A conversation with; #1 (Reel 1)
Conversation with Leopold Stokowski. This is another in a continuing series of programs each of which offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear an eminent musician informally discussing his own career and expressing his thoughts about a variety of topics related to the art of music. The regular participants in these discussions are Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University School of Music and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And George Stone program director for Zenith radio corporation's serious music station WEAA FM in Chicago. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stone I was their guest on today's program. Mr. Leopold Stokowski who beginning in 1912 was conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra for many years and later of the all American Youth Orchestra. Also music director of Hollywood Bill the Houston Symphony and the American Symphony Orchestra. Now here is George Stone.
There's a chapter on in your book music for all of us. There are two sentences which provide I think an excellent starting line for this conversation. Conductors are born not made norm out of academic education can make a real conductor out of someone who is not born with the necessary qualities. I want to serve you tell us what are these qualities. They are very mysterious. One of them is the willingness and the ability to cooperate with other persons. And I think a good performance of great music by an orchestra or an orchestra is when each individual in the orchestra is cooperating with all the others in the orchestra and when all the artists in the orchestra are
cooperating with the conductor and he with them. So the key word is cooperation. When I've given a person with these innate qualities and the ability to cooperate what qualities must be acquired. There it is. Not so much quality as experience I think. And it takes in my opinion and many years of rehearsing and conducting concerts in different countries because every country has a different personality in its orchestras and to travel from one country to another. Not taking one's orchestra with one but always conducting the artists in the local LA Custer there is
very. It teaches one very much. And that release that has been my experience and I think it's a pleasure too because for example a few months ago I was in Romagna conducting the orchestra there. And that of course is behind the so-called Iron Curtain. Yes I swear there is no iron curtain for music because music is international. So I was very impressed. With the fine quality of the orchestra there and I became friends with some players in the orchestra and they told me that nice places to go if I wanted to eat some good food or drink some good wine. They told me all kinds of things about their life there and where I could see some of the find examples of architecture
of Ramanujan which is very extraordinary and I was very impressed by the fact that there were money and people are so havoc and yet they are romantic when the Roman soldiers came there a long time ago. They were very impressed. I was told by the beauty of the Slavic girls and soon the country was full of young Romagna. And I noticed that the language. Has many Slavic words like Polish words and also many Italian sounding words. For example when they bid each other good night they say they say I want to set up a home which is purely Italian and there are other Italian words like that which have survived almost
completely. And so there is a culture a wonderful culture in that country combining the best of Italy and Slavic nations and the beauty and stamina of the people is very remarkable. And also the greatness and flexibility of the orchestra. So in my opinion it is well for a conductor to travel and conduct all kinds of orchestras even amateur orchestras. Because if one conducts amateur or courteous as I sometimes do that I learn very much from the difficulties they have. The players have with their instrument and also with the rhythm of the music and of the blending of all the parts that they are
playing to make what we call our song. One learns very much so if a young conductor would conduct a great orchestra like this Chicago orchestra. It would be so easy for him because the orchestra is great and able to play so well any kind of music any style of music. Whereas with an amateur or Custer one has much more difficulty and it's just those difficulties from which one learns. I take it that you consider equally important a broad cultural background that is equally important and has a thorough grounding in music. Well you know for a man can be a real a complete conductor. Obviously it must be that. But you know I think I'm wrong because as I think of it a
little deeper. I had a great friend Koussevitzky. Yes of course the Wicki was a bass player. He did not have a good education as I was fortunate enough to have. And he at first could not read the score. So he persuaded two pianists to play four hands scores for him and he listened that way. Then gradually as the years went along and he was with the Positively he did learn to read score. But I noticed that when he listened to the pianists playing the music he was listening to the true
score. The true score is sound. The paper score is paper but it's not sound music is essentially sound and Koussevitzky. I learned very much from him. It made me see clearly that a man can have immense bone ability as because of its good had to conduct and yet not have a general education. Could not read scar but his ears were so sensitive that when the four hands were playing the music of squaws with his ears he understood in some way which is mysterious to me but it's a fact that he did understand. They did conduct wonderfully music. Before he could read squat afterwards he could read score. He just went on conducting well.
So it was not a question of score. It was something else. And I cannot with words describe that something else but it was extremely definite that this extra good very talented man. By his ears and his impulse and his instinct was able to conduct marvelously as he did. What kind of training do you think is most important for a conductor in in which in this level of thinking that you describe here there must be certain kinds of musical experience or training specifically musical which will add to this dimension. Yes well I just think of one thing very essential is to understand all the
instruments. They're all different. And. If the conductor house a player to do something which is contrary to the nature of his instrument then the player becomes annoyed and the results are not good. So a conductor must understand all the instruments and that is almost a lifetime of study. In my opinion getting back to what we said a moment ago I would judge them. But in your opinion this indefinable something which because of its keep was asked is that very thing of which you were speaking. In the chapter on conducting in your book. Yes the man was born with it as we can't lay our finger on it but this was what it is when everything about human nature is mysterious. The body is mysterious. We have
within the framework of our body we have a heart beating with certain rhythm. We have the blood flowing at a certain temple. We have the impulses of the nervous system from the brain to all the parts of the body. And I often think my first instrument was vilely and I started when I was seven playing violin. When. Violinist's says to the left and play in the third position or the fifth position or whatever it is it's the mind to tell said who and what to do when he wants to play not bow down bow or speak out of it's the mind that tells it all happens in the mind. So all is this mysterious extraordinary harmony that's within the human body
is all a part of playing an instrument well and even more so conducting the modern orchestra because conducting what an orchestra is extremely complex. He's dreamy. The life itself has become more complex too. Yes recently an issue of a prominent national magazine devoted a considerable amount of space to a discussion of the young conductors and the problems they face. And as I recall one of the statements that was made in the air is that conducting the art and profession of conducting today is as different from conducting 50 years ago as comparing an astronaut with World War 1 pilot. In your judgment having. Live through this period in positions of eminence and constantly in the
mainstream of music would you feel that this is an apt description that the whole role of the conductor has changed this much. Yes because a conductor must adapt himself to the new conditions of life and the new conditions of life according to those who understand about economy and the new conditions are becoming very serious. It was recently out west and one orchestra almost collapsed because of difficult conditions that one must see clearly that if a man or a company makes automobiles or planes or any kind of machinery or supplies food he's doing all these things for humanity but also for profit. Whereas every orchestral concert
that is performed in the United States is performed I don't loss and it is that loss that deficit that has to be made up at the end of the season. And that is becoming more and more difficult because of higher taxation. According to The Economist I don't understand these things very well but there are economists who have studied given a whole lifetime of study to the economy of the nation and with this higher taxation it might be that there would be immense difficulty to continue because through all performances because they are a luxury they are not the physical necessity of life. They are the necessity. It's true of the mind which loves everything which is cultural by the people. There are many who do not feel that way and so
I am very anxious for the future of the great Augustus of the United States. How would you feel Maestro Stokowski about some kind of state support whether the federal government or the state governments or even municipalities of our great orchestras and other cultural institutions do you think this would be a desirable thing or an undesirable thing. May I ask you a question. If we had state or federal help that would be very costly of course. Where would the money come from. Well I assume it probably would come from taxes. That's it. Then you've answered your own question. I guess we don't get anything for nothing. We were there and you were about to ask a question. I've will change the direction a little bit because.
We think of you has first an organist. No violinist would you say you were a violinist as your wife. I couldn't play organ until my legs were long enough for the pedals. When I was a child I used to play soccer with some boys and one of the boys. His father was a priest and I was invited to the house and then I heard the wonderful sound. It was the organ playing in the church and I wanted to go in there and I went in there and what I wanted to play that and they put me on the seat but my legs were too short behind a low seat here in a high airfield out of the question. It was several years before I already played piano violin first and then piano and then later organ. But.
The point of seeing very one important thing about AW Custer is string technique of the violins violas the cellos and the double basses and they have certain certain scenes in common principles basic principles but they also have certain differences and the conductor must understand those things. You have then started with the violin and into piano and I believe all the organ you were playing in the manuals and you gradually as your legs developed you developed the ability to do the bark tree also not as a prelude and you as in the other repertory. Now when you turn to conducting you turn to a in this in a way a similar kind of an instrument but
very obviously a very different one. But what advantages do you have from your background of organ playing where you have such a vast array of color shades shadings to the orchestra as it is well it's very different because with the organ it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to make middle voices like I'll talk to the voices. I already have. And with your cursor it's much easier to do that sometimes the violas or the cellos or the horns can bring out these little voices very difficult to do I used to do it playing on four males at the same time. But there were limits to that too. To do it well. And another thing is that if one presses the key of the organ it
produces a certain tone because it makes the air go into a pipe somewhere according to the stops and. When we dock her struck the instruments. It's different it's not a pipe which gives one kind of tone that take the violas or the cellos on the horns or any instrument they've forgot. For example many kinds of tones are possible and many good additions of tone of of volume of sound and many qualities and colorings of sound. So the New York Kustra is much more complex much much more complex than modern orchestra of course it depends whether one is aware of all these possibilities. I hear sometimes a conductor just beats time were a good
argument. I don't beat time it is unnecessary they know it's 3 in about 0 5 in about 0 9 or whatever it is that event that is just not conducting conducting is something much more important than that. You know we think of you as a great innovator and one of the areas of innovation that is in this effort to achieve a certain type of sound or balance in the orchestra and we know that in the days until that off you you tried various seating arrangements and have you discovered what your ideal orchestral sound is. And you know out of all of this yours I mean Titian First of all it's important to remember that the acoustic in every concert hall in the world is different. Therefore the seating cannot be I do not have a single conception of seating at all. I directed to the concert hall.
This concert hall is different from what it was last time I was here. Some I don't know they've changed something they haven't changed and I was wondering always differently what your reaction would be. Well. This is a very big subject but just mention a few things. Here you have the contrabass on audience right. They are playing the tone away from the listeners. Which is not intelligent. It just isn't plain common sense. If they were on the audience left then they would be playing to the listeners and we need plenty of basic sound from the double bases just like the middle of an organ which is the foundation of the whole sound above of all the different instruments. So that's one thing which must be considered. It's the direction of sound instruments which is very not
neglected. For example French horn plays this way and tone goes to the right downwards whether you like it or not that's how it is these are the facts. Ture but it all goes up which into the light. Just the opposite. To go here on CNN which we must consider these differences flutes tone goes up or both will go a lot this way. Violin goes his way. Cello goes this way and in the Viola said summer often on the wrong side of the stage for the falls to the brain is out on bond a concert hall because every enclosed space now we're in an enclosed space here. That is if we would study it. There is a fundamental sound wave to this enclosed space there is a very close place you know a big place like this concert hall here.
It's basic but probably it's we do not hear that we hear overtones we hear other parcels of that fundamental and they are natural to that home sometimes. I'm sure you've noticed suddenly one note I sharpen a B-flat that stand out to promenade all the time is because you're just in one of those nodal points your ears are another thing to remember is everybody's ears are different. Everybody hears differently. Everybody's right is different from a lefty that has been measured by scientific instruments. So all these things make it very complex and the old way of seating the orchestra started with Haydn when he had a much smaller or close to a very good one. Probably but it was the first violins on this side of the second violins here that was
good in those times and that small place because I know the hallway he played I visit there sometimes. But to day with with just a few violins with heightened today we have. 32 or 36 violins and they can all be massed together sometime when you want something. Very probably that when from from the leadline of middle Arctic sound. So it's very complex. It's so complex that I don't know how to find words to express it. But I feel it know it live in it but I don't know how to say. And there's your rehearsal hall such as here you are in a sense in a new hall though you've been here at least five times before it has changed you. You're constantly making adjustments during the rehearsal time to achieve the kind of balance that you hear. Yes so so that we write
melodic lines for instruments by the right degree of prominence. And our door who is French and which means that certain age limits must be lifted up and others must be depressed otherwise they all. That sounds unclear. The Sometimes I hear of very unclear performances. The Right Things are not implemented. It's the same with painting. I learnt very much from Reeves French impressionists. There will be in the foreground some persons farther back will be other persons who look smaller because of what you call or stressed by perspective. Behind that is are some houses farther back are some trees farther back tops of hills farther back
some clouds of sky and so forth. So you have planes but we have exactly the same thing in New York US only some persons are not sensitive to it or about able to make it that way. Clear is a question of all yes and relief because there is no question of really thought of there. That is very extremely important and very neglected so that when you have all certain passages of the Shostakovich 6 which you are rehearsing getting ready to perform to tomorrow evening there are certain contrapuntal elements where these this combined it of we would love to go which does so well in this religious symphony that is extremely complex counterpoint but not the kind of
- A conversation with
- Episode Number
- #1 (Reel 1)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- No description available
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- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-12-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “A conversation with; #1 (Reel 1).” 1968-12-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vh5chg0d>.
- APA: A conversation with; #1 (Reel 1). Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-vh5chg0d