b. Humpolec, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), September 9, 1872
d. New York, New York, March 6, 1936
Josef Stránský held conducting positions in Prague and Berlin before succeeding Gustav Mahler at the New York Philharmonic in 1911. Although many commenters disapproved of this replacement over other candidates, such as Oskar Fried and Bruno Walter, Stránský came to leave his mark, conducting the widest repertoire of any of the Philharmonic’s previous conductors. While German audiences perceived him as a fiery Bohemian, New Yorkers thought of him as sedately Germanic. As expected, audiences heard substantial amounts of Wagner, Liszt, and Dvořák, as well as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, but during World War I Stránský’s programs shifted subtly to favor English, Russian, and French composers. Stránský also included more American composers than all of his predecessors combined, programming George Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and John Philip Sousa. Notably, Stránský was a champion of contemporary music: he played Respighi, Sibelius, and Mahler, and conducted the US Premiere of Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande. Stránský was also a composer of songs, orchestral, and other instrumental music, including an operetta, Der General.
Under Stránský’s baton, audiences experienced more types of concerts than ever before, including four distinct series of subscription concerts, two series in Brooklyn, and the Philharmonic’s first Young People’s concert on January 24, 1914, which featured guest vocalist Kitty Cheatham. Stránský increased the scope of the Orchestra’s tours and conducted its first recordings, performing Thomas’s Raymond Overture in January of 1917 for Columbia Records. Although Stránský virtually doubled ticket sales, the Orchestra’s increased administrative expenses weighed heavily in the balance. Serendipitously, relief came in the form of a bequest from Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper publisher who died in 1911, leaving more than half a million dollars as a permanent endowment to the Philharmonic.
Stránský resigned from the Philharmonic in 1923. The following year, he gave up music and became an art dealer, specializing in Picasso’s Rose Period and amassing what would be one of the most valuable privately held art collections in the world.