Leopold Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra French Acoustic Recordings
1919 - 1924
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1919 - 1924 Victor Acoustic Recordings of French Music by
Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski circa 1920
During the acoustic period from 1919 to the end of 1924, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded a number of sides of music of French composers, many of them not approved for release. Without including Christoph Willibald von Gluck as a 'French' composer (even though he lived his last 13 years in Paris), there were 11 Victor Red Seal sides of music by French composers were released during the acoustic era.
In 1919, after having made no recordings in 1918 due to war-time restrictions, Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra again returned to Camden for recording. The 1918-1919 Philadelphia Orchestra season ended on May 3, and on May 8, 9 and 10, 1919, in the Camden Church Studio, Stokowski recorded seven new works, including two items of French music: the Bizet Carmen - Prelude to Act 1 (described below), and the Chabrier España Rhapsody.
The España Rhapsody by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) was composed in 1883 followed a trip by Chabrier to Spain the previous year. "España, rapsodie pour orchestre" was premiered in November, 1883 by Charles Lamoureux at his Paris concerts. It has proved to be his most successful work,
This recording is remarkably successful, given that it was recorded acoustically. The performance is joyous and the orchestra's playing is inspired. The effectiveness of the sound is aided by the score's orchestration, strong in wind instruments, which tend to record well in the acoustic process. In this recording, the percussion and the two harps called for in the score are replaced by wind instruments. About two minutes of the score is cut so as to allow this 6 1/2 minute work to be accommodated on a 4 1/2 minute 78 RPM side.
Interestingly, after this successful 1919 recording of España, Stokowski did not record it again until November, 1975, more than 56 years later !
This recording of España was released in June 1920 on Victor 12 12 inch Red Seal disk 74621, matrix C-22809-7. It was also released in Britain by the Gramophone Company on DB 384, and later when double-sided records were released by Victor, on Victor 6241 paired with the 1920 Saint-Saëns "Bacchanale"> from Samson et Dalila
The most numerous composer Stokowski recorded during this period was Georges Bizet. On May 8, 1919 Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the Act 1 Prelude from Carmen. This Prelude, Allegro giocoso, is one of the most famous opera overtures, having a theme similar to a Spanish corrida, with also the leitmotif of Escamillo's aria of Act 2.
This recording was issued on Victor 10 inch Red Seal record 64822 matrix B-22812-4 issued in October,1919.
Stokowski and the Philadelphians recorded several excerpts from Carmen during that period. On April 30, 1923 two different excerpts, labeled "Changing of the Guard, or "Avec la garde montante" from Act 1, and "Smugglers March", or "Marche des contrebandiers" from Act 3 were issued on a double sided 10 inch Victor Red Seal disk Victor 1017, matrix B-27902-1 and B-27903-2.
On January 27, 1922 Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded section IV - 'Farandole' from Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite No 2. This lively music was to accompany Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlésienne, and was written by Bizet in time for the first performance in 1872. Bizet then made arrangements of passages for various instrumental groups, including orchestra, from which this Suite no 2 originates.
In the Victor recording ledgers, there is the note "check with Mr. Stokowski as to the title of this work". This 10 inch Victor Red Seal record was released with the title "Spanish Dance", rather than as "Farandole", presumably to emphasize the Mediterranean flavor of the music, and to avoid a name unknown to most.
This brief recording, only about 1 1/2 minutes, and it is an example of the changes in Victor recording practices since the first recording sessions of 1917 (which had used a full orchestra). This 1922 orchestra complement is reduced to about 45 musicians, and extensive instrumental changes have been introduced. For example, the percussion which is a prominent part of the first section of this Prelude has been replaced by what seems to be a bass wind instrument, perhaps a contrabassoon. Stokowski was to remake this lively
Although recorded early in 1922, this Victor 10 inch disk 1113 was not released by Victor until the first half of 1925. By this time, recordings made with the electrical process were also being released, so that this recording had relatively poor sales, and is consequently a rare disk to find.
Later in 1920, on December 6, Stokowski recorded music from the opera Samson et Dalila which Camille Saint-Saëns had completed in 1877. This is the famous Bacchanale music from Act 3 of the opera during which Samson is taunted by Dalila and the High Priest, leading Samson to pull down the pillars of the temple, concluding the opera - dramatic music for a dramatic scene.
Marcel Tabuteau in 1915 soon after his arrival in the US
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra had tried, unsuccessfully to record this work during the October 18 and 19, 1920 recording sessions. The released recording is certainly a notable success. This approximately 4 minute excerpt is played with vitality and vividly recorded, particularly given the technical possibilities of acoustic recording in 1920. What an evocative oboe introduction by Marcel Tabuteau! And the recording shows the Philadelphia strings to be already unsurpassed in that era, if competing recordings are to be considered in comparison. This recording transcends the technology of the period.
Stokowski's only commercial recording of any music of Charles Gounod was of this 1923 recording of the Waltz from the end of Act 2, the 'Kermesse Scene', where Mephistopheles has transported Faust to show him the beautiful Marguarite. This acoustic recording sounds remarkably good and is particularly spirited, felicitous and graceful; what a pleasure ! This waltz was recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra on May 1, 1923. This successful side had followed three unsuccessful recording sessions of this same work in October, November and December of 1922. The final recording was issued on a Victor double face 10 inch disk Victor 944, matrix B-27099-8, coupled with the Thomas Mignon music. (According to John R. Bolig, it had been assigned Victor single-face disk number 66171, but was only issued in the double face 10 inch disk Victor 944. 3)
During this period, Stokowski's working practice was to record two to three takes of a piece and wait until a pressing was made from the wax master, and then, if not satisfied, record two or three takes again at a later recording session. However, towards the end of the acoustic era, Stokowski insisted that Victor cut two 'masters' simultaneously, so that he could hear one (which was destructive to the wax master), and use the other master, if the take was successful.
This performance of the Waltz from the Act 2 Kermesse scene is elegant and stylish, with a period 'salon orchestra' flavor that adds to the pleasure we can receive even today from this performance in good sound.
On the following Saturday, May 6, 1923 Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to the Camden Church Studio to record the famous Gavotte from the entr’acte between Act II and Act III of Ambroise Thomas's opera 'Mignon'.
Although Mignon is less performed today, in the nineteenth century, it was performed more than 1,000 times, and the Gavotte from the entr’acte before Act III was and is even more famous, probably having been arranged for most every instrumental combination from hurdy-gurdy to string quartet.
This performance by Stokowski benefits from featuring primarily the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with a young (age 28) William Kincaid in his third season with the orchestra providing a nice flute solo at the end, delivering a light and stylish performance that works well in an acoustic recording.
This recording was issued on a Victor Red Seal 10 inch double-faced disk, Victor 944 matrix B-2798-1.
William Kincaid, flute in 1920
The last Stokowski acoustic recording of a French work was also, perhaps with the Wagner Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin, the most difficult to record, given the technical limitations of the acoustic recording process. This was the beautiful, ethereal, and wide ranging Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy.
This was one of Stokowski's show-pieces, included for example in his third Cincinnati season in 1912, in his second London concert of May 22, 1912, following his resignation from Cincinnati, and in the latter half of his first season with the Philadelphia Orchestra March 7, 1913, and in every year between 1915 and 1922 (excepting only 1916).
Stokowski and the orchestra had unsuccessfully attempted to record the Prélude during their initial 1917 sessions on November 6, 1917. This 1917 attempt was interesting since the recordings were made on two 12 inch (30 cm) sides and a final 10 inch (25 cm) side. Since a concert performance of "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" usually takes 11 or even 12 minutes, an uncut performance would require these three sides. The eventual two 12 inch sides of Stokowski's recording was cut to nine and one-half minutes, with the two record sides still being at about their maximum capacities.
The 1917 sessions were not approved by Stokowski, and they attempted this score again on November 7, 1921, still unsuccessfully. Stokowski tried again on Saturday, April 19, 1924 in three takes, but unsuccessfully. Then, on Monday, April 28, 1924 in the Camden Church Studio the Philadelphians, with star soloists Marcel Tabuteau, oboe and William Kincaid, flute succeeded.
Standing: Ferdinand Del Negro, bassoon, Marcel Tabuteau, oboe, Anton Horner, horn
Seated: Rufus Arey, clarinet, William Kincaid, flute in 1923
They performed three additional takes of each of the two sides required for this work. The performance was released in January, 1925 on a double sided 12 inch Victor Red Seal record 6481 matrix C-21057-5, C-21058-5.
This performance is both remarkable, and still satisfying, even with the major limitations of the acoustic recording process. However, will need to await to hear the glorious 1927 recording from the Academy of Music to hear the full sweep and magic of this favorite Stokowski score.
L'après-midi d'un faune choreographed and danced by Nijinsky
for the Ballets Russes in Paris, May, 1912
A Note on listening to the Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings
The recordings in this site are files in mp3 format (mostly, 128 kbps) encoded from my recordings. Links to the mp3 files are located in two places:
First - in the page covering the year of the recording. For example, links to a 1926 recording are found in the page: 1926 - Stokowski - Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings
Second - in the Chronological Discography page. For example, links to a 1926 recording are also found in the electrical recordings chronological discography page: Chronological Discography of Electrical Recordings This Chronological Discography page lists all the electrical recordings from 1925 to 1940 made by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski and issued by Victor, including of course the 1926 recordings. For each recording listed in the Discography table, there is a MP3 link on the right-hand side which, when clicked, also will download the recording.
The mp3 files in this site are encoded usually at 128 kbps. This means that the files are of different sizes, according to the length of the music. For example, the second Stokowski electrical recording, the April 29, 1925 Borodin Polovetzki Dances is small (3.6 Mb). In contrast, the 1929 Le Sacre du Printemps file is large. Le Sacre part 1 is 14 Mb and Le Sacre part 2 is 16 Mb.
Consequently, a large file will take a longer time to download, depending on your internet connection speed. Please keep this in mind when you click to listen to (which means to download) a particularly music file. You may click the link to the music file, but need to wait a number of seconds or even minutes to listen to the file.
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3 Bolig, John R. The Victor Red Seal Discography Volume 1: Single-Sided Series (1903-1925). Mainspring Press. Denver, Colorado. 2004. ISBN 0-9671819-8-4