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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.