Madame Olga Samaroff-Stokowski (nee Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper) was born in San Antonio, Texas, August 8, 1880, while her father was an officer in the United States Army stationed there. At the age of three she astounded her mother and grandmother (both of whom were music teachers) by improvising melodies at the keyboard. At twelve years of age, she was taken to Europe by her grandmother, where she remained until she was twenty-one. She was the first American woman to be given a scholarship in the piano class at the Paris Conservatoire, where she studied with Antoine Francois Marmontel (teacher of Bizet, Dubois, Giraud and others), Ludovic Breitner, and with E.M. Delaborde (the illegitimate son of Charles-Valentin Alkan). She made a highly successful debut in Paris and shortly thereafter she married a Russian engineer, Boris Loutzky, and went to Berlin where she studied with Ernest Hutcheson, Otis B. Boise and Ernest Jedliczka (pupil of Anton Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky). Her marriage was brief and ended in an annulment.
Her successful pianistic debut in America was January 8, 1905, at Carnegie Hall, with the New York Symphony Orchestra (Walter Damrosch conducting). This was followed by extensive tours in America and Europe. She ranked with the foremost women pianists, such as Clara Schumann, Annette Essipov and Teresa Carreno. Upon the advice of her manager, Henry Wolfsohn, she chose the professional name of Olga Samaroff from a remote Russian relative and used it throughout her career.
In 1911, she became the wife of Leopold Stokowski, then at the beginning of his brilliant career as a conductor. Their marriage also ended in divorce twelve years later. Their one daughter, Sonya, married Lieutenant William Thorbecke, the son of a Dutch diplomat.
During the 1920s, Samaroff made an extensive series of recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, including works of Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Juon, Lecuona, and others. Most of Samaroff's recordings have been reissued on a compact disc produced by Pearl Records of England.
An injury to her left arm in 1926 compelled Samaroff to cancel all concerts for the season, after which she accepted the position of chief music critic of the New York Evening Post which she continued for two years. Her broad knowledge, varied musical experience and clear style were highly praised. The Post attempted to retain her for three more years but she declined their offer to devote herself to educational work and lecturing.
When the Juilliard Foundation organized its Graduate School in 1925, Samaroff was asked to join the faculty. In 1927, she became head of the Piano Department of the Philadelphia Conservatory. She held both positions, traveling between New York and Philadelphia, until her death.
In 1927, she founded the Schubert Memorial, Inc., with a view of providing opportunities for young artists to obtain a hearing in the larger concert and opera field. In 1931, she was one of the four founders of the Musician's Emergency Aid of New York, which collected and distributed large funds to musicians in need during the Great Depression.
Samaroff's services as a lecturer were in great demand. She appeared at Yale, Harvard, Columbia and many of America's finest universities. Her lectures were prepared with extreme care and delivered eloquently. Realizing that one of the great needs of America was a layman's music course for listeners, she arranged, in 1935, with the W.W. Norton Company, to publish a series of books to bring together musical ideas and information to educate the layman. "The Layman's Music Book" resulted, followed by her autobiography, "An American Musician's Story," a few years later. Her success with "The Layman's Music Course" was outstanding, resulting in several years of subscription lecture series given at Town Hall in New York.
Notwithstanding her eminent position as a virtuoso, a critic, an author, lecturer and organizer, Samaroff is perhaps best known for her distinguished career as a teacher. She was extremely dedicated to her students and would go to extraordinary lengths to provide for them the best, well-rounded education possible in preparation for a concert career. Some of her more distinguished pupils were William Kapell, Claudette Sorel, Rosalyn Tureck, Joseph Battista, Eugene List, Sigi Weissenberg and Raymond Lewenthal.
Samaroff died after a brief illness on May 17, 1948 in her New York apartment. Further details of Samaroff's life and career may be found in a 60-minute documentary video produced by Samaroff researcher and biographer Donna Kline: "Virtuoso--The Olga Samaroff Story," available via amazon.com. (For further information, see www.olgasamaroff.com.)
SERIES I - CORRESPONDENCE
The OS Collection contains a substantial amount of correspondence.
SERIES II - WRITINGS
This series contains the writings of OS from various periods of her life. It is divided into:
- Unpublished Writings
- Published Writings
- Radio and Lecture Scripts
SERIES III - PHOTOGRAPHS
Here are found publicity and personal photographs (including photographic portraits) of OS, her family and friends as wekk as a small collection of slides and negatives. There are approximately 41 items (excluding the slides and negatives) and 2 photo albums which are located in Boxes 11 and 12. Oversized materials (framed/mounted pictures) are stored separately.
SERIES IV - SUBJECT FILES
Here are found various materials that have been divided into the following subseries, and located in Boxes 13-20:
- Biographical Materials/Published Articles/Other
- OS as pianist
- Lectures (tours)
- Book Reviews
- Educational Institutions
- Leopold & Sonya Stokowski
- Layman's Musical Course
SERIES V - SCRAPBOOKS
There are a total of 12 scrapbooks consisting of mainly newspaper clippings and some photographs. The materials are organized chronologically. Articles are about OS (her career as pianist, writer, teacher, lecturer and broadcaster), OS and Leopold Stokowski, Sonya, and OS' students. One of the scrapbooks consists only of materials about Leopold Stokowski. (Red, oblong scrapbook). There are three notebooks (with leather covers) which list O.S's repertoire and programs from various places.
SERIES VI - RECORDINGS
Consisting of approximately 21 items, divided into the following four subseries:
- OS Broadcasts, containing the WQXR broadcasts of "Getting Your Music's Worth" in 1945.
- OS Piano Recordings
- OS Students' Recordings
- Miscellaneous Commercial Recordings
SERIES VII - BOOKS
There are a total of 360 books in the collection including scores, story books, travel books, cultural books, children's books and dictionaries. They are listed alphabetically under each subject and can be found in Boxes A-M.
SERIES VIII - MISCELLANEOUS