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Leopald Stokowski
Background information
Born: Leopold Anthony Stokowski
April 18, 1882
London, England, UK
Died: September 13, 1977 (aged 95)
Nether Wallop, Hampshire, UK
Cause of death: Heart Attack
Alternate names:
Occupation(s): Musician, conductor, music arranger
Years active: 1909-1977
Spouse(s): Olga Samaroff (m. 1911; div. 1923)
Evangeline Johnson (m. 1926; div. 1937)
Gloria Vanderbilt (m. 1945; div. 1955)
Children: 5

Leopold Anthony Stokowski was a British conductor of mixed Polish and Irish descent, who was one of the leading conductors of the early to mid-20th century, he is best known for his long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra and his appearance in the 1940 Disney animated feature film, Fantasia with that orchestra. He was especially noted for his free-hand conducting style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from the orchestras he directed. He was also known for modifying the orchestrations of some of the works that he conducted, as was a standard practice for conductors prior to the second half of the 20th Century.

Early Career[]

Born in the UK, Stokowski was the son of English-born cabinet-maker of Polish heritage, Kopernik Joseph Boleslaw Stokowski, and his Northampton-born wife, Annie-Marion (née Moore). He studied at the Royal College of Music, where he first enrolled in 1896 at the age of thirteen, making him one of the youngest students to do so. He would also work as an organist at various churches and later attended The Queen's College, Oxford, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1903.

His first wife Olga Samaroff was from Galveston, Texas urged him to emphasize only the Polish part of his background once he became a resident of the United States in order to bolster his career. After studying conducting in Paris, Stokowski was selected to be conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra although he resigned shortly after. Soon he was appointed the director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and he made his conducting debut in Philadelphia on October 11, 1912. During his tenure, Stokowski would premiere many compositions of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Edgard Varèse, Jean Sibelius, and Arnold Schoenberg where Stokowski was the only conductor to perform all of his orchestral works during the composer's own lifetime.

In 1937, he appeared as himself in The Big Broadcast conducting two of Bach's pieces and both conducted and acted in One Hundred and a Girl that same year.


Walt Disney approached Stokowski in 1937 to conduct what was to be a short feature, and, upon liking the choice of music, an agreement signed by Disney and Stokowski on December 16, 1937, allowed the conductor to "select and employ a complete symphony orchestra" for the recording. He was paid $5,000 for his work and had the Philadelphia Orchestra record the pieces.

With the exception of the "jam session" in the middle of the film, he conducted all the music which included his own orchestrations for the "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" and "Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria" segments. For Bald Mountain, Stokowski used the score to conform to the Disney artists' story-line, depicting the battle between good and evil, the ending of piece segued into the beginning of Schubert's "Ave Maria" with new lyrics by Rachel Field.

Stokowski even got to talk to (and shake hands with) Mickey Mouse on screen, although he would later say with a smile that Mickey Mouse got to shake hands with him. This footage of Stokowski was incorporated into Fantasia 2000.

A lifelong and ardent fan of the newest and most experimental techniques in recording, Stokowski saw to it that most of the music for Fantasia was recorded over Class A telephone lines laid down between the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and Bell Laboratories in Camden NJ, using an early, highly complex version of multi-track stereophonic sound, dubbed Fantasound, which shared many attributes with the later Perspecta stereophonic sound system. Recorded on photographic film, the only suitable medium then available, the results were considered astounding for the latter half of the 1930s.

For his efforts, Stokowski and his associates were given an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "for their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form."

Later Career[]

After the completion of Fantasia, Stokowski continued to premiere, tour and record a wide variety compositions through different orchestras such as the NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Symphony of the Air and many others. He also founded All-American Youth Orchestra, the New York City Symphony, the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra.

After giving many premieres of new music during his 60-year conducting career. Stokowski, who made his official conducting debut in 1909, appeared in public for the last time in 1975 but continued making recordings until June 1977, a few months before his death at the age of 95.

A statue of the maestro shaking hands with Mickey Mouse stands in the lobby of Disney's Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.