Leopold Stokowski was a British-born American orchestral conductor, well known for his free-hand performing style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from many of the great orchestras he conducted.
In America, Stokowski performed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Air. He was also the founder of the All-American Youth Orchestra, the New York City Symphony, the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra and The American Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the music for and appeared in Disney’s Fantasia along with being portrayed by Bugs Bunny in the 1949 Looney Tunes episode Long-Haired Hare. Stokowski, who made his official conducting debut in 1909, appeared in public for the last time in 1975 but continued making recordings until June 1977, a few months before his death at the age of 95.
Stokowski was the son of an English-born cabinetmaker with Polish heritage, Kopernik Józef Boles?awowicz Stokowski, and his Irish-born wife Annie Marion Stokowska, née Moore. Stokowski was born Leopold Anthony Stokowski, though on occasion in later life he altered his middle name to Antoni and added the family names Stanis?aw Boles?awowicz. There is some mystery surrounding his early life. For example, he spoke with a slight accent, though he was born and raised in London, England. In addition, on occasion, Stokowski gave his birth year as 1887 instead of 1882, as in a letter to the Hugo Riemann Musiklexicon in 1950, which also gave his birthplace as Kraków, Poland. Nicolas Slonimsky, editor of Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians received a letter from a Finnish encyclopedia editor that said, “The Maestro himself told me that he was born in Pomerania, Germany, in 1889.”
However, Stokowski’s birth certificate gives his birth on April 18, 1882, at 13 Upper Marylebone Street, in the Marylebone District of London. Stokowski was named after his Polish-born grandfather Leopold, who died in the English county of Surrey on January 13, 1879, at the age of 49. The “mystery” surrounding his origins and accent is clarified in Oliver Daniel’s 1000-page biography “Stokowski ? A Counterpoint of View”, in which Daniel reveals that Stokowski came under the influence of his first wife, the pianist Olga Samaroff. Samaroff, née Hickenlooper, was from the American midwest,and adopted a more exotic-sounding name to further her career. For professional and career reasons, she “urged him to emphasize only the Polish part of his background” once he became a resident of the United States.