How conductors sounded (6): George Szell, reasonable, charming …

… didactic, self-satisfied

george szell

… and rather long-winded.

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  • So typical of Szell to attribute his failure as a composer to his preoccupation with the work of other composers, rather than to a lack of talent. His articulateness in what must have been his second or third language is staggering.

  • If anyone can locate Szell’s Piano Quartet, please let me know. Those early compositions were supposed to have been covered by a contract with UE, but they can’t find any trace it it.

    • Martin – would that be Szell’s Piano Quartet or the Piano Quintet, op 2 from 1911, written when he was 14? He was amazingly prolific, and the quintet was published by U-E in 1912 but in any case, the Cleveland Institute of Music may be able to help you out —

    • …and the op 2 is a delight to the ear, too – I have the 1992 recording with the Cavani Quartet/Anne Epperson on piano, produced by the Cleveland Institute. Quite an amazing work from a very mature l’enfant terrible!

  • For my first-ever gig I played 3rd stand viola for two seasons (1947-49) in Szell’s (yes, it was his all the way) Cleveland Orchestra. With Josef Gingold as concertmaster, It provided me, at age 21, with the most incisive introduction to the orchestral repertoire one could have wished for. I recall in my memoir, his arrogance, his human frailties, his musical erudition, his total commitment (even to choosing the toilet paper to be used in the rest-rooms), and his surpassing ear for orchestral balance, but “reasonable and charming” would be a stretch for those who made music under him. To an interviewer, perhaps.

  • There’s the famous Andre Previn story of course, where the frosty GS didn’t take to Previn’s witty riposte “I’m used to faster action table tops”

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