George Szell: A Life of Music

George Szell: A Life of Music

by Michael Charry
     
 

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This book is the first full biography of George Szell, one of the greatest orchestra and opera conductors of the twentieth century. From child prodigy pianist and composer to world-renowned conductor, Szell's career spanned seven decades, and he led most of the great orchestras and opera companies of the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the NBC and

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Overview

This book is the first full biography of George Szell, one of the greatest orchestra and opera conductors of the twentieth century. From child prodigy pianist and composer to world-renowned conductor, Szell's career spanned seven decades, and he led most of the great orchestras and opera companies of the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the NBC and Chicago Symphonies, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and Opera, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. A protégé of composer-conductor Richard Strauss at the Berlin State Opera, his crowning achievement was his twenty-four-year tenure as musical director of the Cleveland Orchestra, transforming it into one of the world's greatest ensembles, touring triumphantly in the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union, South Korea, and Japan.

 

Michael Charry, a conductor who worked with Szell and interviewed him, his family, and his associates over several decades, draws on this first-hand material and correspondence, orchestra records, reviews, and other archival sources to construct a lively and balanced portrait of Szell's life and work from his birth in 1897 in Budapest to his death in 1970 in Cleveland.

 

Readers will follow Szell from his career in Europe, Great Britain, and Australia to his guest conducting at the New York Philharmonic and his distinguished tenure at the Metropolitan Opera and Cleveland Orchestra. Charry details Szell's personal and musical qualities, his recordings and broadcast concerts, his approach to the great works of the orchestral repertoire, and his famous orchestrational changes and interpretation of the symphonies of Robert Schumann. The book also lists Szell's conducting repertoire and includes a comprehensive discography.

 

In highlighting Szell's legacy as a teacher and mentor as well as his contributions to orchestral and opera history, this biography will be of lasting interest to concert-goers, music lovers, conductors, musicians inspired by Szell's many great performances, and new generations who will come to know those performances through Szell's recorded legacy.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Charry (Mannes Coll. The New Sch. for Music), who was on the conducting staff of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell for nine years, has written a fine biography of one of the 20th century's greatest classical conductors. Born in Budapest in 1897, Szell ended a 15-year composing career at age 23 (several of his compositions garnered performances by major orchestras) and focused the rest of his life on conducting. He pursued a vigorous conducting career in Europe, Australia, and the United States, ending with his fabled 24-year reign as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra (1946–70). Szell transformed it into one of the premier orchestras in the world and came in contact with most of the major classical musicians of the 20th century. VERDICT This thorough biography of one of the most important figures on the American classical scene in the post-World War II era is a valuable contribution to the literature on classical music. Recommended for academic libraries and readers who enjoy classical music and its history.—Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville
From the Publisher

"Reading this book would serve as a manual of music appreciation.  Charry's tribute reflects the scope and brilliance of Szell's career, in the careful detailing of his performances and music critics' opinions of them."—Ohioana Quarterly


"A fine biography of one of the 20th century's greatest classical conductors.  This thorough biography of one of the most important figures on the American classical scene in the post-World War II era is a valuable contribution to the literature on classical music."—Library Journal

"A discerning and highly informed new biography.  Charry makes a convincing case for admiring his subject's skill in musical matters without concealing Szell's many personality flaws."—Forward

"Charry not only gives us invaluable insights into his leadership style and musical tastes ... but details some of the financial and political issues facing the orchestra during that era. . . . Perhaps the book’s greatest value lies in humanizing a man whom many have come to see as a humorless (or perhaps joyless) martinet."SymphonyNow
 

"Charry’s achievement is unlikely to be surpassed for a long time, if ever, and the reader will come away with a real depth of insight into this towering, complex figure, which can only enhance our appreciation of his extraordinary accomplishment and artistic legacy."—Fanfare

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780252036163
Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
06/01/2011
Series:
Music in American Life Series
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
376
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

George Szell

A Life of Music
By Michael Charry

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03616-3


Introduction

When George Szell died in 1970, Irving Kolodin wrote, "the size of his figure will grow as time recedes and the magnitude of his accomplishment emerges in ever greater grandeur against its background." Szell, born in 1897, was one of the greatest orchestra and opera conductors of his time. He has been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles. this is his first biography.

Szell's most significant life accomplishment was as musical director of the Cleveland orchestra. He raised it from the ranks of respected second-tier ensembles to the highest level of world class. The Szell/Cleveland orchestra combination is legendary. Szell's Cleveland performances from 1965 to 1970 are preserved in broadcast recordings, and his commercial recordings with the Cleveland and concerts and recordings with other orchestras are continually being reissued on compact disc.

A product of central Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, Szell was a child prodigy pianist and composer, but in his mid-twenties he gave up both for conducting. He served as a protégé of composer-conductor Richard Strauss at the Berlin opera, and Strauss recommended him for his first musical post at the Strasbourg opera when Szell was twenty years old.

Szell is known throughout the musical world. He was a guest conductor of the most prestigious orchestras and festivals in north America, Austria, Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. On tours, he led the Cleveland orchestra throughout the United States, to Canada, Europe, the Soviet Union, Korea, and Japan. Coming from Prague, where he was chief conductor of the German opera House (1929–1937), Szell made his United States debut in 1930 with the St. Louis Symphony, returning in 1931. He made his New York orchestral debut with the NBC Symphony orchestra in 1941, at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini, with whom he has often been compared.

Szell was one of the chief conductors of the Metropolitan Opera from 1942 until he assumed leadership of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1946. From 1936 until the end of his life, Szell was a regular guest conductor of the royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam. Until his death, he served as musical director in Cleveland, and in 1969 was named "music advisor and senior guest conductor" of the New York Philharmonic, of which he had been a regular guest conductor since 1943.

From early on and throughout his career, Szell championed the music of numerous living composers, including Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Rolf Liebermann, Peter Mennin, and William Walton. Szell's support of Pierre Boulez and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski helped establish their international conducting careers.

Szell was born in Budapest of Jewish parents. His family converted from Judaism and moved to Vienna when he was three, and there he was raised a Catholic. throughout his life Szell felt ambivalent about his Hungarian origin, claiming Czech ancestry through his mother's side. He became a citizen of the newly formed Czechoslovakia in 1919 and of the United States in 1946, the year he became musical director in Cleveland. Time magazine quoted him as saying, "I'm so damned normal," but many would dispute that vigorously. "No one is indifferent to George Szell," wrote Joseph Wechsberg in a long profile in The New Yorker. In 1953–54 Szell returned briefly to the Metropolitan opera and departed abruptly after conducting half of his contracted performances, because of a dispute with the Met's general manager, Rudolf Bing. When Szell died, it was said that some musicians celebrated. on the other hand, when the dying Szell's deteriorating condition prevented Leonard Bernstein from visiting him in the hospital, Bernstein, knowing he would never see Szell alive again, cried. He was not alone.

* * *

Mindful of the effect of Szell's powerful personality, I have sought to give a balanced portrayal of this enormously gifted musician and complex human being. in the course of researching this biography, I have interviewed numerous soloists, orchestra musicians, and many others associated with Szell over many years. Many of the photographs are unique and never before published. An appendix lists Szell's conducting repertoire and important world premieres. Also included is a discography of Szell's original recordings, with a selection of live concerts on CD and DVD.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from George Szell by Michael Charry Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Michael Charry has conducted widely in the U.S. and internationally. He was a member of the conducting staff of the Cleveland Orchestra for nine years under George Szell and for two years after Szell's death. He is on the faculty of Mannes College The New School for Music, in New York City, where he was head of orchestral studies and music director of the Mannes Orchestra.

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