Leopold Stokowski

British-born American conductor (1882–1977)

Leopold Stokowski (18 April 188213 September 1977), born Leopold Anthony Stokowski in London, also known as Leopold Antoni Stanisław Bolesławowicz Stokowski, was a famous orchestral conductor, and founder of the New York City Symphony Orchestra. He arranged the music for Disney’s Fantasia (1940), making a brief appearance in the film.

A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. We provide the music, and you provide the silence.


Music come from the heart and returns to the heart.
  • I understand you are doing "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." I would love to do that for you. I will do it for nothing.
    • During a chance meeting in a restaurant with Walt Disney. Stokowski's influence expanded the project and the idea eventually evolved into the landmark animation feature film Fantasia (1940), for which Stokowski had suggested the title, as one which indicates "a musical composition without a strict form"; quoted in Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story (2000) by Stefan Kanfer
    • Unsourced variant: I would like to conduct that for you.
  • I believe that music can be an inspirational force in all our lives — that its eloquence and the depth of its meaning are all-important, and that all personal considerations concerning musicians and the public are relatively unimportant — that music come from the heart and returns to the heart — that music is spontaneous, impulsive expression — that its range is without limit — that music is forever growing — that music can be one element to help us build a new conception of life in which the madness and cruelty of wars will be replaced by a simple understanding of the brotherhood of man.
    Music can be all things to all men. It is like a great dynamic sun in the center of a solar system which sends out its rays and inspiration in every direction. … It is as if the heavens open and a divine voice calls. Something in our souls responds and understands. We are speaking here of the most inspired music.
    • Music For All Of Us (1943); also quoted as "...Music can be all things to all persons... "
  • As a boy I remember how terribly real the statues of the saints would seem at 7 o'clock Mass-before I'd had breakfast. From that I learned always to conduct hungry.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (18 April 1967)
  • A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. We provide the music, and you provide the silence.
    • Addressing an audience at Carnegie Hall, as quoted in The New York Times (11 May 1967); often this is quoted without the humorous final sentence.
  • It is my profound wish that this entire collection shall be devoted to the advancement of fine music for the continued enjoyment of music enthusiasts throughout the United States, be they students of the arts, performing artists, or members of that vast audience of music lovers among the American public.
    • From his will, in which he provided for his conducting scores, manuscript orchestral transcriptions, and recordings to archived and accessible to the public. The Stokowski Archives are now housed in the University of Pennsylvania Library.
  • I simply make music, and people have always been foolish enough to pay me for it. I never told them that I would have done it all for nothing. CBS TV 1976
  • On matters of intonation and technicalities I am more than a martinet— I am a martinetissimo.
    • Statement recalled in obituaries (13 September 1977), as quoted in Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations (1988) compiled by James B. Simpson

Quotes about Stokowski

  • I would like to have been present, if I could have my choice of all moments in music history, when Stokowski suddenly became conscious of his beautiful hands. That must have been a moment. Like stout Cortez [sic] on a peak in Darien (I know it was Balboa) he saw before him a limitless expanse, a whole uncharted sea that might be subjected to his influence, free from the encumbrance of a baton.
    • Oscar Levant, in "Music in Aspic," Harper's Magazine (October 1939), an abbreviated chapter from Levant's soon-to-be-published A Smattering of Ignorance (1940); as quoted in "Lightning Wit Plays On American Musical Scene; Oscar Levant Answers Unspoken Request for 'Information, Please' With Uncensored Comments on Exalted Persons" by Ray C. B. Brown, in The Washington Post (January 14, 1940), p. E4
  • His ambition to shine and his lack of a sound musical culture have led him often into distorted interpretations and into lapses of musical taste that have enraged musicians on three continents. ... His whole performance is a violation of musical tradition and taste the more surprising in that he has always managed to remain high in his profession notwithstanding.
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