Josef (or Joseph) Stránský (September 9, 1872 – March 6, 1936) was a Czech conductor, composer, and art collector/dealer who moved to the United States and conducted the New York Philharmonic from 1911 to 1923.
Born in Humpolec (Bohemia), he worked as a conductor in Prague and Berlin before being selected by the New York Philharmonic to replace Gustav Mahler on Mahler's death in 1911. Some commentators did not see Stránský as a worthy successor to Mahler: the periodical Musical America wrote:
|“||After much upheaval, search and negotiation, the New York Philharmonic Society ... has engaged Josef Stransky... Without disrespect to Mr. Stransky, there are reasons which cause this circumstance to remind one of Aesop's fable of the mountain in labor which finally brought forth a mouse||”|
An article in the New York Times about the appointment began, "The financial backers of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra will be interested to learn that the German artistic world is filled with astonishment over the engagement of Josef Stransky of Berlin as the successor to the late Gustav Mahler", before going on to allege that Stránský was chosen over other candidates such as Oskar Fried and Bruno Walter because of his low financial demands.
During his tenure with the Philharmonic, Stránský received praise for his interpretations of Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss by the prominent critic Henry T. Finck of the New York Evening Post. However, Daniel Gregory Mason expressed his dissatisfaction with what he referred to as "the Wagnerian, Lisztian and Tschaikowskian pap ladled out to us by ... Stransky of the Phihamonic Society", and went as far as to call the conductor "a total musical incompetent". In an even more biting critique published in H. L. Mencken's American Mercury Magazine, critic D. W. Sinclair wrote
|“||Succeeding one of the greatest figures in modern music, the late Gustav Mahler, Stransky maintained himself for so long, not so much by his musical abilities as by his social charm and personal cleverness.||”|
From his installation in 1911 until the end of the 1919–20 season, Stránský conducted every Philharmonic concert. He conducted the orchestra's first recordings, which were made for Columbia Records. He was elected an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the national fraternity for men in music, in 1917 by the Fraternity's Alpha Chapter at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1921 the Philharmonic merged with the National Symphony, conducted by Willem Mengelberg. For the 1922–23 season, Stránský conducted the first half of the season and Mengelberg the second: Stránský subsequently left the orchestra.
Career as an art dealer
Before his death, Stránský amassed a private art collection that included more than 50 major impressionist and post-impressionist paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Matisse, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Sisley, Delacroix, Ingres, Corot, Courbet, Daumier, Derain, Boudin, Modigliani, Segonzac, Fantin-Latour, Vuillard, Utrillo, Vlaminck, Guys, Laurencin, Rouault, Gromaire, and others. He also owned a large collection of old master paintings, and was a recognized authority on the old masters.
Had this group of works remained intact and in private hands, today it would be one of the most valuable privately held art collections in the world.
Recently, Stránský was discovered to have owned for many years a 1785 painting by Nicolas Benjamin Delapierre that may be the earliest known portrait of Thomas Jefferson. It was sold by the estate of his widow (Marie D. Stransky) in October 1954.
Stránský married Marie Duxrud (1881–1954), a soprano from Norway, in 1912.
Stránský died in New York City in 1936 and is buried in The Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
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- Horowitz (2005), p. 195
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With Joseph Stransky, the Philharmonic acquired a leader who is the greatest Liszt specialist since Seidl, and who also performs the tone poems of Strauss more glowingly, brilliantly, and convincingly than any one else except Strauss himself
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- "The Private Collection of Josef Stransky", The Art News, Volume XXIX, Number 33, New York, May 16, 1931, pp. 86-117.
- From Maud Dale's introduction to "The Private Collection of Josef Stransky," The Art News, Volume XXIX, Number 33, New York, May 16, 1931, pp. 86-117: "Josef Stransky retired at the height of his musical career in order to devote himself entirely to the fine arts. His hobby became his profession and his profession his hobby. A serious student of painting since his early youth, he is now known not only as a collector and fine judge of modern pictures but he has become a recognized authority on the works of the old masters." Then, from Ralph Flint's segment of the introduction: "...long before he ever dreamed of occupying a seat on the New York Art Exchange, Stransky was a collector. Even in his student days when music was his ruling passion the acquisitive urge proved so irresistible that on one occasion he spent his entire holdings for a coveted painting. How many times he has repeated that early performance it would be difficult to say. ...today the Stransky collection stands as one of the finest, most comprehensively selected sequences of French art of the XVIIIth, XIXth, and XXth centuries that is to be met with either here or abroad. Considering the wide range and completeness of the Stransky collection it can only be hoped that it will be kept together in the years to come, for it should stand intact as a fitting memorial to a great collector and art lover."
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