Another historic concert this week. The Cleveland Orchestra in this 1967 broadcast featuring Music Director and legend George Szell at the Podium with Pierre Fournier, cello in music of Mozart, Martin and Richard Strauss.
The concert begins with two Marches by Mozart – and then the first American performance of the Cello Concerto by Frank Martin and closes with Strauss’ Don Quixote. It was recorded on October 25, 1967.
George Szell was born in Budapest on June 7, 1897. His father, a Hungarian business man and a lawyer, discovered when the boy was 7 years old that he could write down tunes after hearing them only once, and pushed him into musical training.
Even before that, at 4, George had shown aptitude for his life’s work, supervising his mother’s piano playing and cor recting wrong notes by tapping her wrist. The pedagogic urge, often pressed to the point of pedanticism, stayed with him and became part of the Szell legend.
One of Mr. Szell’s oldest friends, Joseph Wechsberg, wrote in The New Yorker in 1965 about this pedagogic impulse: “He teaches expert golfers how to play golf (he plays badly himself), racing drivers how to drive, Parisian couturiers how to make dresses, Mrs. Szell how to cook, and writers how to write.”
When he first took the Cleveland Orchestra post in 1946 (he became a United States citizen the same year), it was believed that Mr. Szell’s hope was to follow the path of Artur Rodzinski, who had come from the Cleveland podium to take charge of the New York Philharmonic.
But Cleveland turned out to be made for Mr. Szell, and he for Cleveland. In 1955 he bought a luxurious suburban home in Shaker Heights, not far from Severance Hall, a neoclassic structure on Cleveland’s East Side that the conductor liked so much that he encouraged the orchestra’s trustees to remodel it acoustically, at the cost of $1‐million in 1960. He dropped his title of permanent guest conductor of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 1959, and settled down to remaking the Cleveland Orchestra into a musical ensemble closer to his heart’s desire.
“Cleveland is my home,” he announced. Part of his plan included building esteem for orchestra musicians in their community by extending the orchestra’s season, increasing pay and taking the Cleveland Orchestra on European tours. From these tours, which earned extraordinary applause in European cities, and from the orchestra’s continued visits to Carnegie Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra emerged with a reputation for technical skill and musicianship that almost satisfied even, the hard‐to‐please Mr. Szell.
Enjoy the show.