Solomon Cutner, or Solomon as he became known, made his professional debut at the age of eight playing Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto at Queen’s Hall, London. From then until his early teens he was to be considered one of the most celebrated child prodigies of his era.
Solomon was born in the East End of London in 1902, the seventh child of Jewish parents of Polish and German extraction. Since both of his parents loved music and there was a piano in the home, Solomon, as he noted in an interview years later, “could have been barely five when I first started strumming on the piano and having lessons. For hours and hours I would practice upon the old instrument which we had at home and forget all about games and toys…. It was the strangest assortment of trifles that my fingers, as rigid as the keys themselves, would delightedly ramble through, ranging from a Beethoven minuet and snatches of 1812 to the popular tunes of the day.” [MS 430 A4254/4/1]Solomon’s parents were introduced to Mathilde Verne, who had set up a music school in London in 1909, by a member of the Jewish Aid Society. And it was a bursary from the Jewish Aid Society that supported Solomon’s lessons with Verne. He moved into her house and undertook a punishing schedule of eight to nine hours a day practice and of numerous concerts. At the age of nine Solomon performed with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under the conductor Henry Wood. Wood was to write to Mathilde Verne that “I have never met such a talent as Solomon’s at the age of 9. His phrasing and rhythmic grip seemed to me quite remarkable.” [Henry Wood to Mathilde Verne, 25 June 1912 MS 430 A4254/4/1]. By the he age of 12 Solomon was playing six Prom concerts and the following year he played 15 concerts with Henry Wood.
Solomon left Verne when his contract expired and, on the advice of Henry Wood, retreated from performance and immersed himself in study. He returned to performance in early 1920s, first in London and Paris followed by a short tour of Germany. He made his New York debut in 1926 and performed at the World Fair there in 1939, premiering the Piano Concerto in B-flat by Arthur Bliss.During the Second World War Solomon performed for allied troops in Europe. In the post-war period he undertook extensive concert tours across the world. Solomon embarked on a parallel career as a recording artist from 1929 when he signed to Columbia. He subsequently signed to EMI, focusing on the works of Beethoven and on recording the entire sequence of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Solomon was part way through the Beethoven recording when in 1956 he suffered a stroke that paralysed his right arm. This effectively ended his performance career.
Solomon was awarded a CBE in 1946. He died, in London, in 1988 aged 85. He is remembered for his superb technique and his playing as an adult was acclaimed for its clarity and overall poetic feel. He was described as “one of the few contemporary pianists who is master of the subtleties of Chopin”. [MS 430 A4254/1/206] William Mann called him “an evocative poet”. For John Cromer, “while Solomon played … the inanimate piano came alive with a new meaning of sound and patterned harmonies. The three-legged monster with shining white and black teeth became the living bearer of a thousand messages, soft and sweet, tender and poignant.” [MS 430 A4254/1]The recently acquired collection of papers relating to Solomon at Southampton contains extensive correspondence from him, predominately to his sister Ettie. These letters relate to his concert tours in the 1940s and 1950s across North and South America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. They attest both to the rigors of life on tour and to his appreciation of homely comforts such as tea and toast in his hotel room. The collection further contains photographs of Solomon from a young man to an adult; programmes from concerts all across the world; and volumes of press cuttings mainly of reviews of his performances. This material provides a glimpse into the world of the person Harold Schonberg of the New York Times called “that most civilized of pianists” and who his family remember as a devoted son and brother.