Olga Samaroff

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Olga Samaroff
Olga Samaroff.gif
Born Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper
(1880-08-08)August 8, 1880
San Antonio, Texas
Died May 17, 1948(1948-05-17) (aged 67)
New York City, New York
Occupation
  • classical pianist
  • piano pedagogue
  • music critic

Olga Samaroff (August 8, 1880 – May 17, 1948) was a pianist, music critic, and teacher. Among her teachers, Charles-Valentin Alkan's son, Élie-Miriam Delaborde. Her second husband was conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Life and career[edit]

Samaroff was born Lucy Mary Olga 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. After her talent for the piano was discovered, she was sent to Europe to study, since at that time there were no great piano teachers in the United States. She first studied with Antoine François Marmontel and Alkan's son, Élie-Miriam Delaborde at the Conservatoire de Paris and later with Ernst Jedliczka in Berlin. While in Berlin, she was very briefly married to 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. However, 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). She hired the hall, the orchestra, and conductor Walter Damrosch, and made 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 Piano Concerto No. 1 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, Samaroff was much more famous than her husband and was able to lobby 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. Samaroff was the second pianist in history, after Hans von Bülow, 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 also perform the complete sonatas in public by age fifteen (circa 1910).

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 and suffered an injury to her shoulder. The injury forced her to retire from performing. So from that point on, she worked primarily as a critic and teacher. She also wrote for the New York Evening Post until 1928, and she gave guest lectures throughout the 1930s.

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. She supplied many of her Depression-era charges with concert clothes and food. She also 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.

Samaroff is related to Civil War general Andrew Hickenlooper and to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. In Hickenlooper's 2016 memoir, he states that the name change from Hickenlooper to Samaroff was suggested by Samaroff's cousin and Federal Judge Smith Hickenlooper.[1]

Notable pupils[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hickenlooper, John; Potter, Maximillian (2016). The Opposite of Woe, My Life in Beer and Politics. New York: Penguin Press. p. 112. 

External links[edit]