Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Leopold Stokowski

Leopold Stokowski in 1945, by Yousuf Karsh
Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) in 1945, by Yousuf Karsh

We mark the death, on September 13, 1977 – 44 years ago today – of the British conductor Leopold Anthony Stokowski, in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, United Kingdom, 67.6 miles (give or take) southwest of London.  Born in London on April 18 (the maestro and I share that day and month of birth) 1882, Stokowski was 95 years old when he died.  He was still recording for Columbia Records at the time of his death; his contract with Columbia would have kept him in the recording studio until he was 100 years old.  

I will confess that I am always a bit loath to write about and celebrate conductors.  It’s not that I have anything against conductors, it’s just that so many of them spend so much of their time celebrating themselves that I feel, well, superfluous.  

On just those lines, when it came to naked self-promotion and downright mythologizing, no conductor – and we mean not a one, not even Leonard Bernstein (who in many ways modelled his career on Stokowski’s) – could match Leopold Stokowski.  

I’ll present a quick overview of his life and career, after which we’ll delve into those aspects of that life and career that made Stokowski such a famous and such a paradoxical figure.…

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