Page 20 - Summer 2018
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The New Age of Sound
   Figure 1. A portrait of young Leopold Stokowski dated March 18, 1918. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.
chestra, it was through the persistence of his well-connected future wife Olga Samaroff (née Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hick- enlooper; Figure 2) that he received an interview and soon an offer from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1909. At that time, Samaroff’s renown as a pianist far exceeded Stokowski’s reputation; she had produced her own concert debut at Carnegie Hall in 1905, which was followed by well- advertised and attended tours in North America and Lon- don (Samaroff Stokowski, 1939). Surely the weight of her recommendation must have provided some assurance to the Cincinnati Board as they gambled on their risky new hire.
Luckily for the Cincinnati Board, Stokowski was an immediate success. His style was bold and unmistakable; he favored the vigorous “free-bowing” technique, desynchronizing the strokes of the string players for a bigger, more textured sound and unforgettable visual effect (several videos illustrate Stokowski’s conducting style, e.g., Stravinsky’s Petrushka Suite, vW9cyv; Bach’s Ein Feste Burg and Little Fugue in G minor, It is especially insightful to watch Stokowski conduct during a rehearsal, orating his directions for tone and volume ( The public adored the young dynamo.
18 | Acoustics Today | Summer 2018
Figure 2. A portrait of the couple Leopold Sto- kowski and Olga Sa- maroff. Samaroff was a respected pianist who used her considerable influence to arrange Sto- kowski’s first two con- ducting positions. From the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.
But Stokowski’s relationship with his supervisors grew tur- bulent. Stokowski dreamed of growing the symphony; he wanted more concerts in more cities with more musicians. The board rebuffed him every time, and after several well- publicized showdowns, Stokowski was released from his contract and he headed for Germany in 1912. Again, Olga fi- nessed a new opportunity for Stokowski, whom she had mar- ried the year before. On her way to meet him in Munich, Olga took a stopover in Philadelphia. There, she negotiated with the Philadelphia Orchestra and signed a contract on behalf of her husband, who was already overseas. He sent his acceptance by telegram. It was there, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, where Stokowski first became fascinated with recording technology.
Recording Enters the Electronic Age
In 1917, Stokowski and his players traveled by ferry to Cam- den, New Jersey, to record two of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Like most record- ings before 1925, the method of sound capture involved no electronics or amplification (for a historical review, see Brock-Nannested, 2016). Acoustic horns shaped like fun- nels captured and converted pressure waves in the room to mechanical energy driving a stylus, which etched a wax disc. The process had severe consequences for the sound qual- ity; only very powerful, or very proximal, sound sources would make it clearly onto the final product, compromising dynamic range and balance. High-frequency sounds were severely attenuated, yielding recordings devoid of pleas- ing harmonics and resonances. Unsurprisingly, Stokowski found the character of these recordings disappointing (in- deed, the recordings have a tinny quality and the dynamic range is compressed by the presence of a persistent hiss; listen for yourself at Sixty years later, Sto- kowski recalled, “It was not good. But I didn’t close my mind

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