August 8, 1880|
San Antonio, Texas
|Died||May 17, 1948
Life and career
Samaroff was born Lucy Mary Agnes Hickenlooper in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Galveston, where her family owned a business later wiped out in the 1900 Galveston hurricane. There being then no great teachers in the United States, after her talent for the piano was discovered she was sent to Europe to study, first with Antoine François Marmontel at the Conservatoire de Paris, and later with Ernst 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 United States and tried to carve out a career as a pianist, but she soon discovered she was hampered both by her awkward name and her American origins. Her agent suggested a professional name change, which 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), hiring the hall, the orchestra and the conductor Walter Damrosch, and making an overwhelming impression with her performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. She played extensively in the United States and Europe thereafter.
Samaroff discovered Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977) when he was church organist at St. Bartholemew's in New York and later conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. She played Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto under Stokowski's direction when he made his official conducting debut in Paris with the Colonne Orchestra on May 12, 1909.
She married Stokowski in 1911 and their daughter Sonya was born in 1921. At that time much more famous than he, Samaroff lobbied her contacts to get Stokowski appointed (in 1912) to the vacant conductor's post at the Philadelphia Orchestra, launching his international career. Samaroff made a number of recordings in the early 1920s for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
In 1923, Samaroff and Stokowski divorced; the reasons included Stokowski's infidelity, from which she never recovered. She took refuge in her friends, among whom were 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 also wrote for the New York Evening Post until 1928, and she gave guest lectures throughout the 1930s.
Samaroff was the second pianist in history, after Hans von Bulow, to perform all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in public, preceding Artur Schnabel (who did the series first in 1927) by several years. German pianist Walter Gieseking would have also performed the complete sonatas in public by age fifteen (circa 1910)
Samaroff developed a course of music study for laymen and was 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 in New York. She taught at both schools for the rest of her life.
Called "Madam" by her students, she was an advocate for them, supplying many of her Depression-era charges with concert clothes and food. She pressed officials at Juilliard to build a dormitory – a project that was not realized until after her death decades later. Her most famous pupil was concert pianist William Kapell, who was killed in a 1953 plane crash at age 31. She herself said that the best pianist she ever taught was the New Zealander Richard Farrell, who also died at age 31, in a motor vehicle accident in England in 1958.
Samaroff published an autobiography, An American Musician's Story, in 1939. 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.
- Richard Farrell
- Stewart L. Gordon
- Natalie Hinderas
- Bruce Hungerford
- William Kapell
- Edith Grosz
- Raymond Lewenthal
- Eugene List
- Jerome Lowenthal
- Margaret Saunders Ott
- Vincent Persichetti
- Thomas Schippers
- Alfred Teltschik
- Rosalyn Tureck
- Alexis Weissenberg