A Life of Music
By Michael Charry
(University of Illinois Press, Hardcover, 9780252036163, 464pp.)
Publication Date: June 2011
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, transforming it into one of the world's greatest ensembles, 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.
Michael Charry has conducted widely in the U.S. and internationally. He was a member of the conducting staff of the Cleveland Orchestra for nine years under George Szell and for two years after Szell's death. He is on the faculty of Mannes College The New School for Music, in New York City, where he was head of orchestral studies and music director of the Mannes Orchestra.
Michael Charry's new biography captures the power Szell brought to the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as his tempestuous personality. More at NPR.org
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"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
"Charry not only gives us invaluable insights into his leadership style and musical tastes ... but details some of the financial and political issues facing the orchestra during that era. . . . Perhaps the book’s greatest value lies in humanizing a man whom many have come to see as a humorless (or perhaps joyless) martinet."SymphonyNow
"Charry’s achievement is unlikely to be surpassed for a long time, if ever, and the reader will come away with a real depth of insight into this towering, complex figure, which can only enhance our appreciation of his extraordinary accomplishment and artistic legacy."--Fanfare