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

Norman Lebrecht

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Description de l'ouvrage

10 avril 2007
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.

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1. Matinee



One afternoon in 1920, a young pianist sat down in a shuttered room in the capital of defeated Germany and played a Bagatelle by Beethoven. At the return of the main theme, one of his fingers fractionally strayed, touching two keys instead of one. 'Donnerwetter!' (dammit!), cried Wilhelm Kempff. He looked around and saw crestfallen faces. 'That was very beautiful,' said the machine operator, 'but the recording is now ruined.'

This lapse, recalled by Kemp years later, amounts to a defining moment in the annals of performance - the moment a musician realized that recording required a different discipline and temperament from public concerts. Kempff, had his finger slipped on stage, would have played on regardless, knowing that few would detect the fiaw, or remember it afterwards. On record, though, the imperfection was engraved for all time, growing larger and uglier with each replay. There was no hiding place, no camoufiage available on disc for inferior technique or inchoate interpretation. The artist stood exposed to eternal scrutiny, stripped of illusory diversion.

Sound recording had begun in 1877 with the inventor Thomas Alva Edison shouting 'Mary had a little lamb' into a phonograph and acquired a mass market in 1902 with the first brass-horn arias of the Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso. But the birth of recording as a musical act, separate and distinct from live performance, came in 1920 with the undeletable exclamation of a German artist in the aftermath of the First World War. Kempff, a protege of Brahms' friend Joseph Joachim, was rooted in gaslight romanticism but suffciently aware of swirling currents to realize that recording presented more than just an opportunity to earn a fee. What it offered, once an artist had overcome the fear of error, was the chance to achieve a perfect score. For the first time in cultural history, accuracy and speed transcended inspiration as the object of performance, and there was no shortage of young men like Kempff who wanted, quite literally, to set a record with their playing.

Wiser heads demurred. The professional pianist Artur Schnabel, a man of lofty mind and caustic wit, argued that recording went 'against the very nature of performance' by eliminating contact between player and listener, dehumanizing the art. Music, he said, was a one-time thing, once played never to sound the same again. Schnabel turned his back monumentally on mechanical impertinences. Kempff, meanwhile, faced fresh dilemmas, moral and aesthetic. Recording, he discovered, was innately competitive. Where, before the war, no one could have asserted empirically that Ferrucio Busoni was a better pianist than Ignacy Jan Paderewski, now it was possible to measure Kempff against Wilhelm Backhaus and, music in lap and stopwatch in hand, checking every note in the Moonlight Sonata and timing each movement against Beethoven's metronome mark, prove that Kempff was materially superior. Strife ensued. Artists became bitter enemies and listeners were confused. Soon, it was not enough to have one Moonlight in the living-room cabinet; two or three sets displayed intellectual breadth and civilized tolerance. Where emperors in Vienna once staged live contests between Mozart and Clementi, the suburban homeowner in Peck-ham or Pittsburgh now played Rachmaninov against Vladimir Horowitz for a satisfyingly close shave. An element of sporting competition entered the musical game.

Kempff, who lived to the great age of ninety-five, was a studio master. His articulation was explicit, the notes separated as if bejewelled, his interpretations eschewing an excess of individuality. He recorded the popular classics twice, bought a castle near Bayreuth and was exclusive to Deutsche Grammophon from 1935 to his death in 1991. Yet, while his records entered thousands of homes, Kempff was never a household name. Lacking stage magnetism, he did not visit London or New York until 1951 and many who queued for hours to hear Kempff repeat his estimable studio interpretations came away feeling defrauded. Where was the raptness, the subtle variants of colour, when this nondescript little fellow sat upon an empty platform? Kempff, they complained, was a synthetic invention - a soloist who could never have flourished before the anonymity of recording. His fame came from work done in the dark, away from social and political realities. In his memoirs Kempff is untouched by the century's traumas, by Hitler or mass hysteria, unaware that, when he played in occupied Krakow, he was less than an hour's drive away from Auschwitz.

Schnabel, by contrast, was acutely attuned to public mood and eventually dropped his resistance to recording on an assurance that his work would be sold only in Europe and the British Empire until American audiences had a chance to compare his living presence with the shellac substitute. The principle of eye contact remained uppermost in his mind. Gregarious and polyglot, a commanding presence at the keyboard, Schnabel created a new edition of the thirty-two Beethoven sonatas and played them serially, start to finish, in seven Berlin recitals for the 1927 centenary of the composer's death. He repeated the cycle twice in London while recording for His Master's Voice. The last box in the 100-disc series, sold by advance subscription, appeared in 1939. Schnabel, in this set, introduced a twin-edged concept of integrity: the complete works, performed by the supreme authority. But the idea of the complete cycle had another advantage in that it sold people things they never wanted or knew existed. Subscribers who signed up for the Moonlight, the Hammerklavier and the imposing opus 111 received, together with these summits, discs of less interesting sonatas. Schnabel's Beethoven showed that great composers could be marketed to the self-improving middle classes as a mantelpiece essential, like Encyclopaedia Britannica, the plays of Shakespeare and a potted aspidistra.

Schnabel did not take easily to recording and the producer had to bring in his pretty niece to turn pages to give him an illusion of audience. 'I suffered agonies and was in a state of despair,' he reported. 'Everything was artificial - the light, the air, the sound- and it took me quite a long time to get the company to adjust some of their equipment to music.' The recordings, however, are the antithesis of synthetic. They ripple with spontaneity and are riddled with wrong notes, scintillating in their contempt for precision and their search for inner meaning. Schnabel, said the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau on his death in 1951, was the first 'to illustrate the concept of the interpreter as the servant of music rather than the exploiter of it'.

His record allies had no qualms about exploitation. They took Schnabel's notion of integrity and sold it as doorstoppers to a world that furnished its homes with big boxes. If Kempff 's expletive defined music ex machina, Schnabel's blessing put the whole of Beethoven within mundane domestic reach.

Sounds that were collected before these events are chiefiy of archaeological interest. To listen through aural debris to Francesco Tamagno (1850-1905), Verdi's original Otello, or to Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), the last castrato, is a fascinating experience but one that cannot be endured for much longer than holding one's head down a wishing well. The pitch is wobbly, the static obtrusive and any impression of the singer's musicality requires an imaginative leap on the listener's part. Mighty Melba comes forth enfeebled, Tetrazzini underpowered, Galli-Curci unbeautiful. Mint copies of these objects fetch thousands of dollars (a prolific collector was the oil billionaire, John Paul Getty), but artistic satisfaction is hard to come by on these hand-cranked receptacles.

The first recordings to overcome extraneous noise were ten arias taken by a young American, Fred Gaisberg, from a bumptious Neapolitan, Enrico Caruso, in a Milan hotel one floor above the suite where Verdi, the year before, had died. Gaisberg, as a kid in Washington DC, had hung around after school with men who tinkered in sheds. A useful pianist, winner of a city scholarship, he accompanied singers and whistlers on Edison cylinders, fretting at their inadequacy. In 1893 he met Emil Berliner, a German-Jewish immigrant who had invented a flat disc and was, besides, 'the only one of the many people I knew connected with the gramophone who was genuinely musical and possessed a cultured taste'. Gaisberg, aged nineteen, offered himself to Berliner as an all-purpose factotum, playing the piano when required, raising cash, demonstrating the disc to Bell Laboratories, finding artists. He was the first professional producer of records and, a hundred years later, many still considered him the greatest. In the trinity of recording fathers, Edison engraved sound on surface, Berliner invented the gramophone and Gaisberg created the music industry.

Berliner joined up with Eldridge Johnson, a motor mechanic of Camden, New Jersey, to manufacture gramophones as the Victor Talking Machine Company. Gaisberg set up his first recording studio in 12th Street, Philadelphia, across the river from Camden. In 1898 Berliner sent him permanently to the London branch of his Gramophone and Typewriter Company, soon to be renamed His Master's Voice after an emblematic painting of dog and horn was bought from a passing artist, Francis Barraud. A Berliner nephew who sailed with Gaisberg went on to Hanover, to found the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Twenty-five years old and full of vim, Gaisberg roamed with his brother Will as far out as the Russian Caucasus and down into India, capturing remote sounds of throat singers and wedding bands for late-imperial customers. The arch-producer never married; the gramophone was the love of his life.

At La Scala, Milan, in March 1902, he liked the leading tenor in Alberto Franchetti's ephemeral opera, Germania. Gaisberg approached Enrico Caruso the morning after through a pianist, Salvatore Cottone, and asked if he would like to make records. The singer, alert to imminent debuts at Co...

Biographie de l'auteur

Norman Lebrecht, assistant editor of the Evening Standard in London and presenter of BBC’s lebrecht.live, is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs, whose weekly column has been called “required reading.” Lebrecht has written eleven books about music, and is also author of the novel The Song of Names, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2003.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 étoiles sur 5  23 commentaires
66 internautes sur 70 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Deserves to be placed aside next to the Penguin Guide.... 21 juin 2007
Par Kenneth M. Pizzi - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat authentifié par Amazon
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.

What is interesting about this book is how Lebrecht puts it all together; the rivalries between the major labels: Decca, DG, Phillips, EMI and their producers scrambling to be the first to sign an exclusive contract with the industry's power players--Bernstein, Solti, Rattle, among others; how "crossover" discs and performances(a Bono and Pavarotti duo easily comes to mind)ultimately spelled doom for serious classical music fan; how the major labels used sexy CD cover art of young and talented artists like Vanessa Mae, Anne Sophie Mutter and Charlotte Church to increase sales of an already declining market, and the unexpected rise of Klaus Heymann and NAXOS. Here is the budget CD tycoon who taught all the "majors" a valuable lesson by hiring lesser known and Eastern European orchestras looking for work and produced several Grammaphone award-winning discs with Vivaldi's Four Seasons taking away honors as one of the best-selling classical recordings ever produced topping sales of 1.16 million besting even the venerated Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops!

If you ever wanted to know the in and outs of a business as fascinating as the classical music industry, this is a must read.
25 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 An interesting but sloppy book 16 mars 2008
Par MacroV - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat authentifié par Amazon
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. I had a few disagreements with the "20 Worst" list, though: I LOVE Simon Rattle's "The Jazz Album" for the amazing clarinetist Michael Collins and the only performance that has ever made me like Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue). He also calls Gidon Kremer's Beethoven Violin Concerto recording (with the Schnittke cadenzas) a failure, not because it's a bad recording or was a bad idea, but because Philips apparently chickened out of promoting the novel cadenzas. I'm more in agreement with him about Bernstein's disastrous Enigma Variations. He probably should have added Bernstein's recording of West Side Story with Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras.

It's also important to point out, as others have, that the title is misleading: Lebrecht is talking mostly about the life and death of the classical record industry, rather than classical music itself (though he does make the usual points about declining audiences).

Definitely worth reading if you're into this sort of thing.
32 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Lebrecht tells it as it is 10 mai 2007
Par Ilkka Talvi - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Norman Lebrecht belongs to a rare group of people who not only know more about classical music than most music encyclopedias but also are extremely gifted with writing. All his books are fascinating and even if the reader doesn't always want to agree with his often pessimistic views of this art form's future, one cannot brush aside the facts he so powerfully presents.

"Life and Death of Classical Music" is two books in one: exactly a half of it is dedicated to the history of the recording business, the other listing one hundred recordings that were in Mr. Lebrecht's opinion milestones in the recorded history, plus another twenty that should never have been made. The first part tells generally previously unheard behind-the-scenes stories of all the leading recording companies, their bigwigs both in management and their cash cows, the conductors and other artists, since the very beginning of the industry. The author manages to weave all this together in an irresistibly interesting story that reads like the best suspense novel. As the title indicates, the story doesn't end with a 'they lived happily ever after' but paints a rather dark picture of the collapse of the industry, well documented by nose-diving global sales figures, and the reader at this point is not surprised by the reasons. It is hard to put the book down during the first 150 pages as the writing is so captivating.

I read the 'worst' list before starting with the 'best', as I found it more tempting. Many music lovers have traditionally bought recordings, both LPs and CDs, based on the familiarity and reputation of the artists on the cover. The reader is in for a shock as the 'mistakes' chapter has many of the same stars featured, but as every recording, both good and bad, is discussed in a form of a short essay, the reasons for Mr. Lebrecht's choices become evident. The 'masterpiece' list in a chronological order. Some of the early recordings may not be familiar to many of today's listeners, although they ought to be. Editing wasn't possible in the early days, and it is a well documented fact that some of the greatest names might have 20-30 takes of the same 4+ minutes that would fit on a side of a 78 rpm disc, until they were pleased with the results. With magnetic tape splicing gave a never-before-seen opportunity to fix mistakes and with today's technology even individual 16th notes can be corrected and a faulty pitch raised or lowered. This means is that a recording can sound equally good whether it is done by musicians in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Idaho.

The late Finnish music critic (of the Helsingin Sanomat) and journalist Seppo Heikinheimo called Norman Lebrecht "the world's best expert of conductors" in his posthumously published memoirs and I would like to agree with this. This new book (published under the title "Maestros, Masterpieces, and Madness" in the U.K.) gives readers an amazing amount of insight into the business of conducting, the enormous egos of the maestros and star soloists alike, and details about the crazy financial arrangements which at the end brought the 'house of cards' down. This book is a must-read to anyone involved in classical music, whether a musician or just an ordinary listener and lover of the art form.
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Always entertaining and informative 4 juillet 2007
Par Surrounded - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
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 music itself is alive and well. It is an observable fact that the traditional CD is probably on its way out as a "pop" music vehicle; it would be unrealistic to expect classical recording to be unaffected by the ongoing shift to MP3 and other computer formats. Like the "Death" card of the Tarot deck, signifying not death so much as change, the industry is not dying but evolving in unexpected directions. What must be upsetting for those involved is the unpredictability of change - who, in 1975, would have predicted the prevalence of hip-hop today? The same forces are reflected in classical music, on a smaller scale.

The relative popularity of classical music in the 20th century's midpoint was an anomaly. Through the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras, composers were dependent on patronage (Schubert may have been the first serious composer to support himself, primarily through the popularity of his songs for the Biedermeier set, rather than his "serious" music). The typical 19th century European peasant, like his modern American counterpart, may have gone his entire life without hearing a Beethoven piano sonata. The majority, then as now, had their "popular" music.

Lebrecht manages to unearth endless troves of fascinating minutiae. For instance, he relates how Phillips, the inventors of the cassette, partnered with Sony to develop the compact disc. The Dutch wanted the new format to be the same size as the cassette, however, the favorite piece of the Sony chairman's wife was Beethoven's 9th Symphony, too long to fit onto a disk of that size. To accommodate it, the disk's diameter was increased to allow 80 minutes of music, with the center hole corresponding to the size of the smallest Dutch coin.

The lists of the "100 best" and "20 worst" recordings don't exactly complement each other. The "100" are sometimes, but not always, the "best;" Lebrecht chose many recordings primarily for their significance, be it artistic, historical, or political. The "20" were not chosen for their lack of significance; in most cases, they represent bad ideas or poor execution by people who should have known better.
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Out of Tune 3 novembre 2009
Par V - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
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 the much 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. 10: "Sounds that were collected before these events [the manufacture of Artur Schnabel's recordings during the 1930s] are chiefly of archaeological interest. To listen through aural debris to Francesco Tamagno (1850 - 1905), Verdi's original Otello, or to Alessandro Moreschi (1858 - 1922), the last castrato, is a fascinating experience but one that cannot be endured for much longer than holding one's head down a wishing well. ...Mighty Melba comes forth enfeebled, Tetrazzini underpowered, Galli-Curci unbeautiful." There's no point arguing with Lebrecht about this verdict. Taste in musical performance is very personal, and there's no helping it if someone can't stand listening to acoustical recordings. Be that as it may, Lebrecht's opinion doesn't square with history at all. The commercial recording industry was a multi-million dollar, world-wide affair as early as 1910. Records made by celebrity vocalists during the acoustical era sold in the millions right up until 78 r.p.m. discs went out of production during the 1950s. None of this would be true if everyone was "holding one's head down a wishing well."

Lebrecht's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CLASSICAL MUSIC could have offered a serious investigation, a la Joseph Horowitz, of classical music's decline in popularity since 1975. Despite the blurbling of various impresarios and celebrity performing artists that classical music is bigger today than ever before, the genre's current exposure is but a shadow of what it once was. The tale is told in market share rather than overall receipts. The performance of opera and symphonic music was prime-time fare on network television several nights a week during the 1950s; today, network television won't invest a dime to air performances of either. Likewise, during the 1950s classical music accounted for between 25% and 30% of all record sales; today, its percentage hovers around 2.5%. How many times have you been interrupted during the dinner hour by telephone solicitors for donations to a symphony orchestra or an opera company? Compare with the number of telephone solicitations you've received on behalf of rock bands. The brutal fact is that the popularity of rock music has rendered every other form of musical entertainment esoteric, with the minor exceptions of country western and gospel. Yes, it's fascinating to read that artiste So-and-so is a bank robber, a forger, a counterfeiter, a spy, a razor murderer, a bigamist, a serial rapist, a pederast, an animal sodomist, and (of course!) a Nazi. Still, classical music's misfortunes don't trace to the off-stage capers of its celebrity performers, any more than the film industry's tribulations owe to the off-camera antics of Hollywood stars. The real factors deserve serious exploration. Norman Lebrecht, though, clearly ain't the man for the job.

Rich in prurient content, a goodly chunk of Lebrecht's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CLASSICAL MUSIC, like almost all of his MAESTRO MYTH, can be read as a classical-music-world counterpart of Suetonius' LIVES OF THE TWELVE CAESARS.
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