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STOKOWSKI and the NBC Symphony Orchestra
When in the spring of 1941, Stokowski was engaged to take over the NBC Symphony following Toscanini's temporary withdrawal from "the militant scene of Art," he presided over three seasons of concerts which were particularly notable for the number of "first performances" presented. In addition, much of the music being written in America during those years reflected the spirit of the times, specifically the war that was then raging across the world. However, such works more or less faded into oblivion once hostilities came to end, so they have seldom been heard since.
The present selection brings together several of these little-known compositions and they have a further link: these were the only occasions on which Stokowski conducted any of the works presented here. However, even just one performance gladdened the hearts of the various composers he championed, one being better than none at all!
Stokowski's advocacy of Aaron Copland's music began in 1931 with the World Premiere in Philadelphia of the 30-year-old composer's "Dance Symphony." The "Short Symphony" was written shortly thereafter and given it's first performance in 1934 by the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico under Carlos Chavez's direction. Both Stokowski and Koussevitzky planned to present the work in Philadelphia and Boston respectively but discovered that the score's tricky rhythmic complexities precluded any performance unless vastly more rehearsal time was provided.
However, it would seem that NBC granted Stokowski more rehearsal periods than were usually the case for his weekly broadcasts, so the Copland 2nd Symphony duly made its US debut on 9 January 1944. The composer wrote: "The Short Symphony's preoccupation is with complex rhythms, combined with clear textures. The work is in three movements played without a pause. The first is scherzo-like in character. The second is in three brief sections with a song-like middle part and the finale is once again bright in colour and rhythmically intricate."
Richard Mohaupt was born in Germany in 1904 but his work as a composer in the 1930s fell foul of the Nazis, so he emigrated to America just before the war. There he made a living by writing music for films, television and radio. He also composed several operas and ballets, as well as a number of orchestral works. These include his "Concerto for Orchestra based on Red Army Songs," one of the specific "war-time" compositions in this selection. It was written during the latter part of 1942 and has been described as "the composer's own heart-felt tribute to the valour of the Russian army in its battle to rid the world of fascism." Its thematic material is mainly based on Russian army songs of the 1917 revolutionary period and the three movements are an allegro, a sombre largo, and a dance-like vivace finale.
Paul Lavalle was born in New York in 1908 and following his studies at the Juilliard School became a multi-talented composer, conductor and orchestral player, resulting in an appointed in 1933 as arranger and clarinetist for NBC. He had previously spent some time in Cuba so his bright and breezy "Symphonic Rhumba" of 1939 clearly evokes happy memories of his stay there. He naturally played in the NBC Symphony Orchestra when Stokowski conducted his own little piece and must have been delighted that the great maestro was willing to let his hair down!
Howard Hanson's 4th Symphony was also composed during the war, having been written as an orchestral "Requiem" during 1943 with the designation 'In Memory of my beloved Father.' Like Stokowski, Hanson was a great champion of American composers and during his 40-year directorship of the Eastman School of Music he commissioned and performed numerous new works by his contemporaries, many of which he recorded for 'Mercury' with the Eastman Rochester Orchestra. His 4th Symphony's movements are entitled (1) Kyrie Eleison; (2) Requiescat; (3) Dies Irae; (4) Lux Aeterna. Stokowski's premiere of the work resulted in Hanson being awarded the Pulitzer Prize, only the second time it was given for music. In 1972, the composer conveyed his own thanks and gratitude to Stokowski on the maestro's 90th birthday by recalling his "magnificent performance" of this symphony.
Daniele Amfitheatrof was born in Russia in 1901 and studied music both there and in Rome as a student of Respighi. In due course he became an Italian citizen and during the 1920s and '30s had an extremely successful career in Italy and other European countries as composer, conductor and pianist. In 1937, Mitropoulos gave the premiere in Turin of Amfitheatrof's "American Panorama" and this led to an invitation from the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra to become its associate conductor. His success there was assured and when war broke out he and his family decided to stay in the States and move to California. Here he was engaged by MGM and other studios to write film scores and during the next 25 years years produced music for over fifty movies, two of which received Oscar nominations.
However, he was later ruefully to confess to his friend and colleague, John Steven Lasher, that his his professional composing career had been somewhat tarnished by his Hollywood image. Happily such niceties didn't bother Stokowski, who'd had his own forays into the movie world with "One Hundred Men and a Girl" and "Fantasia." Amfitheatrof's "De profundis clamavi" ("Out of the Depths, I've cried") was written in 1944 and was another dramatic war-time tone-poem taking the form of a tribute to all those who were losing their lives across the seas. As will be heard, Stokowski and his players rose to the occasion splendidly with a full-blooded reading of a work that well deserves its debut on CD.
George Antheil's 4th Symphony was another war-inspired work that had a year in its title. During his NBC seasons, Stokowski also played other similarly-titled pieces, such as Paul Creston's "Chant for 1942" and William Schuman's "Prayer, 1943." Antheil was born in America in 1900 of German immigrants and his eventual autobiography was entitled The Bad Boy of Music since he'd carved out a reputation for himself as an extreme exponent of the avant-garde. He composed his 4th Symphony at a frantic pace while listening to the radio. "The war deeply influenced this symphony," he wrote, "but I had no actual 'program' in mind." The news from Stalingrad, Africa and the Pacific was reflected throughout the entire work, with the finale heralding eventual victory.
Arnold Schoenberg found in Stokowski the foremost presenter of his principal orchestral works during his own lifetime. In 1915, the maestro began as he meant to go on with the US Premieres in Philadelphia of the first Chamber Symphony, followed in 1929 by the Variations for Orchestra and then a staged version of "Die Gluckliche Hand" the following year. "Gurrelieder" was heard for the first time in America in 1932 and one of its Philadelphia performances was recorded 'live' on Victor 78s. It remained the only performance of the work on disc until the advent of the LP.
Two World Premieres of Schoenberg's works followed. The Violin Concerto, with soloist Louis Krasner, was played in Philadelphia in 1940 and then came the Piano Concerto in the 1944 broadcast heard here. In his 1982 biography of Stokowski, Oliver Daniel wrote that it was this work "that created the greatest furor and hostility." Toscanini, who by then had returned as Stokowski's co-conductor for the latter's last two contracted seasons, was reportedly furious that "his orchestra" would be playing a work "full of wrong notes" and, according to Daniel, tried to stop the performance taking place. It went ahead anyway but the upshot was that Stokowski's contract was not renewed and he didn't conduct the NBC Symphony again until 1954, the year of Toscanini's retirement.
For his part, Schoenberg heard the broadcast at his home in Los Angeles and was highly delighted. He wrote and thanked Stokowski for the "great performance" and was particularly keen to know how the audience received it and asked how difficult it was for the orchestra. Virgil Thomson in his Herald Tribune review referred to the work as being "poetical and reflective ... intimate, thoughtful, sweet and sometimes witty" while adding that "one cannot be too grateful to Mr. Stokowski for giving himself the trouble to prepare it and for paying his radio listeners the compliment of presuming their interest." To those radio listeners of 1944 can be added the CD listeners of today, as possibly for the first time they hear this undoubtedly difficult work in its very first performance of all.
STOKOWSKI Wartime NBC Premières
COPLAND Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2)
1. 1st mvt. - quarter note = 144 (4:31)
2. 2nd mvt. - half note = 44 (4:51)
3. 3rd mvt. - quarter note = 144 (6:04)
Broadcast of 9 January 1944 - US Première
MOHAUPT Concerto for Orchestra based on Red Army Songs
4. 1st mvt. - Allegro (6:39)
5. 2nd mvt. - Largo (8:30)
6. 3rd mvt. - Vivace (6:29)
Broadcast of 19 December 1943 - World première
7. LAVALLE Symphonic Rhumba (5:21)
Broadcast of 6 December 1942 - World première
HANSON Symphony No. 4, 'Requiem', Op. 34
8. 1st mvt. - Kyrie: Andante inquieto (7:08)
9. 2nd mvt. - Requiescat: Largo (4:38)
10. 3rd mvt. - Dies irae: Presto (2:14)
11. 4th mvt. - Lux aeterna: Largo pastorale (7:57)
Broadcast of 2 January 1944 - Radio première
1. AMFITHEATROF De profundis clamavi (19:53)
Broadcast of 20 February 1944 - World première
ANTHEIL Symphony No. 4, '1942', W.177
2. 1st mvt. - Moderato - Allegretto (10:11)
3. 2nd mvt. - Allegro (8:46)
4. 3rd mvt. - Scherzo: Presto (4:29)
5. 4th mvt. - Allegro non troppo (8:37)
Broadcast of 13 February 1944 - World première
6. STOKOWSKI Introduction to Schoenberg Piano Concerto (0:25)
SCHOENBERG Piano Concerto, Op. 42
7. 1st mvt. - Andante (4:37)
8. 2nd mvt. - Molto allegro (2:36)
9. 3rd mvt. - Adagio (6:15)
10. 4th mvt. - Giocoso (Moderato) (6:11)
Eduard Steuermann, piano
Broadcast of 6 February 1944 - World première
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski
XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Aaron Copland and Leopold Stokowski in 1942
Total duration: 2 hr 16:23