, the fine arts, or the science of government." At that time it was estimated that Stokowski had conducted over 7,000 concerts for more than 10 million people.
He was a notable ground-breaker in every field related to music. In 1917 he traveled across the Delaware River to the Camden, N.J., studios of the Victor Talking Machine Company where, on Oct. 22, the orchestra recorded Brahms' "Hungarian Dances Nos. 5 and 6." It took a whole day to get the less than eight minutes of music safely onto the fast-playing, heavy discs. From that day on, Stokowski developed a passion for performing for each new electronic technique as it appeared. The Philadelphia Orchestra soon became established as the "leading orchestral organization in this country, and one of the top ones in the world.
In 1929, Stokowski and his Philadelphians were the first symphony orchestra ever to play a radio broadcast under commercial sponsorship. In a three-concert series, Stokowski included Mozart's "G Minor Symphony" and Stravinsky's wildly controversial "Sacre du Printemps," and told the radio audience, "If you do not like such music, say so, and we won't play any more radio concerts. For I shall never play popular music." The neat irony today is that so much of what he then was playing has become widely popular.
By 1936, the orchestra and Stokowskin, though nearing the parting of the ways, went to Hollywood to make the first of three films: "The Big Boardcast" of 1937, in which Jack Benny, Benny Goodman, Kirsten Flagstad and other celebrities also appeared. If "100 Men and a Girl" with singer Deanna Durbin added nothing to the orchestra's musical credit, its next excursion to Hollywood became a world famous landmark.
"Fantasia" came into being because Stokowski had developed a strong admiration for Walt Disney and his films with animated drawings. In theaters equipped with "sound-in-the-round," the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski, who had by then given over the title of music director to Eugene Ormandly, won huge, new audiences. Musically, "Fantasia" is one of the most wildly hashed-up movies ever to appear. Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony is cut to hald its length, and Igor Stravinsky has often expressed his violent indignation at the mayhem and rape carried out on the body of his "Sacre du Printemps."
But for the public at large - and current showings of the film only add to its continuing popularity - "Fantasia is a marvelous mix and fun and the ludicrous. Its characters have become familiar figures in our folk art, even to decorating shower curtains.
Stokowski's turbulent artistic life was fairly evenly matched by the ups and downs of his personal life. His 12-year marriage to Samaroff ended in a 1923 divorce that shocked staid Philadelphia. She received custody of their 2-year-old daughter and continued her career as pianist, teacher, lecturer, and music critic. Three years later, Stokowski married Evangeline Brewster Johnson, heiress of the Johnson and Johnson drug fortune. Eleven years and two daughters later, there was another divorce, over which the shadow of Greta Garbo was unmistakable.
The third and final marriage was to Gloria Vanderbilt de Cicco, whom he married in 1945 when he was 63. She was 21. They had two sons before their 1955 divorce.
Stokowski's departure from the Philadelphia Orchestra had much of the bitterness that is said to be inevitable in any divorce. It began on the second day of 1936, after numerous hints and threats. Giving the title of music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra over to his junior colleague, Eugene Ormandy Stokowski took the label of coconductor for three years to do fewer concerts there and other things elsewhere.
He continued to conduct in Philadelphia, though less and less, in the next five years. In 1941, he left the famous Academy platform not to return for nearly 20 years, by which time old arguments over competing orchestras, recordings and board members had faded away, and he could be welcomed back by audience, directors, and critics.
In the meantime, Stokowski was guest conducting all over the world, experimenting with lights and colors in concerts - as he had years earlier in Philadelphia when he decided "that orchestra and conductor should be unseen, so that on the part of the listener more attention will go to the ear and less to the eyes," This from a man whose halo of hair had become one of the most famous sights in the world of music, and whose every movement on the platform was a studied gesture of beautiful hands and supple bondy. Neither this experiment nor one in which recordings faded out at the end of one side and in again at the beginning of the next lasted long.
In the years immediately after leaving Philadelphia, Stokowski began demonstrating concretly that his long rapport with young people was not merely a matter of conducting historic youth concerts.
In 1940, he formed the All-American Youth Orchestra with which he toured South American, where people had trouble believing that players between the ages of 15 and 25 could sound like that. In 1944, at the suggestion of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, he formed the New York City Symphony to play free wartime concerts. In 1955, he again accepted the post of permanent music director of an orchestra, that of Houston, Tex., which he promptly elevated to the high level it has occupied ever since.
While he was in Houston, Stokowski issued one of his strongest statements about the musical talents of this country's composers. In an interview he said, "There is an intense musical creative heat in American now. I believe we are at the start of a great growth, a renaissance of cultural life." Pointing to a large looseleaf book, he said, "Look at this! I receive scores from all over the world and these are my notations of thousands I have studied. There's an extremely talented young generation of composers arising in the U.S. and Canada."
Stokowski never altered his early feeling that music was his to do with what he wanted. To his transcriptions of Bach he added some of Gabrieli, Wagner, and Moussorgsky.It was not, however, always a matter of arranging music for orchestra from some other medium. He was continually making highly personal changes in orchestral scores that other conductors were willing to accept as if they came from the composers.
For out-and-out bravado, probably nothing Stokowski ever did surpassed his recent rewriting of passages in Handel's "Messiah." Generations of choristers have sung the splendors of the "Hallelujah" chorus and its impressive, indeed overwhelming final "Amen" chorus and have managed to do all right with the notes that Handel wrote:
Those notes, however, simply were not good enough for "Stokie," Striding boldly in where archangels would nor dare set foot, he has the chorus sing:
It is an egregious musical affront that tops anything that ever came from one of music's most daring figures, sounding exactly the way it would if Hollywood in its most flamboyant vulgarity were to film an entire "Messiah."
Yet it comes from a man who caused Herald-Tribune critic Lawrence Gilman to write, "Philadelphia sent us last night her chief contribution to civilization, her incomparable orchestra." It must be noted that when Stokowski raised the Philadelphia to those heights the Boston Symphony had not yet acquired its great Serge Koussevitsky nor the New York Philharmonic its Toscanini. In the entire country only the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock had attained a similar standard of playing, and Stock was never the man to build a huge reputation. Quite by nature, Stock shunned the publicity that was the breath of Stokowski's life.
Once, and only once, did Stokowski and Toscanini exchange orchestras. The Philadelphia conductor said of his famous New York neighbor, "His originality of conception comes from his expressing the essence and soul of the score instead of merely the literal notes." An amazing statement about a Toscanini from a Stokowski.
In 1943, Stokowski's book, "Music For All of U.S.," was published. In it he summed up his deepest feelings about the act that he so enriched.
"I believed," he wrote, "that music can be an inspirational force in all our lives - that its eloquence and the depth of tis meanings are all-important - that music comes from the heart and returns to the heart - that music is a spontaneous expression - that its range is without limit - that music is forever growing and 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.
At every point in his career, "Stokie" was unique. It is the nature of life, especially in the world he has now left, and to which he left a treasure house of memorable recordings as evidence of his genits, that there will not be another like him.