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Sir Georg Solti, KBE ( ; October 21, 1912 – September 5, 1997) was a Hungarianmarker-Britishmarker orchestral and operatic conductor. He holds the record for having received the most Grammy awards, having personally won 31, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.

Early career

Solti was born György Stern ( ) in Budapestmarker to a Jewish family; his parents are Móric(z) Stern and Teréz Rosenbaum. His cousin was László Moholy-Nagy, the Jewish-Hungarian painter and photographer, who taught at the Bauhaus in Dessau and co-founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago. His father Germanized the name György to Georg and changed his family name to Solti, to shield them from antisemitism.

He learned the piano but at age 14 heard Erich Kleiber conduct Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and he decided immediately he wanted to be a conductor. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Musicmarker, under Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Leo Weiner and Ernst von Dohnanyi. By 1935 he was gaining recognition as a conductor, and made his debut at the Budapest Operamarker on 11 March 1938 with The Marriage of Figaro, the first time an unconverted Jew had ever conducted there. It was also Solti's last performance there. On that very day, Hitler annexed Austria, and anti-semitism became rife in Hungarymarker under Admiral Miklós Horthy's regime. In 1939, with Germanmarker invasion imminent, he fled Hungary because of his Jewish ancestry, and moved to Switzerlandmarker, where he continued a career as a pianist and won the Geneva International Piano Competition, but he had limited opportunities to develop his conducting. Unfortunately, he never saw his father again.

After the Second World War, during which his father died of natural causes, Solti was music director of the Bavarian State Orchestra in Munichmarker (where he gave the German premiere of Paul Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler, which had been banned under the Nazi regime) and the Frankfurt Operamarker (where he gave the German premiere of Alban Berg's Lulu). In 1951 he made his debut at the Salzburg Festival conducting Mozart's Idomeneo.

In 1960 Solti signed a three-year contract (effective in 1962) to be music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, having guest conducted the orchestra in winter concerts in downtown Los Angeles, during the summer at the Hollywood Bowlmarker, and in other Southern California concerts. The orchestra had hoped that Solti would lead the orchestra when it moved into its new home at the still-to-be-completed Dorothy Chandler Pavilionmarker, and he even began to appoint musicians to the orchestra. However, Solti abruptly resigned the position in 1961 without officially taking the post after learning that the Philharmonic board of directors failed to consult him before naming then 26-year-old Zubin Mehta to be assistant conductor of the orchestra. Mehta was subsequently named as music director in Solti's place.

In 1961 Solti became music director at the Royal Opera Housemarker, Covent Gardenmarker, serving in that capacity until 1971. There, Solti's bald head and demanding rehearsal style earned him the nickname, "The Screaming Skull" (after the film of the same name). He thereafter spent much of his time in Britain and the United Statesmarker.

His first marriage to Hedi Oechsli, in 1946, ended in divorce. His second marriage was to Valerie Pitts, a British television presenter whom he met when she was sent to interview him. They had two daughters, Gabrielle and Claudia. In 1972 he was naturalized as a British Citizen. He had been awarded an honorary knighthood in the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1971, and was known as Sir Georg Solti after his naturalization.

Solti was a great supporter and mentor to many young musicians, including the Hungarian soprano Sylvia Sass, with whom he recorded Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and Bartók's "Bluebeard's Castle." In addition, in 1994, Solti directed the "Solti Orchestral Project" at Carnegie Hallmarker, a training workshop for young American musicians.

Chicago Symphony

Solti was music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) from 1969 until 1991, when he was made the only Music Director Laureate in that orchestra's history. Before Solti took over as the CSO's music director, CSO violinist Victor Aitay described Solti's work style as follows:

Usually conductors are relaxed at rehearsals and tense at the concerts.
Solti is the reverse.
He is very tense at rehearsals, which makes us concentrate, but relaxed during the performance, which is a great asset to the orchestra.

In total, Solti conducted 999 performances with the CSO. His 1,000th performance was scheduled to be in October 1997, around the time of his 85th birthday. The City of Chicago renamed the block of East Adams Street adjacent to Symphony Center as "Sir Georg Solti Place" in his memory.

Solti consolidated the reputation of the CSO as one of the great orchestras of the world, while reiteratively reminding everyone how much he owed to the pioneering work of Fritz Reiner, who never toured the orchestra abroad. Solti took the CSO on its first tour to Europe in 1971.Solti's recordings with the CSO included the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, and Gustav Mahler. Solti recorded complete operas with the CSO as well, including:

Later career

In addition to his tenure in Chicago, Solti was music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 until 1975. From 1979 until 1983 he was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. During this time with the London Philharmonic he performed and recorded many works by Elgar including the two symphonies, the Violin Concerto with Kyung Wha Chung and the Cello Concerto with Julian Lloyd Webber. In 1983 he conducted Wagner's Ring Cycle at Bayreuthmarker for the only time. For the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, Solti formed the World Orchestra for Peace, which consisted of musicians from 47 orchestras around the world.

Solti continued to add new works to his repertoire in the latter days of his career, voicing particular enthusiasm for the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, whom he admitted he failed to appreciate fully during the composer's lifetime. His commercial recordings of Shostakovich symphonies included Nos. 1 (Concertgebouw Orchestra), 5 (VPO), 8, 9 (twice : VPO & Carnegie Hall Project),10, 13 and 15 (all CSO).

Solti never truly retired, and his sudden death of a heart attack on 5 September 1997 in Antibesmarker, Francemarker, meant that several years of planned performances and recording projects would never be realized. According to his last wish, Solti rests in Hungarian soil. After a state funeral, he was placed beside the remains of Bartók: his one-time tutor and mentor. After Solti's death, his widow and daughters began the Solti Foundation to assist young musicians. In 2002 a website dedicated to Solti was launched, under the instigation of Lady Solti.

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.

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 Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5.


Solti was as enthusiastic making music in the recording studio as in the opera house or concert hall. He developed a long and productive partnership with the legendary producer John Culshaw at Decca. Products of this partnership included the first ever complete studio recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic (VPO). No less distinguished and equally groundbreaking were his studio recordings of the operas of Richard Strauss, which, like his Wagner recordings, have been remastered and released on CD where they are still praised for their musicianship and expert production values. His performances and recordings of works by Giuseppe Verdi, Gustav Mahler and Béla Bartók were also widely admired. In addition to his recordings with the CSO, Solti recorded other repertoire with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic, such as the two symphonies of Edward Elgar, selected symphonies of Tchaikovsky, William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, Michael Tippett's Symphony No. 4 and Byzantium, and the Da Ponte/Mozart operas.

In addition, Solti collaborated with Dudley Moore to create a 1991 television series, Orchestra!, which was designed to introduce audiences to the symphony orchestra.

Recordings with the Chicago Symphony

  • Bach, B minor Mass
  • Bach, St. Matthew Passion
  • Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra (1981)
  • Bartok, Dance Suite (1981)
  • Bartok, Piano Concertos #1 - 3 /w Ashkenazy
  • Bartok, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste
  • Bartok, Miraculous Mandarin Suite
  • Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust
  • Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Liszt "Les Preludes"
  • Beethoven, Fidelio
  • Beethoven, "Missa Solemnis"
  • Beethoven, complete Symphonies #1 - 9
  • Beethoven, Piano Concertos #1 - 5 /w Ashkenazy
  • Brahms, Symphonies #1-4
  • Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem
  • Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn
  • Bruckner, Symphonies #0-9
  • Debussy, La mer / Nocturnes / Prelude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • Dvorak, Symphony #9
  • Elgar, "Enigma Variations"
  • Handel, Messiah
  • Haydn, "The Seasons"
  • Liszt, "A Faust Symphony"
  • Mephisto Magic (works by Liszt, Bartok, Weiner & Kodaly)
  • Mahler, complete Symphonies #1 - 9
  • Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 3
  • Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 4
  • Mussorgsky, Khovanshchina Prelude (1998)
  • Mussorgsky (orchestrated by Ravel), Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Mussorgsky (orchestrated by Shostakovich), Songs and Dances of Death with Sergei Aleksashkin (1998)
  • Prokofiev, Symphony No. 1 (1982)
  • Ravel, "Le Tombeau de Couperin"
  • Schoenberg, Moses und Aron (1984)
  • Schoenberg, Variations
  • Shostakovich, Symphony No. 8 (1989)
  • Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10
  • Shostakovich, Symphony No. 15 (1998)
  • Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra and other tone poems
  • Stravinsky, Symphony Nos. 1 - 3
  • Stravinsky, Petrushka/Jeu de Cartes
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring
  • Tchaikovsky, 1812 Overture, Romeo & Juliet Overture & The Nutcracker Suite
  • Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1 / Dohnanyi, "Variations on a Nursery Song" with Andras Schiff (1986)
  • Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4 (1984)
  • Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake, excerpts (1987)
  • Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 (1987)
  • Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique"
  • Tredeci, David del, "The Final Alice"
  • Verdi, Otello
  • Verdi, "Requiem"
  • Wagner, Der fliegende Hollander (1976)
  • Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg (1995)
  • Wagner, Tannhäuser Overture (1977)
  • Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, Prelude and Liebestod (1977)
  • Walton, "Belshazzar's Feast"

Awards and recognition


External links

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