Born: August 8, 1880 - San Antonio, Texas, USA
Died: May 17, 1948 - New York City, New York, USA
The American pianist, music critic, and teacher, Olga Samaroff [born: Lucy Mary Agnes Hickenlooper], grew up in Galveston, Texas, where her family owned a business later wiped out in the great hurricane of 1900. There being then no great teachers in the USA, after her talent for the piano was discovered she was sent to Europe to study, first with Antoine Francois Marmontel at the Conservatoire de Paris, and later with Ernest Jedliczka in Berlin, where she married, very briefly, Russian engineer Boris Loutzky. After her divorce from Loutzky, and the disaster which claimed her family's business, she returned to the USA and tried to carve out a career as a pianist but soon discovered she was hampered both by her rather awkward name and her American origins. An agent suggested a change and her professional name was taken from a remote relative.
As Olga Samaroff she self-produced her New York debut at Carnegie Hall in 1905 (the first woman ever to do so), renting the hall, orchestra and conductor Walter Damrosch, and making an overwhelming impression with her performance of the Tchaikowsky Piano Concerto. She played extensively in the USA and Europe thereafter. Samaroff discovered Leopold Stokowski when he was church organist at St. Bartholemew's in New York and later conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra. At that time much more famous than he, Samaroff lobbied her distinguished contacts to get him appointed (in 1912) to the vacant conductor's post at the famed Philadelphia Orchestra, launching his international career. She married Leopold Stokowski in 1911 and their daughter Sonia was born in 1921. Anecdote has it that the couple met at a musician's promotional luncheon where Leopold Stokowski (not knowing her real origin) was introduced to her and expressed his relief at being able to talk to another Russian. Samaroff made a number of recordings in the early 1920's for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
In 1923, Leopold Stokowski left her for actress Greta Garbo in a scandal that made headlines. Olga Samaroff never recovered from his infidelity and took refuge in her friends which included George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Dorothy Parker, and Cary Grant. In 1925 Samaroff fell in her New York apartment, suffering an injury to her shoulder which forced her to retire from performing. She worked primarily as a critic and teacher from then on. She wrote for the New York Evening Post until 1928, and gave guest lectures throughout the 1930's. Samaroff was also the first music teacher to be broadcast on NBC television. She taught at the Philadelphia Conservatory and in 1924 was invited to join the faculty of the newly formed Juilliard School of Music in New York. She taught at both schools for the rest of her life. Called "Madam" by her adoring students, she was a tireless advocate for them, supplying many of her Depression-era charges with everything from concert clothes to food, and pressing officials at Juilliard to build a dormitory - a project that was not realized for decades after her death. Her most famous pupil was concert pianist William Kapell who was killed tragically in a 1953 plane crash at 31. Other notable pupils are: Raymond Lewenthal, Alfred Teltschik, Rosalyn Tureck, Jerome Lowenthal, Bruce Hungerford, Vincent Persichetti, Claudette Sorel, Joseph Battista, Joseph Running, Eugene List and Alexis Weissenberg.
Olga Samaroff published an autobiography, An American Musician's Story, in 1939. Teacher to the end, she died of a heart attack at her home in New York on the evening of May 17, 1948 after giving several lessons that day.
Olga-Samaroff-Stokowski: The magic world of music; A music book for the young of all ages (W.W. Norton & Co., inc, 1936). Buy this book at: Amazon.com
Olga-Samaroff-Stokowski: A music manual,: Containing certain things that everybody wishes to know and remember about music (W.W. Norton & Co., inc, 1937). Buy this book at: Amazon.com
Olga Samaroff: An American Musicianís Story (1939)
Olga-Samaroff-Stokowski: The Layman's Music Book (W. W. Norton & Company, 1955). Buy this book at: Amazon.com
Donna Pucciani: Olga Samaroff: American Musician and Educator (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1978)
Oliver Daniel: Stokowski: A Counterpoint of View (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1982)
Donna Staley Kline: An American Virtuoso on the World Stage: Olga Samaroff Stokowski (Texas A&M University Press, 1997). Buy this book at: Amazon.com
Don C. Gillespie: An American Virtuoso on the World Stage: Olga Samaroff Stokowski.: An article from: Notes (1998). Buy this article at: Amazon.com