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Sir Georg Solti

Hungarian conductor Georg Solti was one of the great interpreters of Romantic and Modern works in the 20th century. Over his 60-year career, he produced a massive legacy of more than 250 recordings, and he received 32 Grammy Awards. Solti was born in Budapest in 1912, and he had one older sister. His mother came from a musical family, and she encouraged his musical explorations. When Solti was young, he played the piano and accompanied his sister, who was a singer, but he wasn't always very motivated to practice. At ten years old, he enrolled at the Ernö Fodor School of Music in Budapest, and after two years he continued his studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. There he studied piano with Béla Bartók, chamber music with Leó Weiner, and composition with Ernö Dohnányi. Around 1925, Solti began giving piano lessons to pay for his music education, since his family couldn't afford it, and other wealthier family members refused to help him because they didn't believe that music was a viable profession. After completing his education in 1930, he began his first professional appointment as a répétiteur at the Hungarian State Opera. Two years later, he traveled to Karlsruhe, Germany, and began working as an assistant to Josef Krips. However, in 1933 Krips suggested that he return to Hungary in anticipation of Hitler's rise to power. Solti followed Krips' advice and returned to his position with the Hungarian State Opera. Budapest became a haven for other Jewish and anti-Nazi performers, including Otto Klemperer, Fritz Busch, and Erich Kleiber. Solti gained valuable experience working under these older master conductors, but the most impactful was his encounter with Arturo Toscanini in 1936. Toscanini conducted Verdi's Falstaff, and Solti watched the performance and met him afterward. This introduction led to both an appointment as Toscanini's assistant in 1937, and Solti's conducting debut in 1938 in Budapest. By this time, Hungary was becoming increasingly unfriendly to Jews, which led him to London, where he was appointed conductor at the Royal Opera House for a Russian ballet concert series. Solti eventually settled in Switzerland in 1939, where he worked as a pianist because he was unable to secure a labor permit as a conductor. He resumed conducting in 1944 with the Swiss Radio Orchestra, and in 1946 he was appointed musical director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He conducted the Oper Frankfurt from 1952 to 1961, followed by ten years with the Covent Garden Opera in London. During his time in London, Solti transformed the CGO Orchestra into a world-class ensemble. It was also around this time when he recorded Wagner's Ring Cycle, which became his most celebrated recording. It was voted greatest recording ever made by both the Gramophone magazine in 1999, and the BBC Music Magazine in 2011. He began an additional role as the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1969, which he kept for 22 years. He also held appointments with the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 to 1975, the Paris Opera from 1971 to 1973, and with the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979 to 1983. After 1983, he made frequent visits to France, Germany, and London as a guest conductor, but his career was mainly centered in Chicago. On September 5, 1997, Solti passed away in his sleep while vacationing in Antibes, France.
© RJ Lambert /TiVo


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