STOKOWSKI conducts 20th Century American Composers (1941-44) - PASC625

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STOKOWSKI conducts 20th Century American Composers (1941-44) - PASC625

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GOULD Spirituals
STRINGFIELD A Symphonic Patrol
CRESTON Chant For 1942
SCHUMAN Prayer, 1943
THOMSON The Plow That Broke The Plains
KELLY Sunset Reflections
COOLEY Promenade
HARRIS Folk Rhythms Of Today

Broadcast recordings, 1941-44
Total duration: 79:38

NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski

This set contains the following albums:

It was in 1951 that Stokowski became an international maestro, his conducting career up to then having been spent almost exclusively in America. In fact, he'd been hard at work during the post-war period as one of the New York Philharmonic's guest conductors and would dearly have liked to become its principal music director. However, that position went to Dmitri Mitropoulos instead. This left Stokowski free to make annual appearances all over the world, conducting many of the great orchestras in Europe and elsewhere.

His concerts in England were notable highlights of each season and were invariably sold out. One such occasion occured in June 1970, when he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in an adventurous programme which included the first performance outside America of Charles Ives's 2nd Orchestral Set. Music critic Peter Heyworth wrote: "That astonishing old wizard, now in his eighty-ninth year, showed that those supremely eloquent hands have lost none of their cunning ... And how characteristic it is that a man who has done more for contemporary music in America than all the rest of his generation put together should choose to advocate this problematic score."

Ives was among the countless American composers whom Stokowski championed, his 1965 performance of the Ives 4th Symphony being just one of the innumerable World Premieres he presented over his six-decades conducting career. In particular, his three-season appointment as the NBC Symphony's chief conductor from 1941-44 found him performing the works of nearly two dozen contemporary American composers. (Several have already been issued on Pristine CDs - Copland, Lavalle, Hanson and Antheil on PASC 536, and Hovhaness on PASC 587 - all 'first performances' of one sort or another.)

The present selection of Americana starts with A Symphonic Patrol by Lamar Stringfield (1897-1959). It dates from 1931 and was described by the composer as a memorable event in a little Southern village with the sound of beating drums drawing near. "People - black and white alike - turn their heads and listen to the approaching procession. It is their day. The strutting drum and bugle corps passes in review, sounding a barbaric rhythm of proud hearts." It has also been suggested that the piece portrayed the marching of slaves towards freedom, the slow middle section evoking their singing of a gospel-like hymn.

Morton Gould (1913-1996) was another composer much championed by Stokowski. His Chorale and Fugue in Jazz had been given its World Premiere in Philadelphia in 1936, while the Dance Variations of 1953 were given their first recording that same year by Stokowski and the San Francisco Symphony (PASC 274). The Spirituals heard here were first performed under the composer's baton in 1941. He wrote: "The songs range from strictly spiritual ones that are escapist in feeling, to those having tremendous depth and impact. My idea was to get five widely contrasted moods. 'Proclamation' has a dramatic religious intensity. 'Sermon' is a sort of lyrical folk tale. 'A Little Bit of Sin' is humorous and good-natured. 'Protest' is grim and crying out, while 'Jubilee' is a festive dance-like piece." When Stokowski reached the age of 90 in 1972, numerous musicians from all over the world sent him birthday greetings. Morton Gould wrote: "We are in your debt for having explored, stimulated, enhanced and guided the sound of our music with your genius."

Paul Creston (1906-1985) also found in Stokowski a considerable advocate of his music, notably when the maestro included his Toccata in a special concert marking his 50 years as a conductor in 1958. The 'Scherzo' from Creston's 1st Symphony of 1940 was recorded the following year by the All-American Youth Orchestra and it was often included in Stokowski's concerts as a separate number. The Chant of 1942 was the composer's "personal reaction to the tragic events of that year - an expression of sadness and indignation but also hope," this last feeling being portrayed at the end by a triumphant marching section. Stokowski's NBC performance was its radio premiere.

William Schuman (1910-1992) similarly had a wide range of emotions in mind when he composed his Prayer, 1943. "This work is not programme music," he wrote, "there is no story, nor any realistic event being depicted. The title is merely some indication of the kind of feeling that went into the composition." Solemnity characterises the work for the most part, though it is not without energetic moments that introduce a confident mood. However, it ends not in triumph but in a chant-like prayerful close.This was in fact the first time Stokowski conducted any of Schuman's music and he was to play the work again, under its new title Prayer in Time of War, with the New Orleans Philharmonic-Symphony in 1955.

Robert Kelly (1916-2007) began his studies at the Juilliard School of Music in 1935 and was accepted as a composition student by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia three years later. His Adirondack Suite dates from 1941 and its atmospheric 'Sunset Reflections' movement was included by Stokowski in a programme that ended with the Brahms 4th Symphony (PASC 602). Kelly's little piece was receiving its first performance and was described by Stokowski as "impressions of sunset in the mountains, lyrical and poetic, with a quick vibrating rhythm like the pulsations of light."

Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) was noted both as a music critic and a composer of symphonies, operas, ballets and film scores. In 1936 he was commissioned to write the music for The Plow that Broke the Plains, a short documentary which revealed the disastrous effect that uncontrolled farming was having on the American and Canadian prairies at the time. Thomson's score for the soundtrack was the basis of a concert suite that the composer himself premiered in Philadelphia in 1943. It consists of six short movements, their titles reflecting what was seen on the screen. Stokowski's NBC broadcast the following year was succeeded in turn by the work's first recording, a set of RCA Victor 78s on which he conducted the Hollywood Bowl Symphony, one of several orchestras that Stokowski himself created. In fact, he was sufficiently taken with the work to re-record it with the Symphony of the Air for Vanguard in 1961. With its mixture of folk music, popular melodies and religious themes, it is probably the most 'American' work in this compendium.

Carlton Cooley (1898-1981) was one of America's foremost viola players. He joined the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 21, became Principal Violist of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1922 and took up a similar position with the NBC Symphony in 1937. He also authored a number of compositions, the Eastbourne Sketches being three musical reminiscences of "a holiday spent at that delightful resort on the English Channel during the summer of 1924." The work was scored for strings and the opening 'Promenade' heard here, in which the composer himself led the viola section, evokes "the care-free spirit along the boardwalk, the pranks of the bathers, a small band and the town crier."

Roy Harris (1898-1979) composed an enormous number of works in every category imaginable, making him one of the most prolific of American composers. However, it was his 3rd Symphony, premiered by Koussevitzky in 1939, which made his name and for which he is probably still best known. His Folk Rhythms of Today was another of those war-time works that Stokowski championed during his NBC tenure. It had its origins in a ballet called What So Proudly We Hail and its rambunctious nature provides a suitably bright and breezy finale to this colourful all-American programme.

Edward Johnson

With acknowledgements to Adrien Strugeon for his help in researching the above composers.

STOKOWSKI conducts 20th Century American Composers

1. A Symphonic Patrol  (8:38)
Broadcast of 7 April 1942

Spirituals for String Choir and Orchestra
2. I. Proclamation  (4:01)
3. II. Sermon  (3:42)
4. III. A Little Bit of Sin  (2:07)
5. IV. Protest  (2:24)
6. V. Jubilee  (4:19)
Broadcast of 15 November 1942

7. Chant for 1942  (9:53)
Broadcast of 26 December 1943

8. Prayer, 1943  (13:26)
Broadcast of 12 December 1943

9. Adirondack Suite - Sunset Reflections  (5:28)
Broadcast of 18 November 1941

The Plow That Broke The Plains, Suite
10. Prelude  (1:46)
11. Pastorale (Grass)  (1:28)
12. Cattle  (2:43)
13. Blues (Speculation)  (2:36)
14. Drought  (1:05)
15. Devastation  (5:36)
Broadcast of 16 January 1944


16. Eastbourne Sketches - Promenade  (4:18)
Broadcast of 24 March 1942

17. Folk Rhythms of Today  (6:08)
Broadcast of 19 December 1943

NBC Symphony Orchestra  
conducted by Leopold Stokowski

XR Remastered by  Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Morton Gould and Leopold Stokowski
Special thanks to Edward Johnson and Adrien Strugeon

Total duration:  79:38