He was born Gyuri Stern in Budapest on 21 October 1912. He won the International Piano Competition in Geneva in 1942. He was music director at Covent Garden from 1961 to 1971; and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1969 to 1992, turning it into one of the world's greatest orchestras; and of L'Orchestre de Paris from 1972 to 1975. He was knighted in 1972.

When he died (on holiday in the south of France) on 5 September 1997, Chicago was expecting him to conduct his one-thousandth concert there. Britain was in the final days of the Proms series, where he was due to conduct the Verdi Requiem on the second-last night; and the country was in deep mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales. The sudden, very unexpected loss of Sir Georg at this time was devastating for the music world.

His ashes are buried in Budapest, next to Bartok. Lady Solti, Valerie Solti as she is always known, has been a proud and enthusiastic speaker in his memory, much respected in her own right. She stresses what a devoted father he was. When he died, BBC Radio 3 pulled their programming and staged a day-long tribute to him, and she was in the thick of it.

Solti's affectionate but awed nickname among musicians was "The Screaming Skull". The name Solti, being Hungarian, is pronounced Sholti. The Georg is usually pronounced in the English way as George.