Leopold Stokowski: Danse Macabre

[Photo of Leopold Stokowski] One day when I was in 6th grade, I found a box somebody had left on the curb, filled with various treasures. One was a giant catalog of odd stuff: it listed where to buy things like church steeples, prison doors, and phone booths — stuff you couldn’t imagine where to get or even how to find out where to get in the days before the internet.

But the best thing in the box was an album of 12" 78s, including a recording of Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. My “Show’N Tell” (anyone remember those?) played 78s, so I listened to it right away and loved it.

[Photo of a Stroh violin] I’ve heard many versions of the piece since then, but none I’ve heard match the essential spookiness of the 1925 Stokowski recording. This is largely due to the unusual recording technique. It was one of the first classical recordings to use electric microphones, but the intrumentation was still set up as orchestras were for acoustic recordings: there was a bass saxophone in place of a double-bass, and — most importantly — a Stroh violin.

My well-loved copy broke after years of play, and I was very unhappy. Then, about ten years ago, I found another copy at a Salvation Army, which I again played often. Then that one broke. 78s are annoying that way. Finally I found an obscure CD reissue, unavailable in America, that had it, so here it is.

4 thoughts on “Leopold Stokowski: Danse Macabre”

  1. I’ve been trying to track down an early acoustic recording of the Danse Macabre for some time; I have a partial download from who knows where, and I’ve been looking for the rest of it for about six years now.

    This isn’t it.

    Could you give a listen to the one at the above URL and see if you recognise it? Thanks.


  2. The Danse Macabre is “a late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one’s station in life, the dance of death united all”–wiki

    Reminds me of the ending of that classic film “The Seventh Seal” by Ingmar Bergman, where the medieval characters, all claimed by death, dance away into the hills.
    Remember this was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?? The Hush episode!
    According to the ancient superstition, Wiki says its based on a superstition that “Death” appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death has the power to call forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle.
    I would love to see a character in film with such powers!
    Wonderful find!
    Creepy and touching.

  3. Hey man, just wanted to thank you for this resource of yours. This version of the danse macabre is wonderful and I really loved those Mary Lou Williams recordings you put up some time ago. Keep up the good search, your work is really valuable – cheers from Italy

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