One Woman in a Hundred

One Woman in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Series: Music in American Life
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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    One Woman in a Hundred
    Book Description:

    Gifted harpist Edna Phillips (1907-2003) joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930, becoming not only that ensemble's first female member but also the first woman to hold a principal position in a major American orchestra. Plucked from the Curtis Institute of Music in the midst of her studies, Phillips was only twenty-three years old when Leopold Stokowski, one of the twentieth century's most innovative and controversial conductors, named her principal harpist. This candid, colorful account traces Phillips's journey through the competitive realm of Philadelphia's virtuoso players, where she survived--and thrived--thanks to her undeniable talent, determination, and lively humor._x000B__x000B_Drawing on extensive interviews with Phillips, her family, and colleagues as well as archival sources, One Woman in a Hundred chronicles the training, aspirations, setbacks, and successes of this pioneering woman musician. Mary Sue Welsh recounts numerous insider stories of rehearsal and performance with Stokowski and other renowned conductors of the period such as Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, Otto Klemperer, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Eugene Ormandy. She also depicts Phillips's interactions with fellow performers, the orchestra management, and her teacher, the wily and brilliant Carlos Salzedo. Blessed with a nimble wit, Phillips navigated a plethora of challenges, ranging from false conductors' cues to the advances of the debonair Stokowski and others. She remained with the orchestra through some of its most exciting years from 1930 to 1946 and was instrumental in fostering harp performance, commissioning many significant contributions to the literature. _x000B__x000B_This portrait of Phillips's exceptional tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra also reveals the behind-the-scenes life of a famous orchestra during a period in which Rachmaninoff declared it "the finest orchestra the world has ever heard." Through Phillips's perceptive eyes, readers will watch as Stokowski melds his musicians into a marvelously flexible ensemble; world-class performers reach great heights and make embarrassing flubs; Greta Garbo comes to Philadelphia to observe her lover Leopold Stokowski at work; and the orchestra encounters the novel experience of recording for Walt Disney's Fantasia. A colorful glimpse into a world-class orchestra at the height of its glory, One Woman in a Hundred tells the fascinating story of one woman brave enough and strong enough to overcome historic barriers and pursue her dreams._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09454-5
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. FOREWORD (pp. xi-xii)
    Daniel Webster

    “The men,” was the term symphony orchestra administrators used well into the last quarter of the twentieth century to describe their players. The term came from a crystallized cultural tradition that made men musicians and women teachers and amateurs. Breaking that mold fell to harpist Edna Phillips, a small-town girl with steely nerves, just out of the Curtis Institute of Music, who became the first woman principal player in a major U.S. orchestra.

    She was the choice of Leopold Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director, a conductor who liked to jar his audiences. Even Stokowski, the brash iconoclast, was ambivalent...

  5. CHAPTER 1 In the Lions’ Den (pp. 1-19)

    Leopold Stokowski wasted no time on idle words in his rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra. By the fall of 1930, he was forty-eight years old. He had taken over the orchestra in 1912, when he was thirty, and within a few years transformed what had been a stiff, undistinguished ensemble into one that enraptured audiences in Philadelphia and beyond with its striking virtuosity and rich, vibrant sound. Tall and slender and very much in command, he engineered this transformation with remarkable vision and determination.

    Knowing exactly what he wanted to accomplish in rehearsals, he drove his players forward with relentless...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A Formidable Arena (pp. 20-34)

    Of course, playing well enough to be chosen for the Philadelphia Orchestra would be a tall order even with all of Salzedo’s talk about Edna’s musicalité. This wasn’t just a major orchestra. This was one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Critics, audiences, and musicians raved about its virtuoso players and the magnificent music they made under Leopold Stokowski.

    Early in 1929, Sergei Rachmaninoff, in an Associated Press interview from Paris, discussed the growing importance of the United States in the classical music world after the destruction that war and revolution had brought to Europe. “At present New York...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Little Goat (pp. 35-46)

    Phillips didn’t hear another word about her audition for over a month. Then, toward the end of February 1930, she got a call from the office of Arthur Judson, manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra, telling her to report to his office immediately after her Curtis Symphony Orchestra rehearsal.

    Sitting through rehearsal was almost impossible for Phillips that afternoon. It seemed to her that they had been plodding through César Franck’s Symphony in D minor forever. Emil Mlynarski, conductor of the Curtis student orchestra, had started rehearsing it with the students in October and had subjected it to section-by-section, note-by-note scrutiny...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Keeping Up with the Speed Kings (pp. 47-57)

    Back in Reading, Phillips’s mother had decided that her daughter wasn’t up to facing her entrance into the Philadelphia Orchestra on her own. Anna had lost too many loved ones to the scourge of illness to take lightly Edna’s bout with quinsy. Moreover, Edna was embarking on the career of her mother’s dreams. She wanted to be right there in Philadelphia to prop her daughter up with eggnogs and other home remedies, and so she rented a small townhouse at 1910 Panama Street for the two of them and her youngest daughter, Peggy, who was attending Beaver College (known today...

  9. CHAPTER 5 One Step Ahead of the Sheriff (pp. 58-72)

    On the Friday afternoon of her first concert, Phillips had no choice but to “head down the track without looking left or right, like a racehorse with blinders on.” There was nothing to do but steel herself and go forward. Much to her surprise, she made it through the concert without any gaffes. She didn’t come in at a wrong place or get lost or lose count or commit any of the terrible errors she feared she might. Instead, she found herself totally absorbed in the music, following the maestro’s lead almost as if she belonged there.

    But even though...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Season of Firsts (pp. 73-90)

    Six weeks after Phillips joined the orchestra, she faced a thundering giant who struck fear into her heart—and also into the hearts of her colleagues. Arturo Toscanini came to town as part of a highly publicized maestro exchange between the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic that had been set up by Arthur Judson, manager of both orchestras. A canny businessman who understood the value of a good public relations ploy—as did both Stokowski and Toscanini—Judson arranged to have his star conductors each lead the other’s orchestra for two weeks. Music aficionados of the day loved...

  11. CHAPTER 7 “Answer Yes or No” (pp. 91-107)

    For eight steamy weeks, night after night, with conductors coming and going and mosquitoes crawling up her arms, Phillips played that summer under the stars in Fairmount Park. Taking part in the summer concerts provided good on-the-job experience, she knew, but coming at the end of an exhausting first year, it was taxing. The entire enterprise was an experiment started that summer by the players and a group of friends of the orchestra called the Philadelphia Summer Concerts Association. Its purpose was to increase the number of weeks the orchestra members played—and got paid for—each year.

    Although the...

  12. CHAPTER 8 “Mortally Wounded” (pp. 108-114)

    Now it was Edna’s younger sister’s turn to be the center of the Phillips family’s attention. Peggy had waited patiently, somewhat on the sidelines, as Edna struggled to maintain her position in the orchestra. Not that she didn’t have her own fun, zipping back and forth to college in her roadster and just being the happy, sunny person she was with lots of friends and a growing romance to occupy her time. Her infectious good humor had cheered her sister many times when she felt overwhelmed by the pressures that confronted her. Edna was happy to stand aside while Peggy...

  13. CHAPTER 9 War on Broad Street (pp. 115-130)

    “Don’t leave. Don’t go home.” Marshall rushed to stop Phillips as she left the stage after the first rehearsal of the 1933–34 orchestra season. “Ya gotta go back.”

    Puzzled, she turned around and stepped back onto the stage, where-upon Maestro Stokowski gave the downbeat for the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the orchestra serenaded her with it. Phillips was grateful and relieved, for it meant that at least outwardly, and certainly graciously, Stokowski had accepted her marriage to Sam without recriminations.

    Sam was a highly involved, active member of the board. Younger than most of his...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Honor among Women (pp. 131-140)

    After the previous year’s unpleasantness, the reconstituted board of directors set out to establish a happier tone in their relations with Stokowski in the 1935–36 season. Sprucing up the Academy of Music’s shabby stage furniture was one step, and it became Sam Rosenbaum’s job to procure new chairs and music stands as well as a new podium. Although stage design wasn’t one of his specialties, Phillips said, Sam took his redecorating role seriously, marshaling the best advice he could from designers and others who understood such things. The result was a sleek new stage set chosen to please Stokowski....

  15. Illustrations (pp. None)
  16. CHAPTER 11 A Month Out of School (pp. 141-150)

    At the end of the regular season in 1936, the orchestra had a date with RCA Victor and the Pennsylvania Railroad that would fulfill a long-held dream of Stokowski’s. Finally, the Philadelphians were to embark on a transcontinental tour, the first ever taken by a symphony orchestra. Thanks to generous funding from RCA Victor, they would visit twenty-seven cities across the United States and into Canada in an undertaking that Stokowski, who longed to share his great orchestra with the world, had worked many years to achieve.

    It wasn’t the grand tour to Europe or Russia that he once envisioned,...

  17. CHAPTER 12 On to Fantasia (pp. 151-169)

    A formidable lineup greeted Eugene Ormandy when he stepped into his role as co-conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the fall of 1936. The players were a proud group who had been with Stokowski for years. They included virtuosos like Tabuteau, Kincaid, concertmaster Alexander Hilsberg, principal trumpet Saul Caston, the great timpanist Oscar Schwar, principal bass Anton Torello, and many others who had served the charismatic, bigger-than-life Stokowski long and well and who had risen to great heights under his leadership. The challenge of presiding over such a mighty lineup could easily have overwhelmed the young conductor.

    But if Ormandy,...

  18. CHAPTER 13 A Silent Exit (pp. 170-182)

    Ever the teacher and developer of young talent, Stokowski had long dreamed of gathering together a group of highly qualified young people and forming them into a first-rate orchestra. But it wasn’t until war began to overtake Europe in 1939, and German and Italian influence threatened to take hold in South America that Stoki’s All-American Youth Orchestra finally got its start. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and performers from La Scala had recently made tours through South America, winning friends for their respective countries. Alarmed, the Roosevelt administration wanted to counter those successes by sending U.S. cultural emissaries to Latin America....

  19. CHAPTER 14 Cajoling and Seducing Composers (pp. 183-192)

    With Stokowski gone and Ormandy completely in charge, the Philadelphia players carried on as the professionals they were, still committed to performing at the highest levels and still proud to be members of a great orchestra. It was what professionals did.

    Phillips took on another project at this time in addition to her orchestra duties. Over the years, she had grown frustrated by the scarcity of works written for the harp, especially when she performed as a soloist with the orchestra and found that the number of suitable works she had to choose from was limited. Finally, in 1940, she...

  20. CHAPTER 15 War Stories (pp. 193-204)

    Sam had been right when he urged Edna to take advantage of Stokowski’s offer to join the AAYO for the South American tour. “We’re going to get into this war sooner or later,” he had said, and, of course, the United States did get into the war. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States four days later. The U.S. government rushed to put itself on a war footing, but the situation was grim. Losses on the battlefront piled up and the prospects for winning appeared dim.

    Finally, Sam...

  21. AFTERWORD (pp. 205-210)

    Edna Phillips’s original plan for her memoir was to keep its focus on her years in the orchestra, and I have stuck to that plan with her biography, but she and Sam accomplished so much in their lives that I would be derelict if I didn’t give at least some attention to their many achievements later on.

    Sam Rosenbaum did indeed pick up the strands of his career after he returned from the war, and his achievements in later life were impressive. At the end of 1948, the U.S. Secretary of Labor Maurice J. Tobin named him to the position...

  22. APPENDIX The Edna Phillips Harp Commissions (pp. 211-220)
  23. NOTES (pp. 221-230)
  24. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 231-234)
  25. INDEX (pp. 235-242)
  26. Back Matter (pp. 243-252)

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