Solti dies in sleep at 84

Sir Georg Solti, one of the most influential conductors of the 20th century, died in his sleep, aged 84, late on Friday night in Antibes, where he was on holiday with his family.

Solti was music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the 1960s, and went on to turn the Chicago Symphony Orchestra into one of the best in the world. He was one of the first conductors whose work will live on through recordings. Solti won 31 Grammies - the music Oscars - more than any other conductor.

The most celebrated work is the first full recording of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle, completed in 1965. It is an energetic and fierce reading ,reflecting the man himself. Solti was known as "the screaming skull" but recently said: "I am not shouting any more, and I think my conducting has mellowed too." Solti worked regularly until his death, and was scheduled to conduct the Verdi Requiem at the Proms next Friday.

Georg Solti's real name was Gyuri Stern. He was born in Budapest in 1913, and his Jewish father changed the family name as a reaction to obessive anti-semitism. He informed his mother that he intended to become a conductor when he was 14. She told him to pass his piano exams first, and he studied at the Franz Liszt Academy.

Solti's early career was dominated by Nazism and he was hounded out of opera houses in Karlsruhe and Mannheim. He spent the war as a penniless refugee in Switzerland. He never saw his father again.

His status did, however, lead to rapid promotion after the war. American occupying forces appointed him conductor of the Bavarian State Opera, and he learned the Wagnerian repertoire there and in Frankfurt, having earlier concentrated on Mozart and Verdi.

He continued to live in London after he left Covent Garden. He married a second time, to a journalist, and had two daughters. He was proud to be knighted and loved England, but asked who he would support when England played Hungary at football he did not hesitate, replying: "Hungary."

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