Twenty years since Solti

Twenty years since Solti


norman lebrecht

September 05, 2017

September 6 1997 is a day I will never forget.

Arriving home from Princess Diana’s funeral, I was greeted on my doorstep with news that Sir Georg Solti was dead.

I had to sit down. His passing was far more shocking to me than the poor Princess’s.

Six weeks earlier I had spent a whole morning with him. It was the day before he went on holiday to France, where he suffered a fatal heart attack. That morning I had never seen him so jovial, so contented, so forward looking.

‘Vat shall I tell Tony Blair?’ he demanded, confiding that he was due to meet the new prime minister. ‘Vere should I go with my Orchestra for Peace?’

At 84 he had more energy than men half his age. When he pounded out a theme on the piano, you feared for the house’s foundations. Solti was a life force like no other.

The Chicago Symphony have published some reminiscences here on his Jahrzeit.


Solti: The last interview


  • Cubs Fan says:

    When I was discovering classical music Solti was my guide. Whether Wagner, Mahler, Beethoven, Elgar, Tchaikovsky…and anything else. Didn’t matter what orchestra. But now it seems his star is waning and posterity hasn’t been too kind. I love his Mahler and Bruckner, but the ‘experts’ say I shouldn’t. Greatest Tchaikovsky 2nd ever. Now we need a good, thorough biography while people who played and worked with him are still alive.

    • PaulD says:

      I had the same experience, coming to classical music in the 1970s, and couldn’t wait to hear the latest release with the CSO. Solti’s recordings seem to have disappeared from classical radio, save for the occasional overture.

      • Gaffney Feskoe says:

        It should be added that radio stations that play classical music have almost all disappeared.

        But it is true that those that remain play fewer “long symphonies” any more more so as to fit in more adverts and announcements per hour. So there goes Solti along with Toscanini, Walter, Szell, Munch, Leinsdorf, etc., etc., etc. Sad.

    • herrera says:

      But whom has posterity been kind to of the triumpherate of that generation: Karajan, Bernstein, Solti?

      Bernstein but only as a composer (next year will a year long fest (in America, at least) of Bernstein’s centennial).

    • herrera says:

      On reflection, you are wrong: Solti will always be around for his Ring recording with Vienna. If there is one classical recording that will stand until the end of human history it will be Solti and his Ring. I’m not saying it’s the best, I’m saying it’s ubiquitous.

      • PaulD says:

        Of the three, I would say that Karajan remains a presence on the radio – Bernstein and Solti, not so much.

        I do remember the thrill of having the cash to buy Solti’s Die Walkure – about $30 back in the 70s. .

      • Stuart W Rogers says:

        Like other who have replied, I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s with Solti and the CSO in Chicago, attending dozens of his concerts over the years. A fine education in Mahler, Wagner and many others, up through Tippet and Lutoslawski. Solti was also my introduction to the Ring, though as more live recordings have become available in good sound (Kraus, Keilberth, Furtwangler) I have gravitated to them. But of all of the Ring performances to which I have listened, Solti’s live Covent Garden Die Walkure from 1961 is the performance I consider the greatest in my collection. I also cherish his studio Carmen, Elektra and Aida and the 1993 Traviata from the ROH.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      His Mahler 5,6,7 with the CSO are it (and I am an expert).

  • stan says:

    solti was one of the best conductor of the last century just listen to his ring it is unreal sk

  • Martin Furber says:

    When I worked for HMV in London I was invited by Decca to his 75th birthday party at the Royal Opera House Crush Bar. Nervously, I summoned courage enough to approach the great man (as he munched a sandwich) and congratuled him on his recently released Lohengrin recording. He lept to his feet, thanked me and and then slapped me on the back! Suddenly the doors opened and a man dressed in powdered wig and period tails approached pushing a trolley bearing a large birthday cake. He was followed by a TV crew. The man removed his wig and said “Sir Georg,This is your life”. It was Eamonn Andrews, who susequently invited us all to the studios to see the show recorded – with a surprise guest, the legendary Birgit Nilsson. What an afternoon. What a man.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    A great (and grossly unacknowledged) FIDELIO from the Mortier era in Salzburg from a year earlier

    Don Fernando – Peter Mattei
    Rocco – René Pape
    Don Pizarro – Tom Fox
    Leonore|Fidelio – Cheryl Studer
    Marzelline – Ruth Ziesak
    Florestan – Ben Heppner
    Jacquino – Roberto Saccà

    Wiener Philharmoniker
    Sir Georg Solti

  • John Borstlap says:

    He was a truly great conductor. The Rosenkavalier with ROH is still on YouTube:

    The only thing I have some difficulty with, is the hardness of the sound, now and then, which is not asked for by the score. That defines him as a typical ‘modern conductor’ of the 20th century when things had to be clear and ‘no-nonsense’. Nonetheless, he infused great intensity and expression in the music, and a strong projection.

    • Sixtus says:

      Solti’s magnificent Decca Rosenkavalier was the recording I grew up with. It remains easily the best uncut version in stereo.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    And just as I was reading other comments I get a notice from Amazon that on Sept. 15th a 108 disk set of the complete Chicago recordings will be released. Arghhh! I already have so many of them. Maybe a complete LSO/LPO set won’t be far behind!

  • Sue says:

    It’s great to hear again about these great conductors from the past, if only to remind us what influential figures they were compared to today’s bunch.

  • Doug says:

    The petty pissing matches by the pissant star worshippers about which recording of the complete Dittersdorf viola concerti are a combination hilarious and pathetic. I’ve met you all at concert halls over the span of my career and you are indeed utter bores.

    • John Borstlap says:

      From under which rock comes this burb?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Your comment got me curious.
      The wikipedia entry on Dittersdorf lists 5 viola concertos. Alas, I couldn’t any recordings of them at Arkivmusic. Thankfully, youtube has this one:
      Nice but not my cup of tea, as performances of 18th century music go.

    • Fionn MacCumhaill says:

      I think what you mean is Solti is overrated like a lot of others eg H v K. If you count up their recordings with Building a library, Critics choice, Great recordings of the Century, or Gramophone awards, they do not fare that well. Solti’s Tannhauser on Decca got picked for the Paris version on CD review building a library ok, Karajan for example only comes out well on some Verdi, a few Strauss operas and Alpine Sinfonie, his Beethoven cycles did not get any of these. Karajan’s problem was he saturated the market with so many, in order to block others. In those days there were only a limited number of labels, DG, EMI/HMV, Decca, Phillips, now with so many new labels the situation is different. Kleiber on the other hand did not make very many recordings, (more live on Orfeo are coming to light), all of his scored better. Kempe also seemed to score better than H vK in the ratings. It would be interesting to go over all of Soltis and see how many won awards, got building a library etc.

      • Stephen says:

        I don’t attach that much importance to Gramophone Awards or Building a Library. I have a number of Gramophne Awards which I consider dire and often give them away (not to best friends) and there a a good few critics I just don’t trust. It may sound arrogant, but if I think a recording is great, and many of Sir George’s fall into this category, then it is great. Solti in fact has been my hero since hearing him conduct two acts of “Walküre” at a Prom in 1964. It was a life-changing event. Never had I seen a man so overflowing with energy or heard such wonderful music. After that I went to hear him whenever I could.

        • Fionn MacCumhaill says:

          Yes indeed I agree to some extent critics can get it badly wrong I find many of the Building a library etc choices odd, often I ignore them I pick my own, for example they chose for Beethoven Missa Solemnis John Deathridge picked Carlo Maria Giulini! I prefer Gunter Wand 1965 and the Gurzenich on Testament, far grander you can hear every word of the text too unlike H v Ks.