Talk:George Szell

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Szell and NY Phil[edit]

Saying what he died *of* would be informative and complete.

Um, George Szell died in 1970. How did he manage to serve as Musical Director until 1971? Furthermore, did he manage two jobs at once? Szell served at Cleveland until the day he died. I'm commenting out this box until someone can clarify. Spamguy 22:05, 6 January 2006 (UTC)

Sorry, the 1971 was a typo for 1970. He served as "musical advisor" with the NY Phil during the Bernstein-Boulez interregnum. Here's the info on the NY Phil's website. I'll put the succession box back with correct info. 21:29, 7 January 2006 (UTC)

Quotes by and about Szell[edit]

Here are some quotes I compiled from Charry's bio of Szell (including page numbers), along with a transcription of part of Szell's 1968 interview with Culshaw. If I can find the time, I will try to incorporate them into the article, but others are welcome to do so as well.

  • Neville Cardus: He is of the old school of conductors who “make music”. He does not “put it over.” His gestures on the rostrum are intense and mobile, yet musically concentrated, without obvious audience appeal. P. 246 Eroica: Not since Toscanini have I heard this greatest of all symphonies explored and unfolded with so much power of dramatic illumination, with so firm and comprehensive a vision. P. 246
  • Desmond Shawe-Taylor: Mr. Szell adds a ripe and secure classical musicianship of precisely the type that we miss in the work of his leading rivals at Boston, New York and Philadelphia. P. 247
  • Paul Hume: The solidity with which George Szell has built [the] orchestra on those sound ingredients which are possessed only by the world’s greatest orchestras, a musicality throughout the ensemble which communicates itself in the most disciplined response, a virile and lustrous quality of sound in every department, and the embodiment of classic orchestral technique and proportion….Szell’s authority, experience and taste are rivaled by precious few conductors today. P. 194
  • Leningrad Pravda on C.O. tour performance in 1965: The orchestra plays with freedom and suppleness, as if in one breath. The rendition of each work is distinguished by coherence and warmth. The orchestra’s technique is irreproachable, but, most important, it is never flaunted for its own sake. Everything is subordinated to the artistic concept which is always profound and reasoned. This is the achievement of George Szell, the musical director and first conductor of the orchestra and an outstanding musician educated in the best traditions of European musical culture. P 229
  • Andrew Porter, the New Yorker: A Szell performance makes a Karajan one seem vulgar; the classical finesse of his orchestra can make the Berlin Philharmonic, straining at the climax of some Strauss tone-poem with supercharged strings and bursting brass, seem brash. P. 232
  • Donald White: George Szell hired the orchestra’s first African-American player, cellist Donald White, in 1957 over the objections of several orchestra members. White noted: “Szell had a reputation for being a martinet - brutal and ruthless, which he was. But on things political, he was a liberal. When I first got to the orchestra - when I’d go out to warm up, he be out checking bowings or something, and he would just put his hand on my shoulder. He wouldn’t say anything, but it was a gesture of support that meant more to me than words.” While on tour with the orchestra in Birmingham, Alabama in 1961, White was refused admittance to the concert hall because of that city’s segregationist policies. Szell and the orchestra’s manager, Barksdale sternly informed the mayor of Birmingham that unless White was allowed to perform in stage, the concert would be cancelled. The mayor relented and the concert proceeded. p. 173-174
  • Szell-Culshaw 1968: When Rodzinski took over the New York Philharmonic in 1943, he sacked 30 members. I didn’t sack that many. The Cleveland Orchestra was financially always very well endowed. So I could proceed with due regard to certain human considerations and could do it in a milder way. But there were of course moments of heartbreak and moments of unpleasantness. But then of course you arrive very soon at the point and this point is now very much at discussion: What is the purpose of a symphony orchestra for which so many people give without compensation their time - I am now talking about the board - and collect money - that’s the way American orchestras are being run as you know there’s no state or public money, just private money. What is the purpose? Is it the purpose of a symphony orchestra to make it possible to have the best of music? Or is the purpose of such an orchestra to give their members the easiest and unchallengeably permanent job?

THD3 (talk) 18:39, 17 December 2011 (UTC)

Development of Cleveland Orchestra[edit]

I was under the impression that the Cleveland Orchestra in 1946 was a pretty good outfit. The entry makes it sound as though they were a bunch of hicks and that Szell whipped them into shape. Didn't Rodzinski precede him there, after all? Maybe I'm over-reacting but could the opening paragraphs use some clean-up in that regard? --Wspencer11 (talk to me...) 13:00, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

I agree. Certainly the recordings made under Sokoloff and Rodzinski support the notion that Cleveland had a fine orchestra before Szell was appointed in 1946. They did go through a rough period at the beginning of World War II. I will work on this section as time allows. THD 16:12, 02 September 2006

Agree with above. The man who developed the CO from a "provincial" ensemble to one of national prominence was Rodzinski. Szell took a fine orchestra and built it into a great one. Thanks to whoever will correct this. Markhh 09:43, 26 February 2007 (UTC)

Rosenberg's book (The Cleveland Orchestra, Second to None) goes into some detail about this. The Cleveland Orchestra was an fine ensemble under Rodzinski, but not quite top echelon. During their years under Leinsdorf (1943-1946), things slipped. Not entirely the fault of the relatively inexperienced Leinsdorf, as he was drafted into the military and was unavailable much of the time. Several other players were also drafted, reducing the orchestra's ranks down to about 80 players. Charry's new bio of Szell goes into some detail about Szell's contract negotiations and how he was more concerned with artistic control than with money. The portrait of Szell that emerges is of one who believed in and practiced pure meritocracy - sometimes mercilessly. I'm going to re-read the book and will then incorporate parts into the article.

General tone of this article[edit]

My impression is that this article contains much good information, but mainly reflects the Szell fans' point of view. To that extent, I think it is somewhat at odds with Wikipedia's goals. I certainly don't object to the positive evaluation of Szell--he was anything but mediocre, there's little sense in writing articles if everyone is supposedly just 50/50, and ritually adding negative material in the name of "balance" is a degrading ploy. I truly have nothing bad to say about Szell. But the article almost gives the impression that he was a god--as if his work was based on a knowledge and talent that were absolute, and his authoritarianism merely reflected the fact of always being right about everything.

It seems almost as if he stood outside of human history, while we mortals saw and heard only an earthly manifestation. This is gross objectification not only of a person, but also of musical performance. Conducting an orchestra is something that human beings do. Legends are made about such people, but it is always just people who those legends are about.

It is like confusing an actor with a role that he is playing; just because you never happen to see him when he is "out of character" (or perhaps you don't want to), does that make him not an actor? If an actor's method is based on putting out of his mind all awareness that he is acting, then to describe that process objectively, we would have to say that that is something which the actor is doing as a part of his acting. To say instead, as some people would, that he "becomes his character" might describe the effect on the audience--but it avoids describing what the actor is doing, and instead creates the impression that magic is occurring.

The fact that so many people evidently want to perceive art as magic is a serious problem. I would like the article to be a little less awe-struck and a little more objective and realistic (or "encyclopedic" as they say around here). DSatz 13:19, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

I agree. But if you think it's bad now, you should have seen it before I edited it! THD3 14:49, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

Time for an overhaul? (re:tone)[edit]

I adore Szell as much as the next guy, but this article, while informative, is completely unsourced and reads like a fanzine. It's really not consistent with an encyclopedia. I'm planning on doing a pretty thorough overhaul as soon as I can gather some good references. Hope I don't upset anyone in the process. I don't think Szell's legacy needs the sort of boosterism it gets here.--Turangalila (talk) 15:32, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

I was having the exact same idea, and the exact same intentions. I'm going to start sourcing it this week HornandsoccerTalk 18:46, 18 March 2007 (UTC)

infobox flags &c (Name)[edit]

there's been a series of reversions btw User:Emerson7, User:Hornandsoccer, and myself concerning putting the American flag next to the death date in the infobox. Emerson7 says in his last edit summary "please refer to infobox template re use of flags." I couldn't find any mention pro or con on the infobox's page, so I'm not sure what the problem is--can someone please explain?

The other part of the edit concerns the phrase "better known by his Anglicised name George Szell." I'm pretty sure that should be uncontroversial, given that the anglicised name is used in all major reference books and most all recordings & concert programs I've seen, so I don't see the word "perhaps" as necessary. --Turangalila (talk) 16:29, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

my position on the the two items you call attention to is really quite easily defensible. the parameters for the infobox and the flag icon are set forth on page: template:infobox_musical_artist. ...there is no provision for a flag for 'country of death' in any of the bio type infoboxes anywhere.
with regard to the use of the modifier perhaps....well, that's a pure and simple POV issue. unless you are able to support as fact that he is 'best', or 'better' known worldwide as such, 'perhaps' is the only appropriate lead-in. although this is indeed, the english language version of wikipedia, not the english wikipedia—or dare i say the american wikipedia. many many people in elsewhere in the world who speak english, and read the english language version of wikipedia may never have heard of the name pronounced or used as it is in the uk or the usa. cheers --emerson7 | Talk 06:41, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

This is all absurdly trivial, and I'm not going to re-revert any of this again until I can get to the real work of sourcing & NPOVing the actual article (by the end of the month I promise, if someone doesn't beat me to it. I'm waiting on a couple of printed sources). However:

  • As I noted above, the "parameters for the infobox and the flag icon" are most definitely not "set forth" on the template page, or any of the related pages I could find on WikiProject Musicians or WikiProject Bio. None of these pages address the issue at all, pro or con, for birthplace or death-place. If there's any consensus guideline or policy I can't find it. After much searching I finally found this "essay", which criticizes all flag icons as, basically, useless clutter. If that's your position cool, but please clarify. Either way, it seems to me that at least for this subject (who naturalized to a new country), the infobox should either display both flags (Hungarian & USA) or neither. I have no real opinion as to which.
  • On the name: Having done a very little research, I can point you, for example, to the Wikipedias in French, German, and Japanese; or to this page from Google Books for correspondence in which he answers to and signs himself "George." You'll have to trust me (or look it up) that his listings in all standard references (Baker's, New Grove, Britannica) list his primary or common name as George, as well as all the musicological books, newspapers, magazines, concert programs and record jackets I've seen (& I've seen a few). This only makes sense for a man who spent most of his maturity in the Anglophone world, achieved his fame in America with an American organization, recorded prolifically for American record labels, and died as an American citizen--never having lived in Hungary past the age of 3. (he grew up in Vienna, which may be why his New Grove bio, written by a former assistant, lists as an alternate name not "György" but the German-ized "Georg".) When I do the real editing I'll try & footnote the intro appropriately; whether all this will establish Szell's customary "worldwide" name as "fact" to your satisfaction is not mine to know, so revert if you must for now.

--Turangalila (talk) 09:17, 22 March 2007 (UTC)

I couldn't find anything either on 'precedent' on having a flag with the death year. Personally, I think it would look better with the flag, considering he died in a different country than his birth, but I'm not going to fight over it. As for the 'perhaps' issue, I had never heard him called by his birth name at all until I first read this article. If it says perhaps, that implies an opinion; however, if it does not say perhaps, this implies a fact, which would be rather difficult to cite. Maybe would could change it to say György Széll, also known by his Anglicised name George Szell.... However, I will accede to consensus before editing further on these issues. HornandsoccerTalk 20:44, 22 March 2007 (UTC)
How about "György Széll, commonly known by his Anglicised name..." -- acknowledging the prevalence of George w/o having to prove it's the more common form...--Turangalila (talk) 08:23, 23 March 2007 (UTC)
Sounds good to me HornandsoccerTalk 00:56, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

commonly known by his Anglicised name..." commonly known by whom? ....and where? here again, we have the interjection of POV. the simplest way to to indicate, "yes, we acknowledge all POV's," is by using the modifier 'perhaps. thus saying: ...perhaps better known as.... requires no qualifier, it's inclusive, accurate, concise, and succinct.

with regard to the flags....i agree with the essayist...they're all just fluff. further, the point may be altogether moot as the use of flags of nationality (or nativity) seems to have disapeared from all of the biographical/person infoboxes. i've been checking through the infobox template diffs, and they have all been edited out...but i have yet to read any proscription of their use. the template:infobox actor provides a link to Helen Hunt as an example. Hunt has a flag...whereas Michael J. Fox does not. of course these two examples are of people who aren't dead. after checking dozens of articles of dead people with infoboxes (actors, politicians, musicians) i couldn't find any with mort-flags, while most had natal-flags. sum up, 1) template details: we find a weak implicit nod for natal-flags, and none whatsoever for mort-flags. 2) precedence: though i'm sure some articles have mort-flags, i couldn't find any in my unscientific survey. 3) common sense (WP:SENSE): what information does it impart? it's just more fluff, and decoration.--emerson7 | Talk 07:41, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

The problem with perhaps is implying that 'known as George Szell' isn't necessarily a fact. I'd say 'György Széll, or George Szell', or 'György Széll, also known as George Szell'. Rethinking commonly, that implies that this is a fact, which would require citing, which would difficult, if even possible. HornandsoccerTalk 15:49, 25 March 2007 (UTC)

(quote) "commonly known by his Anglicised name"... commonly known by whom? ....and where? (...) "..perhaps better known as...." requires no qualifier, it's inclusive, accurate, concise, and succinct. (/quote)

commonly known by whom? ....and where? by everybody, everywhere where the man's name is known. Had you heard of Szell before you edited this page? Did you read the facts I laid out above?

All evidence in the culture commonly available around us says the man's name was George: Go to Amazon sometime & try to find a record with György Széll. I just did. You do get a result: one Schumann compilation on an obscure label that pairs a symphony recording conducted by George Szell with piano music played by György Cziffra. Type György Széll into Google and the only music-related thing that shows up in the first 2 1/2 pages is, you guessed it, this article. (-digression- Apparently there's a social scientist called Gyorgy Szell who may deserve an article here. guy publishes alot. -/digression-) Spelling variants produce the same results. Now try "George Szell" and note the difference. I don't believe these are trivial exercises. Like it or not, in our age these are pretty good indicators of what people will hear, read and see in their daily lives throughout the English-speaking world. You emphasize above that this is the English language wikipedia (perhaps an ever-so-subtle way to cast your counterparts as chauvinists or cultural-hegemonists? or just Ugly Americans?). But the popular culture-milieu of that broader anglophone world is increasingly -- especially in the medium we're now sharing -- homogenized -- shared "in common". And to the extent that that culture knows the subject of this article, it knows him as George Szell. Furthermore while Szell was a conduit for a largely Central-European tradition, he transmitted that tradition, and still does today electronically, most prominently in America, as an adopted American and through American channels.

But what do the authorities say? What about the people who actually research & know this stuff better than you or me -- who produce the secondary sources Wikipedia is supposed to distill? They seem to agree (at least the ones in English -- my German is sadly lacking and my Hungarian nonexistent) that it's proper to describe the man in question primarily as George Szell. What they don't agree on is if poor "György" belongs in the picture at all. I mentioned above that the New Grove -- commonly thought of as the standard reference in the field -- omits György altogether in favor of the German Georg. That entry was written by one Michael Charry, who worked for Szell as an assistant conductor, and is working on a biography of him.[1] Donald Rosenberg in his exhaustive history of the Cleveland Orchestra (perhaps as close to a full-length Szell bio as currently exists) agrees. Look it up: ISBN 1-886228-24-8, p. 237: "He was born Georg Szell on June 7, 1897, in Budapest, Hungary, to a Hungarian father and a Slovakian mother."

In short the evidence as to what is "commonly known," or even "better known" is pretty overwhelming. And after all, a man's name isn't often a matter of POV at all. Where does it stop? Must we write "Eric Arthur Blair, perhaps better known as George Orwell"? How about "Grace Barnett Wing, perhaps better known as Grace Slick"? There comes a point where the quest for NPOV becomes the denial of reality and the negation of common sense.

The word "perhaps", at least in this context, is neither neutral nor concise. It throws doubt on what follows and in turn implies that what came before is at the very least more 'correct'. The sentence as it currently stands is weasely, inelegant and unencyclopedic. If I ever get around to trying to whip this article into shape I intend to replace it with something clearer and more positive; which also acknowledges all 3 versions of ol' whatsisname's name.

If, as I suspect, I've gone overboard here in length and tone, I apologize; I can only plead frustration at having been lectured about facts and evidence; having tried hard to marshall same; and having been met in turn with neither facts nor evidence but only bald assertions and PC pedantry.


As to those grand old flags, I can only repeat, whatever common practice may be, that in the case of a naturalized expatriate like Szell, my common sense would dictate either two flags or none. Which one is I guess more a question of taste than anything else. I could sort of see an argument for the flags as a form of quickly digestible graphical information, but that asumes the average reader knows a Hungarian flag from an Austrian flag from a Sri Lankan flag at a glance. Personally I can't even distinguish the little things on this ancient monitor, so I'm DQing myself from further flag debate & going back to bed.

--Turangalila (talk) 16:38, 25 March 2007 (UTC) [edited later to retract overwrought and irrelevant bits. Turangalila 3/28]

Absolutely. This "perhaps" business is ridiculous. I have asked a very highly-trained musician who is an admin here, and he, citing the new Grove as the gold standard of references, confirmed that George is the way to go. No question. Nobody is going to search for Gyorgy Szell. Nobody. Sure, the article should indicate that this was his birth name, but to weasel around with this stuff is a total waste of time. Common sense demands George. And if he were alive, I can guaran-damn-tee you that he would say so too, and you would bear the scars for the rest of your life. --Wspencer11 (talk to me...) 20:15, 25 March 2007 (UTC)
Ok, now that things have calmed down a bit, I propose that we reword the lead sentence to George Szell, born György Széll, (7 June 1897 – 30 July 1970) was a Hungarian-born American conductor and composer. I won't make this change just yet, I want to make sure that this is ok. As for the flags, perhaps the Hungarian flag should just simply be removed. HornandsoccerTalk 01:21, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
I've edited the infobox & removed the Hungarian flag, at least for now. Hope that's ok. I also added "Instrument=piano" since he remained at least somewhat active as a pianist til his other thought: should the title "Composer" perhaps be deleted here and in the lead? He seems to have stopped writing music altogether after adolescence, & according to Rosenberg he actively suppressed his music later on. --Turangalila (talk) 20:01, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Attempted resolution (re name)[edit]

I've gone ahead and edited the page now in an effort to make it clearer. I hope by putting the usual name at the beginning of the article (to match the title), but noting that György or Georg came first; then adding a footnote on the situation, I've satisfied a consensus. I also deleted the "Birth name" line from the Infobox as the birth name isn't clear; besides all 3 names are there in bold 3 inches to the left so why confuse matters? I made this a separate edit so I could link here to the "DIFF" PAGE.

See below for talk on other changes. --Turangalila (talk) 08:52, 29 March 2007 (UTC)


I have rated this article as a Start class article for Wikipedia:Wikiproject Biography due to the lack of cites and the overtly praising nature of the prose. This article really just have potential, though. Keep working at it, this could probably be a Good Article candidate fairly quickly. HornandsoccerTalk 01:24, 29 March 2007 (UTC)


OK, I've made a start on trying to get this article up to encyclopedic standards. Much yet needs to be done, but I thought I'd summarize what I've done so far here to get the discussion started...

  • I added sections for notes & citations -- I opted for a hybrid style that combines: (1) footnotes entered w/ "<ref>" tags (& displayed under "Notes"), which contain brief "Harvard-style" cites; with (2) complete citations listed separately under "References". It's a bit more work to add a new ref, but it does allow you to include explanations & other longish digressions in the footnote, for example wrt the name issue. Also you can cite multiple sources from one spot in the text w/o cluttering up the page w/ multiple consecutive footnote links.[1][2][3] See also WP:CITE and WP:FOOT
  • Revised NAME; see above
  • I deleted some portions of text. Most of it was fairly obvious POV, or just plain wrong ("provincial orchestra")...however some of it was interesting stuff, just not source-able from my research; so here's a DIFF PAGE of results from a first pass. Feel free to resurrect material you can source.
  • I couldn't find any evidence that Richard Robert was buddies w/ Brahms. I'm pretty sure whoever wrote that had him confused w/ Mandyczewski; I changed the text accordingly.
  • I haven't even touched the "Cleveland 1946-1970" and "Conducting Style" sections yet, both of which still need lots o' work. Also the Lead could probably use a bit more info about Szell's musical & social personality.

Please jump in & help out! --Turangalila (talk) 11:17, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Idiotic Jewish labels[edit]

Seems whenever they get the chance people label Americans who happen to be of Jewish heritage as "Jewish-American." Szell was not "Jewish-American" but simply American. There is nothing in his biography to suggest that he identified himself as a hyphenated American. In fact, according to the Categories list at the bottom of the article, Szell converted to Roman Catholicism, which makes the Jewish-American tag even more idiotic. I suggest that whenever anyone happens across a Jewish-American label, that they edit out this idiotic tag. J M Rice (talk) 00:34, 4 September 2008 (UTC)

According to Charry's bio, it's not so much that Szell converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, his whole family did when Szell was three years old! From what I can discern in available sources, he doesn't seem to have been particularly observant. In any case, according to WP:MOS, there's no need to put the subject's religion in the lead unless it's specially significant to their life story. Neither Judaism or Christianity was in this case.THD3 (talk) 14:46, 16 August 2011 (UTC)

"Jewish" is not only a religious category, but also an ethnic one. For example, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were all atheists, but they are regarded as Jewish generally. So I don't think categorizing George Szell as Jewish is "idiotic" at all. -- (talk) 20:42, 21 August 2011 (UTC)

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference a was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference b was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference c was invoked but never defined (see the help page).