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George Szell: A Life of Music (Music in American Life) Hardcover – June 1, 2011
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"Reading this book would serve as a manual of music appreciation. Charry's tribute reflects the scope and brilliance of Szell's career, in the careful detailing of his performances and music critics' opinions of them."--Ohioana Quarterly
"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
A comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century's greatest conductors
Top Customer Reviews
The major problem is that Charry feels the need to account for every moment in Szell's life. As a result, many of the chapters provide superficial overviews of a year in Szell's life, mentioning just the music he conducted, anecdotes about contract negotiations, and discussions with administrators at other orchestras about programming for guest appearances. It feels like it was originally written in bullet form and then converted into complete sentences. Understandably, Charry paces things very quickly to get to Szell's Cleveland tenure as soon as possible, and devotes the majority of the book to that. A lot of this period in Szell's life is already well known -- in fact, a lot of the stories and anecdotes Szell devotees will recognize from CD liner notes (many written by Charry) as well as Szell's hour long interview with John Culshaw for the BBC (which is by far the most insightful Szell document), audio interviews with Paul Myers and WQXR, and the Bell Telephone Hour documentary. What I wanted to know more about was Szell's life before Cleveland, especially when he was a prodigy in pre-war Europe.
Szell continues to fascinate listeners over 40 years after his death because of his unique interpretations and ability to exert total control over how the Cleveland Orchestra sounded -- so I was hoping for more analysis of this. From reading about Szell in the past, I know that he was meticulous at preparing a score he would conduct -- he would play through them on the piano several times -- and that his rehearsals were legendary for their intensity.Read more ›
The book gives us a blow by blow account of practically all of Szell's concerts given throughout his life. The typical account takes the form, "on such-and-such a date, Szell conducted the following works with the X orchestra." Then will follow a snippet or two from the reviews of the concert.
After a while, this gets quite tedious, and one wonders whether this information might not have been better listed in an appendix. Of course, that would have gutted the book, but it would also have left space for what I was hoping to find, but generally missed: Szell's ideas about the music he performed,his thoughts about conducting, and his philosophy of life. These topics are not completely absent, but they are submerged in a sea of facts that quickly become repetitive, not to say boring.
To the extent that Charry departs from his formula, it is usually to convey gossipy stories about Szell's tendency to be his own worst enemy (or, to be more precise, his own second-worst enemy, since Rudolf Bing claimed to be his worst enemy). Charry never offers a psychological explanation of the demon that haunted Szell and caused him so many times to act immaturely. Nor does Charry delve into a topic that might have been connected to this: Szell's early decision to stop his work as a composer.
Surely the inability to create his own new works must have gnawed at the soul of such a great musical genius. Instead, Charry simply reports without comment that Szell decided his compositions weren't very good.Read more ›
Charry begins to make a case that Szell as a man was more than his popular image as the severe music dictator, but misses (or passes up) many opportunities to demonstrate what he experienced personally as Szell's "sorcerer's apprentice". He does not analyze his mentor.
Even Szell's early development---his years as a piano prodigy and composer, and his established conducting career prior to his Cleveland tenure---are not really put under a microscope.
There is sadly little of what many readers would want and expect the most from what should be an examination of "a life of music": music. It does not probe Szell's approach and style, the reasoning behind the musical and career choices he made, and the disciplines that he strenuously (pedantically) championed. Szell professed to be the ultimate steward of other composers' scores, but he took aggressive liberties, which Szell fans instantly recognize as Szell trademarks. Charry doesn't touch matters such as that.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent balanced view of one of our great conductors. Includes valuable listing of concerts, recordings, soloists etc. of Szell's musical life. A very readable book. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Mike
szell was one of the great ones…charry worked with him and the book is very authoritative.Published 13 months ago by mary in new york city
Excellent biography of a marvelous conductor. Well written and very informative.Published 14 months ago by Jose Santos Pais
George Szell was one of the greatest conductors in the 20th Century. I met him on a couple of occasions, after concerts, as one of many who admired his music-making. Read morePublished on September 22, 2014 by Frog
Micael Cherry has done the musical world a great service in his biography of the great conductor George Szell. Read morePublished on May 9, 2013 by Mark Perlman
Engaging and very interesting. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Charry's evocative descriptions of Europe in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Read morePublished on January 3, 2013 by Greg Bonenberger
I became a classical music fan during the early 60s thanks to the Met broadcasts and broadcast concerts and new recordings by some of the greatest of the last great conductors of... Read morePublished on February 11, 2012 by Col William Russell (ret)
Charry's book is an important contribution, because it's the only biography (as far as I know) of George Szell, one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century. Read morePublished on September 6, 2011 by Gerald Marxman
R.D. Monsoon's detailed review is excellent. I love classical music but almost all my experience has been listening to it on Cleveland radio. Read morePublished on August 11, 2011 by Brian G. Ruschel