George Szell

Biography

Born: Jun 7, 1897; Hungary   Died: Jul 29, 1970; USA  
Part of the wave of great Hungarian conductors who took over American musical life just before and after World War II -- the others included Fritz Reiner, Antal Dorati, and Eugene Ormandy -- George Szell quickly transformed a middling Midwestern orchestra into one of the nation's Big Five. His cultivation of the Cleveland Orchestra set an example of discipline and hard work that gradually helped raise the standards of orchestras across Read more America.
Although born in Hungary, Szell was raised in Vienna where he studied composition with Eusebius Mandyczewski, and piano with Richard Robert; he also studied composition in Prague with J.B. Foerster. Szell was a wunderkind, playing a Mozart piano concerto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra when he was ten, and composing a number of solid chamber and orchestral works in a lush, late Romantic style as a child and teenager. He was 17 when he conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in a program that included one of his own compositions.
Despite these early successes, Szell rose through the conducting ranks in the traditional way of the period, with a series of opera positions: Royal Opera of Berlin (1915-1917), Strasbourg (1917-1918), Prague (1919-1921), Darmstadt (1921-1922), and Düsseldorf (1922-1924). Szell's first prestigious post came to him in 1924, when he was named first conductor of the Berlin State Opera; he simultaneously served as a professor at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. In 1929, he moved on to become general music director of the German Opera and Philharmonic in Prague, where he remained until 1937.
Szell began focusing more on orchestral repertory in the 1930s; he made his U.S. debut as guest conductor of the St. Louis Symphony in 1930, and in 1937 he was appointed conductor of the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow, while maintaining a steady relationship with the Residentie Orkest in The Hague. Szell was in America in 1939 when war broke out in Europe; he remained in the U.S. through the war, first depending on guest engagements and then, in 1942, becoming a regular conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, where he was especially praised for his Wagner performances. In 1946 Szell took American citizenship and became music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, a post he held for 24 years. He was also the New York Philharmonic's music advisor and senior guest conductor during the last two years of his life.
Although Szell made a recordings in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s for Decca, and in Cleveland at the end of his life for EMI, the bulk of his substantial discography was the result of his long collaboration with Columbia Records in Cleveland. There, Szell had inherited an able but ordinary orchestra and, through sheer determination, molded it into one of America's finest. A Szell performance was remarkable for its textural clarity, chamber-like balances, and precision of attack and release. He drilled his orchestra mercilessly, even in works it had performed with him not long before. Szell was particularly admired for his performances of Austro-Germanic classics from Haydn to Richard Strauss, his sharp renderings of works by a select group of twentieth century composers including Bartók, Prokofiev, Janácek, and Walton), and his idiomatic way with Dvorák. Indeed, some collectors maintain that Szell's monaural, early 1950s recording of Dvorák's Eighth Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra has never been equaled. His treatment of French composers, on the other hand, was criticized for its lack of atmosphere, and detractors maintained that he achieved precision at the expense of emotional expression. To those who demanded a warmer approach to his beloved Mozart, however, Szell is said to have retorted, "One does not pour chocolate sauce over asparagus." Read less
Browse 251-106 of 106 Available Recordings
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  • 251.
    Dinner Classics - The French Album
    Label: Cbs Masterworks   Catalog: 45543 Release Date: 05/17/1990   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Hector Berlioz,  Charles Gounod,  Jacques Offenbach,  Léo Delibes  ... 
    Performer:  John De Lancie
    Conductor:  Charles Munch,  Eugene Ormandy,  William Smith,  Philippe Entremont  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philadelphia Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Philharmonia Orchestra  ... 
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  • 252.
    Dvorák: Cello Concerto; Bruch, Bloch / Pierre Fournier
    Label: Dg Musikfest   Catalog: 429155 Release Date: 05/01/1990   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Max Bruch,  Ernest Bloch,  Antonín Dvorák
    Performer:  Pierre Fournier
    Conductor:  Jean Martinon,  Alfred Wallenstein,  George Szell
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lamoureux Concerts Association Orchestra,  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 253.
    Sweet Dreams - Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Grieg, Et Al
    Label: Cbs Masterworks Digital Masters   Catalog: 44998 Release Date: 09/12/1989   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Engelbert Humperdinck,  Claude Debussy,  Robert Schumann,  Maurice Ravel  ... 
    Performer:  Frederica Von Stade
    Conductor:  Thomas Schippers,  Eugene Ormandy,  Percy Faith,  Bruno Walter  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Symphony Orchestra,  Philadelphia Orchestra,  Percy Faith & His Orchestra  ... 
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  • 254.
    Dvorak, Elgar: Cello Concertos / Fournier, Szell, Berlin Po
    Label: Dg Galleria   Catalog: 423881 Release Date: 01/01/1980   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar,  Antonín Dvorák
    Performer:  Pierre Fournier
    Conductor:  Alfred Wallenstein,  George Szell
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 255.
    Haydn: Symphonies 97, 98 & 99 / Szell, Cleveland Orchestra
    Label: Sony Classical Masterworks   Catalog: 62979 Release Date: 06/1997   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
    Conductor:  George Szell
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cleveland Orchestra
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  • 256.
    Jasca Heifetz In Performance 1945-1951
    Label: Music & Arts Programs Of America   Catalog: 1101 Release Date: 07/30/2002   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Johannes Brahms,  Jean Sibelius,  Sergei Prokofiev  ... 
    Performer:  Jascha Heifetz
    Conductor:  Artur Rodzinski,  George Szell,  Dimitri Mitropoulos,  Serge Koussevitzky  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra,  Centennial Symphony Orchestra
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