In 2011 Lady Solti donated her late husband’s scores and papers to Harvard University. The Sir Georg Solti Archive is now a treasure trove for scholars and young conductors interested in the legacy of one of the greatest conductors of the Twentieth Century.
Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997) was born in Budapest and was trained as a pianist. But his talent for conducting soon emerged and after the war he began his career working in German opera houses. He came to the attention of Decca producer John Culshaw and was soon involved in the company’s project to record the first Ring cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic. The recordings created an international sensation and Solti became a major figure. He headed the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden then went on to lead the Chicago Symphony.
The Solti Archive is part of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library at Harvard and it can now be accessed online at www.hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/loebmusic/exhibitions/solti. The site includes selected pages from various scores owned by Solti with his copious markings. Some conductors – Herbert von Karajan is a good example – scarcely marked their scores at all. Solti, on the other hand, marked up his scores to the point where often the music can scarcely be seen. Take a look at his markings for Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 or Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15.
Many of these markings were put in the scores at different times. They remind the conductor what he did at an earlier performance. To keep things straight Solti often used different coloured pencils. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this way of working leads to confusion. If I were conducting I would prefer to work with a “clean” score or at least a score that only contained markings pertaining to the performance I was now preparing. But people and conductors are different, and their minds often work in different ways. And knowing that Solti got remarkable results, a young conductor might well do worse than spend time trying to decipher Solti’s markings.
It needs to be pointed out that conductors add markings to printed scores for a variety of reasons. Stokowski, for example, often added markings that changed tempo, dynamics and orchestration. Solti was more inclined to play the music as written with only occasional changes in the printed score. Why all the markings? For Solti – and many conductors do this – additional markings often serve to highlight what is written. For example, if there is a sudden change in tempo, metre or dynamics a conductor might circle, underline or enlarge the printed marking so that he or she can see it better. Other markings might be added to draw the conductor’s eye to an instrumental solo that should be given prominence. Solti’s scores are filled with such markings.
In our video Solti conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in Suppe’s Pique Dame Overture. This was a Solti specialty and this performance is tremendously vibrant and exciting.
Paul E. Robinson