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The Life and Death of Classical Music: Featuring the 100 Best and 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made [Kindle Edition]

Norman Lebrecht
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In this compulsively readable, fascinating, and provocative guide to classical music, Norman Lebrecht, one of the world’s most widely read cultural commentators tells the story of the rise of the classical recording industry from Caruso’s first notes to the heyday of Bernstein, Glenn Gould, Callas, and von Karajan.

Lebrecht compellingly demonstrates that classical recording has reached its end point–but this is not simply an expos? of decline and fall. It is, for the first time, the full story of a minor art form, analyzing the cultural revolution wrought by Schnabel, Toscanini, Callas, Rattle, the Three Tenors, and Charlotte Church. It is the story of how stars were made and broken by the record business; how a war criminal conspired with a concentration-camp victim to create a record empire; and how advancing technology, boardroom wars, public credulity and unscrupulous exploitation shaped the musical backdrop to our modern lives. The book ends with a suitable shrine to classical recording: the author’s critical selection of the 100 most important recordings–and the 20 most appalling.

Filled with memorable incidents and unforgettable personalities–from Goddard Lieberson, legendary head of CBS Masterworks who signed his letters as God; to Georg Solti, who turned the Chicago Symphony into “ the loudest symphony on earth”–this is at once the captivating story of the life and death of classical recording and an opinioned, insider’s guide to appreciating the genre, now and for years to come.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British novelist and music critic Lebrecht (The Song of Names) revisits the question raised in the title of his 1997 exposéWho Killed Classical Music? Here he delivers a barbed requiem for the classical recording industry, reviewing its historical and technological arc from "Caruso's first scratchings to the serenity of the CD," while measuring the rise and fall of classical music in terms of its popularity, availability, producers and performers. His dishy, personality-driven prose features both intelligence and point of view, while his commentary and list of the best and worst recordings—arguably the freshest element in the book—make plain the author's pugnacious, critical tastes. With subjectivity acknowledged, the author's pick of the best includes discs that have influenced public imagination or the development of recording. The worst recordings note the "things that can go wrong when we aspire to the highest." Finding favor is a 1987 release of Debussy's La Mer and Elgar's Enigma Variations performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. The Debussy, says Lebrecht, "shimmered like the English Channel at Eastbourne on a summer's day, a pointillist's paradise." Among the worst is a 2000 recording of Verdi's Requiem featuring tenor Andrea Bocelli, whose technique is deemed so insufficient that he "is exposed as cruelly as a Sunday morning park footballer would be in the World Cup final." In its arguments and attitudes, this is a lively approach to this art form. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The history of recording classical music spans the twentieth century. Competing intensely for market share, EMI, Decca, RCA, Columbia, and DGG exploited technological advantages and vied for star performers. Now, despite clear, undistorted digital recordings that capture only the music, the classical music recording industry has collapsed, perhaps largely because of competition with other forms of entertainment and changes in musical tastes. In a fast-paced narrative history, Lebrecht, assistant editor of London's Evening Standard, first introduces all the personages and describes the rivalries that made and broke the business. Then, in the book's second part, he lists and comments about the 100 most significant recordings and the 20 recordings that never should have been made. These are subjective choices, yet they illustrate the recording-industry history of the first part. A remarkably concise and thorough compendium of the larger events and milestones in the rise and fall of the classical music recording industry, for die-hard record collectors and the more casually interested alike. Alan Hirsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1132 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 18, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001O1O6R2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,238 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fascinating and absorbing read, Lebrecht's expose into the demise of classical music is as revealing as it is heartbreaking. Ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to work at one of the top classical radio stations in the US--(KDFC Classical 102.1 FM in San Francisco)there, I acquired a passion for classical music, reading Grammaphone and the Penguin Guide to Classial Compact Disc's with a fervor as children do with comic books. In short, it was an education in many ways--music as an art form, the aquisition of a refined taste, and a practical education into a highly unpredicatable business.

Lebrecht's book sheds light on all the vanities, egos, and personalities in the industry--past and present. Here is Karajan--masestro grandioso--feared but respected, whose net worth at his death was estimated at over $500 million with most of it derived from reissues of his earlier and better performances. Here is Bernstein, who, considered a somewhat of a second-tier conductor, plagued with insecurities and pretentious self-doubt, would often exasperate orchestras without punctuality or form (often forcing entire orchestras to wait an hour or more before he took to the podium) with his disdain for the inviolate nature of some works that are an inherent part of a country's national identity. Although venerated as a national treasure, Lebrecht paints another dimension to Bernstein; he recalls how the conductor completely botched a recording session with BBC Orchestra to produce one of the "worst classical recordings of all time"--Elgar's Enigma Variations in 1982. A very sloppy and unprofessional approach to a job overall and a personal insult to the dead composer's memory and the English.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but sloppy book March 16, 2008
By MacroV
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unlike a lot of musicians and music lovers, I generally quite like Norman Lebrecht, find him one of the more interesting and provocative writers about the music scene, and have read several of his books. The first part of the book is interesting for his account of the many behind-the-scenes goings-on that have gone into the making of so many recordings, the personalities and egos of the musicians making them and, perhaps more critically, the enormously small stakes involved. Even though I've often been amazed that commercial enterprises would spend so much money producing recordings that at best will appeal to five percent of the record-buying public, it's still astonishing to learn just how few copies some classical recordings, even by major artists, tend to sell.

My major criticism of this book (and indeed most of Lebrecht's books) is that it's sloppy. He could use a good editor and fact-checker to catch such obvious errors as saying that around 1970 the Boston Symphony was still a non-union orchestra that worked "cheap." He also criticizes companies for continuing to issue new performances of the same repertory (fair enough), but then also ridicules them when they make recordings of less familiar repertoire that fail to sell in order to satisfy egomaniac conductors. Also, he often strings together anecdotes with very little thematic context or chronological coherence, often jumping several decades in the space of a sentence or two; if you aren't at least vaguely aware of a lot of these events, you'll be entirely lost (then again, if you're not vaguely aware of them, you probably won't be reading this book).

As for his 100 best/20 worst list, his 100 best has a few whose significance I would question, and excludes some others I would add.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Out of Tune November 3, 2009
By V
The other reviewers provide an adequate overview of Norman Lebrecht's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CLASSICAL MUSIC, so I'll limit myself here to a few particular observations.

It has been pointed out that the title is off-kilter, since the book focuses on the vicissitudes of classical RECORDING rather than those of classical music as such. A similar criticism can be leveled against Lebrecht's THE MAESTRO MYTH: the title invites one to expect that the author will do something courageously revolutionary, viz., make a case against the importance of the conductor for the performance of concerted music; but what he actually delivers is a very-UNrevolutionary broadside against the personality cults that have developed around certain celebrity conductors. And THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CLASSICAL MUSIC supplies much the same unflattering, now-get-a-load-of-this gossip about classical music celebrities in general but about Herbert von Karajan in particular.

Lebrecht plays fast and loose with his facts. Speaking of Caruso as of 1902, he claims on p. 11: "Short, fat and ugly, Caruso was an unlikely star...." This judgment can be tested against 1902 photographs of Caruso in Francis Robinson, CARUSO, HIS LIFE IN PICTURES. After recounting how the sales of Caruso's G & T recordings from April, 1902, jump-started the commercial recording industry, Lebrecht states on page 12: "The last Golden Ager to hold out [on making records] was...Feodor Chaliapin." This is very mistaken: Chaliapin recorded cylinders as early as 1898 and recorded discs for Emil Berliner as early as 1901.

Lebrecht's facile dismissal of the acoustical recording era (roughly, the interval 1888 - 1925) is equally bone-headed. P.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars High on snobbery, low on content
This book is a trainwreck. The first half of the book is basically a casual recollection of classical recording industry history. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Phillip Huang
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative
Lebrecht has been placing lilies on the grave of classical music for some time now. A more accurate title would be "The Life and Death of Classical Recording," as classical... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Larry Benjamin
4.0 out of 5 stars YEAH, MR. LEBRECHT, A SAD TIME
The book, in great depth, describes what I have seen, felt and feared for sometime: the not-so-slow demise of the classical music recording industry as well as the dwindling... Read more
Published 21 months ago by W. R. Jenkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Kindle version almost same price as printed
Kindle version almost same price as printed!

The book itself is five stars, even though lacking of schoolarship sometimes, nevertless... Read more
Published on November 4, 2012 by brazilian
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking if flawed look at an industry
Biritsh entertainment journalist Norman Lebrecht is to classical music what Leonard Maltin is to the American film industry: a cultural commentator, part historian, part critic,... Read more
Published on June 22, 2012 by Larry VanDeSande
3.0 out of 5 stars Se deja leer.
N. Lebrecht es mordaz en su particular vision del mundo de la música. Este libro aunque me ha gustado menos que su "El mito del maestro" es interesante para ver cómo... Read more
Published on June 15, 2011 by Carlos Urtasun Estanga
2.0 out of 5 stars Sensationalist and overblown
I was intrigued to read this book after hearing Norman Lebrecht on the radio when I was in the UK last summer. Then he was speaking about his new book on Mahler: Why Mahler? Read more
Published on April 14, 2011 by HRH
1.0 out of 5 stars When you spend so much time listening to the gossip, there is...
In principle, I'm all for the provocative and challenging opinion - provided that it has substance. If it is only provocative for the sake of provocation, if its only goal is to... Read more
Published on December 13, 2010 by Discophage
4.0 out of 5 stars Classical Music: Dead or Alive?
Norman Lebrecht, author of The Maestro Myth, returns with another inside look at the classical music business. Read more
Published on July 31, 2009 by Vaughan Otter
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainly Sassy History of Classical Recordings
The title should more precisely read, "An Entertainingly Sassy History of Classical Recordings, from the Gramophone to the Decline of the CD". Read more
Published on October 12, 2008 by wbiro
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