George Szell: Cleveland’s Great Conductor

Ask anyone to list their favorite things about Cleveland, and the Orchestra is sure to be on the top of many of those lists.  Cleveland is home to the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. The Cleveland Orchestra has been commanding a considerable presence in the music world for over 100 years.  Started in 1918, The Cleveland Orchestra has had many great conductors. George Szell is one of the legends who took over in 1946 and ran the orchestra like clockwork for 24 years.  In his time at the helm, he molded the Cleveland Orchestra into a perfect music machine. To celebrate his career, Sony Classical has released “George Szell: The Complete Columbia Album Collection.”  

Originally released as a 106-disc collection, the actual number of CDs shows how prolific George Szell was.  Szell ran the orchestra in an era where the conductor was the god and general of everything. The devotion he required from his musicians was notorious.  Szell was an authoritarian and needed absolute control. Szell’s musical compositions feel exact, detailed and complete in execution. Szell was an incredibly productive artist, and his utter drive and enthusiasm for perfecting the music are on full display in the recordings. While Cleveland was his home, there are several recordings that Szell made with the New York Philharmonic and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. What is interesting about Szell is how he approached each piece of music.  He is from the school of thinking that the conductor’s job is to reproduce the music exactly as the composer intended. His reproductions of some of the great musical works are seen as the unobstructed view of the composer reproduced by the capable hands of Szell and the fantastic artists of the Cleveland Orchestra. He is known for his literal translation of the romantic era composers especially. His renditions of Beethoven and Brahms are some of the best reproduction of the great composers’ music.  

George Szell is known for his utter devotion to the Cleveland Orchestra with a tenure lasting a quarter century.  While many artists would not be able to keep the music fresh, Szell never tired from his passion. Whether the music was created in the 1700’s or 1900’s, Szell worked tirelessly to produce orchestrations that reflected what the composers intended.

Post written by Michael Brigger