Georg Solti life and biography

Georg Solti picture, image, poster

Georg Solti biography

Date of birth : 1912-10-21
Date of death : 1997-09-05
Birthplace : Budapest, Hungary
Nationality : Hungarian
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2012-02-09
Credited as : orchestral and operatic conductor, leaded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

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Georg Solti was a Hungarian-British orchestral and operatic conductor. He was a major classical recording artist, holding the record for having received the most Grammy Awards, having personally won 31 as a conductor, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to his recordings he is probably best known for leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1969-91. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the second half of the 20th century.

Georg Solti is perhaps the most famous living conductor in international music circles, and certainly the most sought after. His wide operatic and orchestral repertory--and his no-nonsense approach to music-making--have brought him respect and admiration onstage and off. In a career that has spanned more than 60 years, Solti has received accolades from around the world and continuous conducting engagements with the best orchestras and opera companies.

Solti was born on October 21, 1912, in Budapest, Hungary, and displayed an early affinity for music. When he was 13 years old, he saw conductor Erich Kleiber lead a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and he knew then that he wanted to be a conductor. He studied piano, composition, and conducting at the renowned Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, under the tutelage of eminent musicians Bela Bartok, Ernst von Dohnanyi, and Zoltan Kodaly. After graduating from the academy in 1930, he began work at the Budapest State Opera as a repetiteur--someone who assists backstage, coaches singers, and performs other miscellaneous duties.

In 1936 and 1937, Solti assisted world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, but he did not get his first conducting job until 1938, when he led a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at the Budapest State Opera. His debut was unfortunately overshadowed by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's invasion of Austria; Solti, who is Jewish, fled to Switzerland for the rest of World War II.

While in Switzerland, Solti turned his attention to the piano, coaching an operatic tenor and winning first prize at the Concours International piano competition in Geneva in 1942. After the war, the American forces occupying Germany began a search for musicians who could rekindle the country's musical life--bu who did not have any Nazi associations. Solti was offered the post of music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1946 and served in that capacity until 1952. He also appeared at the Salzburg Festival and conducted in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Florence, and Buenos Aires.

With his reputation on the rise and his operatic repertory increasing, Solti next accepted a position as music director of the Frankfurt City Opera and remained there for nearly a decade. Then, from 1961 to 1971, he worked as music director at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in England. His association with England and the English became a close one: he raised the visibility of both Covent Garden and British opera singers in general, and made a point of programming works by native composers such as Benjamin Britten. He also conducted the British premiere of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg's opera Moses und Aron--a production that won international acclaim. For his contribution to musical life in England, Solti was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972. From 1979 to 1984, he served as principal conductor and artistic director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and later became its conductor emeritus. In 1992 he was made music director laureate at Covent Garden.

One of Solti's biggest career undertakings was the recording of Richard Wagner's monumental cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, which consists of four operas: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung. Work on the legendary recording began in 1958 and took eight years to complete. Record producer John Culshaw wrote in Ring Resounding, his book about the project: "Nothing comparable in scope, cost, or artistic and technical challenge had been attempted in the history of the gramophone." The recording is still available and continues to serve as the definitive interpretation of the German composer's masterpiece.

Many music specialists agree that Solti is at his best with German, Austrian, and Hungarian music from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries--a repertory that includes the works of composers Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, and Richard Strauss. Yet Solti has also excelled in his performances of the music of Hungary's Bela Bartok, Italy's Giuseppe Verdi, and France's Hector Berlioz. In addition, Solti is notable for his willingness to program works that fall outside of the traditional orchestral and operatic repertory. In 1970, he won the Gold Baton Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) for having programmed the greatest number of pieces written since 1940.

Solti's conducting style is clear and direct. Although he is one of the more acrobatic conductors, his movements are never superfluous. "The things that intrigue me," he was quoted as saying in Time, "are how to make forms clear. How to hold a movement together, or, if I am conducting opera, how to build an act or a scene." While he s commonly believed to be a commanding presence both on and off the podium, Solti is not tyrannical, and musicians respect his businesslike attitude.

The pinnacle of Solti's career has been his association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). He began his post with the CSO in 1969, and, though he resigned formally in 1991, he holds the title of music director laureate and continues to work with the orchestra, though more sporadically than before. Solti brought the CSO to international prominence, increasing its repertory and its reputation. By the mid-1970s it had become one of the top five orchestras in North America. In an article in the New Yorker in 1974 Solti stated, "I have never found a group of musicians who take music so seriously. I think my Chicago Symphony is the finest in the world."

In 1992 Solti began an appointment as artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, and the next year he recorded the festival's production of Strauss's opera Die Frau ohne Schatten; the recording won a Grammy Award in 1993. Solti has won more Grammy awards than any artist--31 as of 1994.
In June of 1994 Solti embarked upon the Solti Orchestral Project at Carnegie Hall, a two-week workshop during which 80 instrumentalists aged 18 to 30 worked with principal players from five U.S. orchestras. The purpose of the project--which was conceived by Solti and by Carnegie Hall executive director Judith Arron--was to give younger players an opportunity to perform with, and learn from, experienced orchestral musicians.

In a Carnegie Hall press release, Solti was quoted as saying: "Working with young musicians is one of the great joys of my life. For several years I have hoped to find a way in which I could pass on to tomorrow's generation of orchestral musicians the experience I have been fortunate to inherit from my teachers and from over 50 years of practical work with orchestras all over the world."

Solti co-wrote his memoirs with Harvey Sachs, published in the UK under the title Solti on Solti, Memoirs in the USA, and Emlékeim in Hungary, and the book appeared in the month after his death. His life has also been documented in a film by Peter Maniura entitled Sir Georg Solti: The Making of a Maestro.

According to Donald Peck, the principal flute player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Solti, the maestro began to forego the use of a baton in some movement or whole works beginning in 1985, in order to achieve a "darker and deeper, much more relaxed" tone. Solti's first recording without baton was a 1985 recording of the Symphony no. 3 ("Scottish") of Felix Mendelssohn.

In September 2007, as a tribute on the 10th anniversary of Solti's death, a recording of his last concert was released on Decca, a performance with the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

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