Saturday, May 2, 2015


I grew up on a healthy diet of Looney Tunes cartoons. Saturday mornings were always greatly anticipated because this was when cartoons were on the air. (we did not have the Cartoon Network back then!). My favorite cartoons were usually connected to classical music. One was the famous "Barber of Seville" parody called "The Rabbit of Seville", released on December 16, 1950. How can we forget Bugs Bunny shaving Elmer..."yes your next....very next". Or the epic Wagnerian parody, "What's Opera Doc", released July 6, 1957. This had the great line "kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit" sung to the music of Wagner's Die Walkure. But for this entry I want to focus on "The Long-Haired Hare" released June 25, 1949. This is when I fist became aware of LEOPOLD!
In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny is doing battle with a pompous opera singer. At a concert at what looks like the Hollywood Bowl, bugs disguises himself as a conductor and enters the orchestra pit. The musicians all turn and start whispering "Leopold....Leopold". This is obviously a conductor who commands great respect and instills fear into those he leads. You probably know what happens, but just in case, here is a link to the cartoon, "The Long-Haired Hare".

Bugs Bunny's "Leopold" is of course modeled after Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski lived from 1882-1977, and is generally regarded as one of the great conductors of the twentieth century. The aim of this discussion is not to debate his place among other well know conductors of our time. I have read both favorable and critical assessments of his artistic career. I tend to feel that he was an important musical figure, and while I don't believe he was the greatest conductor of all time, he certainly had an epic career that spanned more than 70 years.

You can see from this picture that Stokowski did not use a baton while conducting. I love the scene in the cartoon when Bugs his handed a baton, which he promptly snaps in half...Leopold does not need a baton!
Stokowski conducted all over the world, including here in my hometown of Kansas City on more than one occasion. First, on June 16, 1941, he conducted the All-American Youth Orchestra at Municipal Hall. The program featured Brahms' Symphony No. 1, and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. He returned to KC on January 8 and 10, 1953 to conduct the Kansas City Philharmonic at the Music Hall. Here is the review from the Kansas City Star.



Musicians Respond in Masterful Fashion as Guest Conductor Leads in Second-Night Concert.

Every ounce of fervor the Philharmonic orchestra could summon made a magnificent climax of the closing composition at last night's Music Hall concert before 2000 persons with the distinguished guest conductor, Leopold Stokowski, on the podium.
The exalted finale was the Immolation scene from the Wagnerian music drama, "Gotterdammerung." It was a crowning achievement for orchestra and conductor, marking the close of Mr. Stokowski's musical assignment here.
Back Six Times
Hardly had the last notes of the soaring theme of the redemption through love motive in the music died out than an ovation more than matching that of Thursday night was accorded the maestro and eighty-one musicians. There were six recalls, two of which the orchestra musicians insisted Mr. Stokowski take alone, but no encore was granted. There would have been a letdown in any less momentous music to close.
The orchestra was a pliant instrument in the hands of the conductor. It responded with more vitality and authority than on Thursday night to Mr. Stokowski's wishes in the Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major. The result was a more impassioned reading and a nobler concept. The discerning audience gave some bravos and four recalls.
Part of the imprint Mr. Stokowski leaves here was registered by the fluent, sympathetic reading he and the orchestra gave the descriptive tone poem of the late Powell Weaver, "The Vagabond," based on a Walt Whitman poem. The Kansas City composer died a year ago. The music was filled with sparkling passages and a mixture of humor and serenity that suited the text about a carefree wanderer. The brief piano cadenza was played by Dale Reubart.

Twice Before Here
This work, which had its premiere in 1931 by the Minneapolis orchestra, has been heard twice before here by Philharmonic audiences, but not in such clarity of detail and balance of sound as last night. Perhaps the unusual Stokowski seating arrangement of the orchestra was helpful in those regards.
In the Bach choral prelude, "We All Believe in One God," which opened the program, audience awareness of a greater sonority and brilliance of sound than it is accustomed to hearing from this ensemble was recorded by enthusiastic applause. Stokowski himself made this orchestral transcription almost thirty years ago when he was conductor of the Philadelphia orchestra. 
The next set of subscription concerts will be January 22 and 24, with Artur Rubinstein, pianist, as soloist.
The total attendance for the two Stokowski concerts was 4500, a season record. C.B.N.

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