The New Biography by Michael Charry

George Szell

A Life of Music

By Michael Charry

University of Illinois Press

June, 2011

A comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century’s greatest conductors

464 psges; 34 B & W photographs

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. Under Szell’s baton, the orchestra developed into one of the world’s greatest ensembles, recording extensively and 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.

“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

“A magnificent achievement. I was especially impressed by Mr. Charry’s skill in conveying a deep admiration for his subject without falling into the trap of fawning or idol-worshipping–a quality seldom encountered in biographies of great conductors.”–Stephen C. Hillyer, past president of the Fritz Reiner Society

Table of Contents:


introduction 1 1. the new Mozart (1897–1929)

2. the Conductor Spreads His Wings (1930–38)

3. Musical Pioneering in Australia (1938, 1939)

4. new World, new Beginnings (1939–46)

5. Cleveland: Contest and Commitment (1942–47)

6. Szell, the orchestra Builder (1947–54)

7. George Szell and Rudolf Bing (1953–54)

8. Keeping the Promise: “Second to none” (1954–57)

9. the Golden years (1957–65)

10. the Cleveland orchestra in the World (1965–68)

11. Summers at Home

12. Finale: Cleveland, Japan, Korea, Anchorage, Cleveland (1968–70)

Epilogue: in Szell’s Words

Appendix A. “on the 150th Anniversary of Schumann’s Birth,” by George Szell

Appendix B. Staff and Kulas foundation Conductors under George Szell

Appendix C. Apprentice Conductor Qualifications

Appendix D. 1957 european tour repertoire

Appendix e. 1965 european tour repertoire

Appendix f. Szell’s repertoire 307