Sunday, May 25, 2014

* The All of Leopold Stokowski

Letter to the Editor
Yale Alumni Magazine
Dear Editor:

Organist and Head of the Organ Department  of the Juilliard School Paul Jacobs ('02 MusM,'03 ArtA), may indeed have a mission to "save civilization with classical music" (YAM, May/June 2014)  but he would have a better chance at tackling  it if he took a cue from Leopold Stokowski who wrote his own epitaph before he died in 1977, still conducting, at age  95: It is an epitaph of  total musical egalitarianism.

Stokowski enjoys a legendary  celluloid immortality  bestowed upon him by his co-conductor Mickey Mouse  in the Walt Disney  film " Fantasia”  Mr. Jacobs might aver that the Stokowski orchestrations of Bach’s organ music deserve that Disney moniker too.

I had the privilege of witnessing  Stokowski at age 88 rehearse a choir he would conduct at Carnegie Hall  and there was nothing mickey mouse about him. He halted the music with a single clap of his  hands: "You must learn to concentrate; it is the secret to everything" he oraculated, expecting immediate comprehension and obedience.

Concentration  seems to be Paul Jacobs' insight too as he performed the entire Bach organ repertoire from memory in a grueling dawn to dusk marathon. But Stokowski knew that the modern egalitarian  audience needed more than concentration to stay in their seats for Bach.

They needed to be seduced by the sound -- not so much a Wagnerian "wall of sound"  but an orchestral ocean of sound whose tides rise and fall with waves whipped up from Stokey’s  glorious strings and brass.

I suspect the Juilliard organist might say Stokowski stooped to conquer.  The maestro’s famous hands would direct him to his epitaph: “Music is the Voice of the All,”  a philosophy which  Paul Jacobs might just need to use in  mounting his crusade to save the civilization of the All.
Paul D. Keane
M.Div. '80

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