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Leopold Stokowski's Wonderful Bach (May 7, 2015)

Stokowski and Bach

Conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was famous and infamous for his orchestrations, especially of Bach's music, much of it originally for organ. When he was alive, most "sophisticated" music lovers dismissed Stokowski's Bach as too Technicolor, garish and just plain vulgar, if not absurd since Bach never even heard anything like a modern orchestra. While he had his knowledgeable fans, it was mainly the general, "unsophisticated" public that went for it (or at least admitted liking it), which was in part Stokowski's intention - to make Bach more appealing to a 20th century audience. But I have always loved his Bach, even trying when I was a young record collector to find all of Stokowski's Bach recordings (many!). What's funny is, having just heard a terrific 2007 broadcast by Alan Gilbert with the New York Philharmonic, of the Bach/Stokowski d-minor tocatta and fugue, originally for organ (the piece near the beginning of Disney's Fantasia - and Stokowski was the conductor for that movie), it occurred to me that Stokowski won. These orchestrations are becoming somewhat common in concert. And it's because they are wonderful! I've always suspected, strongly, that Bach would agree.

(That said, no doubt Stokowski had his, um, lapses of taste, like the trilling trombones in his orchestration of Chopin's Op.28, #24 Prelude. Now this was the kind of thing Stokowski-haters loved to hate: Chopin-Stokowski: Prelude, Op. 28, #24)

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