Fantasia posed a problem for the Music Department at the Walt Disney studio.
The use of classical music–all safely in the Public Domain–meant that the Music Department would not be able to contribute a dime to Disney’s coffers.
There would be no opportunity for Larry Morey or Ned Washington to write a catchy lyric. You’re gonna set a lyric to “Night On Bald Mountain”??
As for the various record companies–those that had large catalogues of classical music–they could try to promote these catalogues along with the film–if the snobbish clientele for symphonic and concert music did not object too strongly.
Here, both Disney and Victor Records had a not-so-secret ace in the hole: Leopold Stokowski.
“Stoky” was, to put it bluntly, the best-known of all symphony conductors. He had worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra as far back as 1912, and had built the Philadelphia Orchestra into one of the finest symphony groups in the world.
What’s more, he had been recording for Victor with the Philadellphia Orchestra since 1917, and some of these records were steady sellers, accumulating sales over the years as new customers wanted to build a repertoire of classical records–which they then wouldn’t play!
So, when it was time to sit down and brainstorm about what classical pieces to include in “Fantasia”, it’s no wonder that Stokowski went in for some favorites–as well as a couple of pieces that he had not recorded before.
Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor was one of “Stoky”‘s favorites. He had recorded it for Victor–most famously in 1934.
Tschaikowsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” was another favorite of Leopold. He had recorded it twice for the Victor–once in 1927, and again in 1934.
“The Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du Printemps”) showed Stoky’s love of modern music. He had recorded it for the Victor in 1930.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” had been recorded commercially for Victor late in 1937,with the Philadelphia Orchestra. This was not long before Stokowski came out here and led a picked group of Hollywood studio musicians in what would become the soundtrack for Mickey Mouse’s contribution to “Fantasia”. (All the other parts of the symphonic score were recorded in 1940 with the Philadelphia Orchestra–with which Stoky was about to sever his bonds for the rest of his career.
Leopold did not record Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” with the Philadelphia–except for the soundtrack of “Fantasia”. Soon afterward, he recorded it commercially with his own organization: the All-American Youth Orchestra–under his new contract with Columbia records.
Another piece that he did not record commercially with the Philadelphia Orchestra was Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony. He would record it in 1946 for RCA Victor, with “his” Symphony Orchestra’ a group made up of hand-picked men (many from the New York Philharmonic).
And he never got to make a commercial record–not in the 78-rpm era–of Ponchielli’s “Dance Of The Hours”. There’s a piece that owes its familiarity to a more modern generation to Allan Sherman’s use of it for Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!.
To hear Stokowski’s conducting of the Philadelphia Orchestra, recorded in the revolutionary “Fantasound” process, in a big theater full of well-dressed gentry, must surely have been quite an experience in 1941.
Too bad so many of us are too young to have been at the Broadway Theater in Manhattan, or the Carthay Circle Theater in Hollywood. That would really have been something!