English-born Solomon (the only name he ever used in his professional life) enjoyed two separate, successful careers as a pianist. From the age of eight until his early teens, he was one of the most celebrated child prodigies of his era -- a national phenomenon in England right up until the time of the First World War. However, he disappeared from the musical scene for a number of years, emerging again in the late 1920s as a mature player; this second, now international, career would last through the Second World War and into the 1950s.
Solomon was born in London, the son of an impoverished tailor from the city's East End. At the age of seven, he astonished all of the adults around him by playing his own piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. He began studying with Mathilde Verne, a one time student of Clara Schumann. He made his formal concert debut in 1910, playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, and became an overnight sensation. However, the extensive touring, concertizing, and study proved to be too much, and he found himself loathing his instrument by the age of 15. On the advice of the conductor, Sir Henry Wood, he retreated from performance and immersed himself in study, now removed from the pressures of his career; he would not return to the concert scene until the age of 21.
His playing as an adult was acclaimed for its clarity, brilliance, and overall poetic feeling. He was particularly respected by his fellow musicians for his immaculate pianism, and the easy, unobtrusive virtuosity of his work. His ego was virtually nonexistent in concert, and his performances were, virtually without exception, a stunningly clear expression of the composer's intentions.
Solomon was well known for performances of the Beethoven sonatas and piano concertos, though he never did record them all. He was also renowned for his Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, and Debussy, as well as early twentieth century works such as Sir Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto, which he premiered at the 1939 World's Fair in New York and later recorded for EMI. A plan to record the Beethoven concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler proved unsuccessful; the pianist objected to working with Furtwängler due to the latter's activities in Germany during the Nazi regime. In 1955, Solomon became part of a very promising piano trio with violinist Zino Francescatti and cellist Pierre Fournier, but it was not to last. In 1956, while on vacation in France, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, bringing his career to an end.
His recordings, which date from the 1930s, were done for EMI and are all of interest; they have begun to appear on compact disc, either directly through EMI or under license to the Testament label. Despite the onset of his stroke in 1956, Solomon recorded a handful of works in stereo, but whether in stereo or mono, his recordings are all worth hearing, the clarity of his playing overcoming any seeming technical shortcomings in the recordings themselves. His performance of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, in particular, is notable for its poetic lyricism and natural, unforced passion.