Sir Georg Solti, (ˈʃolti; born György Stern; 21 October 1912 – 5 September 1997) was a Hungarian-born orchestral and operatic conductor, best known for his appearances with opera companies in Munich, Frankfurt and London, and as a long-serving music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Born in Budapest, he studied there with Béla Bartók, Leó Weiner and Ernő Dohnányi. In the 1930s, he was a répétiteur at the Hungarian State Opera and worked at the Salzburg Festival for Arturo Toscanini. His career was interrupted by the rise of the Nazis’ influence on Hungarian politics, and being of Jewish background he fled the increasingly harsh Hungarian anti-Jewish laws in 1938. After conducting a season of Russian ballet in London at the Royal Opera House he found refuge in Switzerland, where he remained during the Second World War. Prohibited from conducting there, he earned a living as a pianist.
After the war, Solti was appointed musical director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1946. In 1952 he moved to the Oper Frankfurt, where he remained in charge for nine years. He took West German citizenship in 1953. In 1961 he became musical director of the Covent Garden Opera Company, London. During his ten-year tenure, he introduced changes that raised standards to the highest international levels. Under his musical directorship the status of the company was recognised with the grant of the title “the Royal Opera”. He became a British citizen in 1972.
In 1969 Solti became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for 22 years. He relinquished the position in 1991 and became the orchestra’s music director laureate, a position he held until his death. During his time as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s eighth music director, he also served as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1972 until 1975 and principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979 until 1983.
Known in his early years for the intensity of his music making, Solti was widely considered to have mellowed as a conductor in later years. He recorded many works two or three times at various stages of his career, and was a prolific recording artist, making more than 250 recordings, including 45 complete opera sets. The most famous of his recordings is probably Decca’s complete set of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, made between 1958 and 1965. Solti’s Ring has twice been voted the greatest recording ever made, in polls for Gramophone magazine in 1999 and the BBC’s Music Magazine in 2012. Solti was repeatedly honoured by the recording industry with awards throughout his career, including a record 31 Grammy Awards as a recording artist.