Many years ago this reporter was
traveling, as a non-fiddling, non-tooting
member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, on a train that carried the
organization on one of its Pennsylvania-Maryland-Ohio tours.
It was 2 o'clock in the morning, Mr.
Stokowski, the conductor, was
in his drawing room, perhaps asleep, but more likely trying to digest
helpings of creamed oysters in which he had indulged at the home of an
effusive Harrisburg hostess. Mr. Stokowski in those days couldn't let
creamed oysters alone, but neither could he take them.
In the Pullman smoker sat the handsome
gentleman who was then manager
the orchestra and your correspondent. "Tell me," said the reporter,
between you and me—where did Stoky get that juicy accent?"
The manager removed his cigar to reply:
"God alone knows."
Mr. Stokowski then had been in this
country nearly twenty years. He has
been here now more than thirty years, and still no one on earth, with
possible exception of Mr. Stokowski himself, can tell you where he dug
his rich luscious accent that trickles down the portals of the ear as
sauce of creamed oysters trickles down the gullet.
Surely he didn't get it in London where,
on April 18, 1882, he was
Nor did he learn it in Queens College, Oxford, where he was considered
bright student, or on Park Avenue, New York, where he landed in 1905 to
play the organ at St. Bartholomew's.
Mr. Stokowski's dialectic vagaries are
among the mysteries in which,
his own good reasons, he has chosen to wrap himself. Another one
his name and origin. Is he really Leopold Antoni Stanislaw Stokowski?
his father one Joseph Boleslaw Kopernicus Stokowski, a Polish emigre
who became a London stockbroker? Was his mother an Irish colleen and
granddaughter of Tom Moore, who wrote "Believe Me If All Those
Young Charms"? Or is Stoky just plain Lionel Stokes, the sprout of a
Nobody knows. But everybody knows that
Leopold Stokowski is one of the
world's really great orchestra conductors, a true poet of the stick
he has dispensed with the baton in recent years), and that he has made
name of the Philadelphia Orchestra synonymous with superb singing,
of tone and dazzling brilliance.
Everybody knows, too, that he has few
peers as an interpreter of Bach,
of whose compositions he unearthed from the organ repertoire and gave
the general public in shimmering orchestral arrangements, and that
trot out their choicest adjectives to praise his playing of Brahms and
Everybody knows, further, that he and
his orchestra have made a larger
number of phonograph recordings of symphonic music than any other
and band, and that the Philadelphia organization was the first of its
to dare the raised eyebrows of the musical tories by going on the air
commercially sponsored attraction.
The list, here necessarily condensed, is
one of impressive musical
achievements, which many an artist of a more placid temperament than
Stokowski's would have considered ample to insure his fame.
But the slender, once golden-locked, now
white-thatched Leopold is and
always was a restless fellow, a bundle of nervous energy, an insatiable
lover of experiment, innovation and—the limelight.
Those traits began to come to the
surface in 1922, when he had been
the Philadelphia band for ten years. About that time he seemed no
satisfied with merely playing to his audiences—he started talking to
There were (and still are) two groups of
subscribers—the Friday afternoon crowd, consisting largely of stuffy
dowagers, and the Saturday night clientele, composed mostly of persons
genuinely interested in music.
The old society gals went to the Friday
matinees because it was the
to do. While "that dear, handsome boy" and his men on the platform were
discoursing Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner, the ladies swapped gossip,
recipes and lamented the scarcity of skillful, loyal but inexpensive
It was at one of those whispering bees
(your reporter, who was there,
swears it really happened) that, during the playing of a gossamer
pianissimo passage, a subscriber informed her neighbor in a resonant
"I always mix butter with MINE!" Mr.
Stokowski did not address the
on that occasion. He gave his first lecture at another concert, and
scolded the women not for talking but for applauding.
Many of the Friday afternoon customers
were in such a rush to catch
for their Main Line suburbs that they seldom remained long enough to
conductor and orchestra a well-deserved ovation. So nobody ever quite
whether the dead-pan Stoky was in earnest or moved by an impish sense
humor when, following the usual thin smattering of applause, he said:
"This strange beating together of hands
has no meaning, and to me it is
very disturbing. I do not like it. It destroys the mood my colleagues
have been trying to create with our music."
Shortly afterward, the Philadelphia
Orchestra and its blond, romantic
conductor invaded New York. Their Tuesday night concerts at Carnegie
Hall became the rage. The uninhibited music lovers of this town not
applauded Stoky but cheered, yelled and stamped to express their
approval. He never lectured THEM.
But in Philadelphia he continued his
extra-conductorial antics. When
audience hissed an ultra-modern composition, he told them: "I am glad
are hissing. It is so much better than apathy." Another time, when they
booed an atonal piece, he repeated it immediately.
He scolded the audience for coming late.
He scolded them for leaving
Once he scolded them for coughing. They continued the rasping noise.
the intermission, on Stoky's orders, the 100-odd men of the orchestra
walked out on the stage barking as if in the last stages of an epidemic
All those didoes promptly made the front
page. Thereafter Mr.
who had tasted blood, or rather, printer's ink, came out on the average
once a month with a new notion to astound the Quakers.
He shocked them with a demand for Sunday
concerts—then a heresy in
Philadelphia. He changed the seating arrangement of the orchestra. He
discarded the wooden amphitheatre on which, since the dark symphonic
the players had sat in tiers, and put them on chairs directly on the
Then he shuffled the men, making the cellos change places with the
violins, the battery with the basses. There must have been some merit
all this switching, for several conductors copied it.
Next he announced that light was a
distraction at a concert.
the Philadelphia Orchestra would play in darkness. Wails of dismay from
Friday afternoon dowagers. How on earth was any one going to see what
friends were wearing?
At the next matinee the Academy of Music
was black as a crypt. On the
stage, at each of the players' desks, hung a small, green-shaded light.
Then Mr. Stokowski walked out on the podium. The moment he had mounted
the dais, a spotlight was trained on his head, turning his hair into a
glittering golden halo. The ladies forgot all about their friends'
Why, the darling boy looked like an angel descended into a tomb to
Stoky explained to the press that the
spot was necessary to enable his
to follow the play of his facial expressions.
Most conductors make their appearance in
a leisurely manner. Carrying
the stick, they stride out on the platform, acknowledge the audience's
reception with a courtly bow, say a few kind words to the men, and when
musicians and listeners have composed themselves, begin the concert.
Leopold changed all that. Leander-like,
he leaped from the wings,
the center of the stage, nodded curtly to the customers, then accepted
the baton which was handed to him, with a flourish, by one of the viola
players, and, before you could say "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," plunged
the opening number.
His audiences, particularly the ladies,
doted on his conducting
His slim, youthful, virile figure was held erect, his feet remained
still as if nailed to the floor, while his arms went through a series
sensuously compelling, always graceful motions. The view from the back
enhanced by the fact that the tailor who cut his morning and evening
was almost as great as Stoky himself. And his hands! Ah, my dear, those
There was so much ecstatic comment on
those slender, nervous,
hands that Mr. Stokowski decided to give the gals a full, unhampered
He did away with the baton.
About the same time he invented a new
way of rehearsing the
remote-control method. An assistant conductor wielded the stick while
Stoky sat in the rear of the dark hall manipulating an intricate system
of colored lights that made known his wishes to his understudy on the
Mr. Stokowski is inordinately fond of
gadgets and fancies himself as
a technical expert. When he first conducted for the radio he
objected to the arrangement whereby the engineers in the control room
the last word as to the volume of sound that was to go out on the air.
Radio executives pacified him by rigging
up an elaborate set of dials
his desk. These he happily twirled, completely unaware that the doodads
Meanwhile—and please don't lose sight of
this cardinal fact—he made
transcendently beautiful music. His stature as a conductor grew with
years and so did the repertoire of scores he conducted from memory.
feat involved heartbreaking work, for his memory, while good, is not
unusually retentive. In the middle years of his career, he devoted from
to twelve hours a day to studying scores.
In periods when the Stokowski brain was
unproductive of new stunts, his
private life and his recurrent rows with the directors of the orchestra
about matters of salary and control kept him in the papers.
His divorce from Mme. Olga Samaroff, the
pianist, a Texan born as Lucy
Hickenlooper, whom he married in the dim days when he conducted in
Cincinnati, provided Rittenhouse Square with chit-chat for a whole
So did his marriage to Evangeline Brewster Johnson, an extremely
eccentric and independent young woman, who later divorced him.
Mr. Stokowski's doings of the last few
years can no longer be classed
minor-league musical sensations. They have become Hot Hollywood Stuff.
First, there was his appearance in films. Then his collaboration with
Mickey Mouse. Then his friendship with Greta Garbo. Then his five-month
sentimental journey over half of Europe with the Duse of the screen.
he is as big a feature of the fan magazines as Clark Gable and Robert
Upon his return from Europe in August,
Stoky made the most amusing
of a long amusing career. He told this reporter:
"I am not interested in publicity."