Childhood & Early Life
He was born as György Stern on October 21, 1912 in Budapest, Hungary. His father, Móricz "Mor" Stern, was a self-employed merchant while his mother, Terez, belonged to a family of musicians. He had a sister, Lilly.
Post the First World War, Hungarian citizens were required to drop their Germanic surnames in favour of more Hungarian ones. Though his father retained his own surname, he changed that of his kids to ‘Solti’.
Since his mother had a musical background, she encouraged her daughter to sing and her son to accompany on piano.
When he was ten years old, he joined Ernő Fodor School of Music in Budapest and after training there for a couple of years shifted to more renowned Franz Liszt Academy.
Since his parents could not support his education financially, he began giving piano lessons at the age of 13 to earn money and pay his fees.
At Franz Liszt Academy, he studied music under some of the most renowned names like Béla Bartók, Leó Weiner and Ernő Dohnányi.
Continue Reading Below
After graduating in 1930, Georg Solti began working as a répétiteur at the Hungarian State Opera.
In 1932, he became an assistant to Josef Krips in Karlsruhe, Germany. However with the rise of Nazi power appearing closer, he returned to Budapest.
In 1937, he assisted Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini, at the Salzburg Festival.
In March 1938, he got his first opportunity to conduct an opera ‘The Marriage of Figaro’.
When Hungary instituted anti-Semitic laws prohibiting the Jews to engage in professions, he left Hungary for London.
There, he conducted the British symphony orchestra, London Philharmonic for a Russian ballet season at the Covent Garden. At around this time, he changed his name from György to Georg.
He moved to Switzerland and stayed there for the entire duration of the Second World War. He supported himself financially by working as a pianist. He did not have a work permit to conduct.
In 1942, he emerged victorious in the Geneva International Piano Competition. He was now free to give piano recitals but conducting was still prohibited.
Once the war ended, his career took a more positive direction. In 1946, he became the music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and worked for the next six years to restore its pre-war status.
Continue Reading Below
With the support of the German conductor, composer, pianist and violinist, Richard Strauss, he conducted ‘Der Rosenkavalier’.
The year 1946 also saw him bagging his first recording contract as piano accompanist with Decca Records. The following year he made his first recording ‘Brahms's First Violin Sonata’ with Georg Kulenkampff.
As a conductor, his first recording was again with Decca Records. In late 1947, he recorded with Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra in Beethoven's ‘Egmont overture’.
His next recording as a conductor came a couple of years later when he worked with Haydn's Drum Roll symphony in London. The sessions were produced by the classical record producer of Decca, John Culshaw.
In 1951, he debuted at the Salzburg Festival as a conductor. Though his tenure at Munich was a highly successful one, political reasons forced him to quit the Bavarian State Opera and accept the post of artistic and music director of the Frankfurt City Opera.
Between 1952 and 1961, Georg Solti worked extensively at Frankfurt and presented 33 operas out of which 19 were conducted for the first time.
In 1953, the government of West Germany gave him citizenship and he became a citizen of Germany for the next two decades.
While in Frankfurt, he made guest appearances with other operas and orchestras. This included giving concerts in Buenos Aires (1952) and guest conducting at the Edinburgh Festival (1952), the San Francisco Opera (1953), Glyndebourne Festival (1954), Ravinia Festival (1954) and Metropolitan Opera (1960-1964).
Between 1958 and 1965, Solti's highly acclaimed recording - Wagner's ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ - came out. Produced by Culshaw, it catapulted him into International fame.
Continue Reading Below
In 1961, he was appointed the music director of Covent Garden Opera Company. After facing initial days of struggle, he succeeded in making it one of the best opera houses in the world. During his tenure, he conducted the company in 33 operas by 13 composers. One of the most famous productions during his time was Schoenberg's ‘Moses and Aaron’.
In 1969, he became the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He continued in the position for 22 years and greatly helped in establishing its worldwide fame.
During this time, he also served as the music director of the Orchestre de Paris (1972-75) and principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1979-1983).
In 1991, after leaving the position, he became music director laureate and conducted 999 concerts with the CSO.
The same year, along with Dudley Moore, he made an eight part television series ‘Orchestra!’.
In 1995, he created the ‘World Orchestra for Peace’ to commemorate the 50th year of the UN.
In July 1997, Georg Solti conducted his final symphony concert.
When Georg Solti joined Covent Garden Opera Company, it was just a 15-year-old company not at par with best opera house in Europe. However, his ten-year tenure brought it to an international level and also earned it the title of ‘the Royal Opera’ from Queen Elizabeth II.
When he joined Chicago Symphony Orchestra, not only was the morale low, but the company was also in $5m in debt. He raised the standard of the company to an international level by taking them (together with Giulini) on a highly successful first ever overseas tour in 1971. He worked to increase its repertoire and ensured its return to success.
During his career, as a recording artist, he made more than 250 recordings which comprised 45 full opera sets. His most appreciated recording was the full set of Wagner's ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ which went on to be voted the greatest recording of all time twice by Gramophone and BBC’s Music magazine polls.