Born October 21, 1912; Budapest, Hungary
Died September 5, 1997; Antibes, France
As a student at the Liszt Academy, Georg Solti studied piano, composition and conducting with Béla Bartók, Ernst von Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály and Leo Weiner. In 1937, Arturo Toscanini selected him as his assistant at the Salzburg Festival. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Solti fled to Switzerland as a refugee and turned to the piano for his livelihood, and in 1942 he won first prize in the Concours International in Geneva.
Following the war, Solti became music director of the Bavarian State Opera, and, in 1952, he was appointed to the same position with the Frankfurt City Opera. He led the first commercial studio recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the Vienna Philharmonic between 1958 and 1965, and from 1961 until 1971, he was music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Solti made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in August 1954 and in Orchestra Hall in December 1965. In December 1968, the Orchestral Association announced that Solti would succeed Jean Martinon to become the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, beginning in September 1969.
Serving as music director for 22 years, Solti greatly enhanced the Orchestra’s worldwide reputation. He led the first overseas tour to Europe in 1971, along with trips to Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia and numerous visits to Carnegie Hall.
Solti made his first recording for London/Decca in 1947, as a pianist with violinist Georg Kulenkampff. During his 49-year association with the label, he recorded over 40 operas and over 250 discs, including more than a hundred with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Solti received numerous accolades for his recordings, including 31 Grammy awards.
Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain knighted Solti in 1972. For his 75th birthday in 1987, he was awarded Chicago’s Medal of Merit and was honored with the dedication of a bronze bust of his likeness in Lincoln Park. He was Musical America’s Musician of the Year in 1988 and was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honors in 1993. From the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, he received the Trustees’ Award in 1967 and a lifetime achievement award in 1996.
The Solti 100 on the From the Archives blog