(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE FLYING DUTCHMAN")
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We are listening to the opening bars of the overture to Richard Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman." It was performed by the Chicago Symphony, and the conductor was Sir Georg Solti. That performance is part of a treasure trove of recordings being reissued to celebrate the 100th anniversary, this Sunday, of Solti's birth. Along with his stunning recordings, Solti is considered one of the great conductors of the last half of the 20th century. Here to tell us more is MORNING EDITION music commentator Miles Hoffman. Good morning.
MILES HOFFMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Why don't we get right to why Solti has been so celebrated.
HOFFMAN: There are many reasons, Renee. He indeed was one of the titans of conducting of the 20th century, but I think his greatest importance, his most important role, is in the history of classical music recording. Georg Solti came into his prime as classical music recording was exploding, as stereo was being invented in the '50s.
And he was part of that explosion. He was one of the reasons it came into its heyday. And he was almost singlehandedly responsible for the growth of a very important record label, Decca Records. He recorded exclusively for Decca for 50 years and he brought that label to international acclaim.
By the way, he won more Grammys than anybody else in the history of recording, pop or classical. Here's a portion of a recording that won the 1966 Grammy for Best Opera Recording.
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE VALKYRIE")
MONTAGNE: Oh, Miles, that is a very familiar piece of music.
HOFFMAN: Yeah, it is, Renee. That's "The Ride of the Valkyries" from "Die Walkure," "The Valkyrie," which is the second of the four operas that make up Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, "The Ring of the Nibelung," Renee. Between '58, 1958 and 1965, Solti recorded the entire Ring Cycle. That was with the Vienna Philharmonic and four absolutely spectacular casts of singers. This was the first commercial recording of the complete Ring Cycle, and it's certainly Georg Solti's most famous and most important set of recordings.
MONTAGNE: And then these recordings, are they among those being reissued?
HOFFMAN: Yes, they certainly are, Renee. But you know, the sheer volume of music that Solti recorded during the course of his career is - it's just stupefying. He made more than 250 recordings - 45 operas at one time or another. Not to mention the complete symphonies of Beethoven, the complete symphonies of Brahms, of Bruckner, and of Mahler. I mean it's just astonishing.
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO")
HOFFMAN: Here's a famous duet from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," and again, the conductor is Georg Solti.
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO")
HOFFMAN: Soprano Lucia Popp with a soprano named Kiri Te Kanawa. And that was Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
MONTAGNE: And you know, Miles, with all the time that George Solti must have spent in the recording studio, you'd think he would not have had time to conduct...
HOFFMAN: (Laughing) Anything.
MONTAGNE: ...you know, operas or in concert halls, you know, for live audiences. And of course that was the other part of his career.
HOFFMAN: Yeah. I mean he was a conductor and he led many important musical institutions during the course of his career. In this country, his glory days were as music director and conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That was from 1969 to 1991, and he's the fellow who brought the Chicago Symphony to prominence, some would say back to prominence, as one of the greatest orchestras of the world.
This was during the time that Georg Solti was music director of the Chicago Symphony. I should mention, by the way, Renee, that there are some wonderful features - Solti 100 features - on the Chicago Symphony website.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "IL TROVATORE")
HOFFMAN: That's the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing the famous Anvil Chorus of Giuseppe Verdi's "Il Trovatore." And it was conducted by Sir Georg Solti.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I gather that there was something known as a Solti sound.
HOFFMAN: I think most musicians would say that there is a Solti sound, Renee, and most would also say that that sound comes from a rhythmic precision, a clarity, and an emphasis on power. And when Solti was with the Chicago Symphony, that's what he was known for - performances of clarity, precision, and power.
MONTAGNE: Miles, why don't we go out on a piece of music that really exemplifies that power, as you put it, that Solti was known for?
HOFFMAN: OK, Renee. Well, some people thought that Solti was a god in the world of classical music so why don't we go out with something from the "Twilight of the Gods." This is from "Gotterdammerung," Wagner's "Gotterdammerung," "Siegfried's Death and Funeral March."
(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "GOTTERDAMMERUNG")
MONTAGNE: We're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of conductor Georg Solti this Sunday. Miles, thanks very much.
HOFFMAN: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is the violist of the American Chamber Players and the author of "The NPR Classical Music Companion."
GREENE: From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.