The Organ

Rollin Smith: Stokowski and the Organ

Rollin Smith: Stokowski and the Organ (The Complete Organ; 8)
Pendragon Press.
ISBN 1-57647-103-9.

Leopold Stokowski is not obviously remembered as an organist, though most people will recall his orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J.S. Bach. But Stokowski started his musical life as an organist and was an FRCO. This is the latest volume in the excellent Pendragon Press series, The Complete Organ. The author is once again the prolific Rollin Smith. We hear firstly of the difficulties facing the Stokowski biographer, not least among the problems being the subject’s own deceptions about his past. After a general introduction covering Stokowski’s life and career, Smith begins with his early life and career in England. There is much detail – including the specifications of the organs that Stokowski played, together with illustrations, and a wealth of biographical and background material drawn from a wide range of primary and secondary sources.

We then move to New York and his tenure of office at St Bartholomew’s Church, covered in two chapters, the first of which concentrates on the organ; the second looking at Stokowki’s time there. There is an absolute wealth of material here – with a wonderful series of illustrations, comprising photographs, facsimiles of programmes, correspondence. There is much valuable information and repertoire and Stokowski’s approach. The next chapters then look at his continued association with the organ and organists after he had left St Bartholomew’s Church. A chapter is devoted to Stokowski’s player pipe organ ‘recording’ of Bach’s Passacaglia, with a detailed analysis, inter alia, of the registrations proposed and a comparison of the recording with his orchestral transcription. A further chapter concentrates on all the orchestral transcriptions. The book is completed by a series of appendices: the examination papers for ARCO and FRCO that he would have had to sit; stoplists of the organs where he was organist; his organ repertoire (with a very large proportion of orchestral transcriptions!); his organ recital programmes; works conducted by him at St Bartholomew’s; choral works by him; articles by him. The book is completed by a bibliography.

This is a superbly researched and crafted book – a real exemplar. It is also a fascinating read – not only about a complex and interesting character, but also of the musical mores of the time and Anglo-American organ playing; very highly recommended indeed – and good value, well produced.