Memoirs

Georg Solti, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-679-44596-8
The renowned conductor, best known in the U.S. for his exciting years at the head of the Chicago Symphony, died, at 84, just as his memoir was published--busy to the end--on the podium and in the recording studio. Perhaps, in fact, he was too busy to concentrate sufficiently on his book, for considering how remarkable his life had been, and how powerfully dynamic a figure he cut in 20th-century musical life, it is a rather lackluster affair. In a straightforward, colorless style he describes his childhood in Budapest, music lessons with the likes of Bartok and Kodaly, then his exile, as a Jew, to wartime Switzerland, and a life of making do by playing piano accompaniments and working odd jobs as a singing coach. At the end of the war he was rushed into Germany by the Americans to help restart its shattered musical life, gaining swift experience at major opera houses before catching the attention of a London record company and finally accepting a position as music director at Covent Garden. He came into his own as a symphonic conductor in Chicago, where in his 22-year reign he led the orchestra to world renown, and is now a much sought-after freelance whose later performances (he likes regularly to rethink his approach to the standard repertoire) reflect an increasing mellowness compared to an early powerhouse brashness. All this is fairly set forth, along with his views on conducting Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner, Mahler and other of his favorites; what is lacking in the book is a sense of excitement of the kind his music-making has often brought. There are few anecdotes of much interest, very little reflection on the many famous musicians he has known, not much on his family, his world view or moments of spectacular triumph or despair. Solti deserves a chronicler livelier than himself. Photos not seen by PW. 50,000 first printing. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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