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The Life and Death of Classical Music: Featuring the 100 Best and 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made (Anglais) Broché – 10 avril 2007

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Extrait

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 Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, demanded 100 for ten arias. Gaisberg requested authority from London and was curtly refused: 'Fee exorbitant, absolutely forbid you to record.' He went ahead regardless. Short, fat and ugly, Caruso was an unlikely star but the public was swayed in those days by what it heard, not by what it saw on stage and in dim press photographs. On record, Caruso sang with enviable ease, his baritonal quality stabilizing the recorded image and overcoming pop and crackle. The result was an instant bestseller, the first gramophone hit. By the end of the year he was world famous and fabulously rich. Within two decades - he died of pleurisy in August 1921, aged forty-eight, while mastering Eleazar in Halefivy's La Juive - he earned $2 million. Thirty years later Mario Lanza's movie of his life took in $19 million. It was a voice that never stopped selling.

Caruso's Red Labels convinced the rest of his profession that recording was more than just a gimmick. The first ten tracks offer an object lesson in good breathing and authentic verismo style. Caruso, said Luciano Pavarotti, who recorded a pop elegy to his memory, 'is the tenor against whom all the rest of us are measured . . . With his incredible phrasing and musical instincts he came closer than any of us to the truth of the music he sang.' After Caruso, singers recorded routinely. The last Golden Ager to hold out was the thunderous Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, whose resistance melted on witnessing the triple benefits: prosperity, publicity and a ticket to posterity. The retired Adelina Patti, living in a castle in Wales, summoned Gaisberg to perpetuate her formidable voice. 'Maintenant,' she exclaimed on hearing his playback, 'maintenant je sais pourqois je suis Patti' (now I know why I am Patti).

Other instruments were less convincing. Orchestras, shrunken and warped, sounded as if locked in a bathroom and heard through a rush of water. Fiddlers squeaked, pianists tinkled. To musical ears and an idealistic mind, the results were odious and the outcome obvious. Gaisberg, writing from Milan in April 1909, told his kid brother to cash in and get out:

Say, Will, I have been doing a good deal of thinking of late and have come to the conclusion that the Gramo business is finished. The novelty is gone and days of big profits are over. Gramophone (shares) will never see 40/-again and the Co will settle down to a basis of eight to 10% dividends . . . It will be better for them to liquidate right away than to drag on indefinitely . . . I feel very discouraged generally about the outlook of things and only warn you that this is your last chance to save money.

Few in the business believed that recording would last any longer than such parallel gimmicks as the stereoscope and the hot-air balloon. Already there were other mechanical means of receiving music at home. Marcel Proust, repined in his Paris bed, would listen to Pelleas et Melisande from the Opera night after night down the tinny telephone. The First World War, with its portable gramophones and fevered demand for dance music, staved off the inevitable, but radio followed soon after with the first public broadcasts from Philadelphia in 1920 and live music from the British Broadcasting Company in London two years later. The Columbia label, founded in 1889 as Victor's chief competitor, went into liquidation. The remaining labels wrote off their patents and stock and signed up in 1925 with Bell, which had developed an electrical method of making recordings, based on telephone and microphone advances. The future, as Lenin was telling the Soviet Union, lay in electrification.

Electrical recording allowed artists to stand away from the microphone and orchestras to achieve verisimilitude. 'A whisper fifty feet away, reflected sound, and even the atmosphere of a concert hall could be recorded - things hitherto unbelievable,' marvelled Gaisberg. The electrical players were flatbed instruments with frontal speakers - an ignoble replacement for the magnificent horn, but the public response was enormous. In one week in 1926, Victor sold $20 million worth of Victrola players; its entire profit the year before had been just $122,998. It was as if Caruso had been born all over again. In the sleepy Austrian town of Salzburg, a teenaged inventor, Wolfgang von Karajan, rigged up a player of his own making on the town bridge and turned up the volume. Within minutes the centre of the town was thick with crowds and he was ordered by the police to take the contraption down. 'Those people were dumbfounded,' noted his brother, the conductor Herbert von Karajan. 'The sound of music actually emerging from a box like that created a sensation.'

It was the dawning of the age of mass entertainment and shared experience. Commentary to a world heavyweight fight between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey, relayed on radio, was released on five discs. The aviator Charles Lindbergh was recorded on landing after the maiden transatlantic flight. Fifteen glee clubs sang Adeste Fideles at the Met, a swelling of 4,850 voices. Church bells were recorded in English hamlets, birds singing in the Auvergne. The composers Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninov, refugees from the Russian revolution, found a new home on records. Bela Bartok, who had roamed Balkan villages with a recording machine, worked the folklore he had collected into his string quartets - the first masterpieces to owe their existence to the act of recording.

Présentation de l'éditeur

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 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 YEAH, MR. LEBRECHT, A SAD TIME 14 juin 2013
Par W. R. Jenkinson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
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 attendance at concert hall "live" classical performances. Popular music continues to steam ahead, because it can feed our very short musical attention spans with new versions, performance groups, arrangements, even totally new original pieces every few months. (How about weeks ... days!) That's something you won't ever see happening in the world of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, etc. (Though some try dumb-downed, faux classical attempts, with huge under-the-stars orchestras and pretty blond and gowned string players). Yep, the undiluted old master composers are fading. On the other hand, when they do appear in concert halls, we continue to hear over and over again a Beethoven 5th., an 1812 Overture, a tired Tchaikovsy violin or piano concerto, whether it's the Boston, Chicago, Berlin, London (etc.) Symphony orchestra. That doesn't help. And the so-called modern, serious composers of today -- let's face it -- they have seldom become loved the way we love the old masters. When the new CDs came out in the eighties, what a great period that was for collectors. But I don't believe those days can ever be repeated. Not great news for many of us. Well, in a word -- sad. WRJ
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thought provoking if flawed look at an industry 22 juin 2012
Par Larry VanDeSande - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
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, part fan with the exception being Lebrecht is more flamboyant and covers an industry he decries in death throes. With his companion 1997 book, Who Killed Classical Music?, Lebrecht here defines a century of birth, life, expansion, realization, decline and, in his words, post-mortem for classical music. What he means by that is the birth, growth, heyday and decline of the major classical music labels -- Decca/London, DG, Sony, EMI, etc. -- and the end of civilization as he came to know it from his place reporting inside the industry.

While I don't subscribe to his theory about classical music's death, I accept that the 20th century was a great time in the classical music and its recording industry. In 1941, before World War II started here, composer Dmitri Shostakovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine, something that probably could not happen today. In the heyday of the 1960s, the world's greatest conductors were recording scores of LPs and fans were buying them in droves. Today, there is hardly a conductor worthy of mention in the same frame as the greats of the 1960s and none of them can match the sales figures of a Karajan or Toscanini.

The best part of Lebrecht's little book, in my opinion, is the way he weaves that century of birth of the wax cylinder to 78 to LP that made classical music a household entity by about 1950. When stereo followed, a new form of excitement left us enraptured. Soon tape eliminated LP skips and pops and the CD was developed, a perfect form of recording. Lebrecht's book doesn' speak much to the download generation that now dominates music, in part because the book research ends about 2005 and was published in 2007.

In the latter pages of the narrative -- before the author gets on with his highly personalized list of the 100 most important recordings and 20 that should never have seen the light of day -- he lays the death of classical music (via the diminution of the major labels) on these sources:

-- Overproduction. This is what caused the stock market crashes of 1929 and 2008 and subsequent price deflation encouraged the Great Depression and the economic spiral after 2008. Deflation of CD prices is the parallel here -- almost nothing sells for list price and millions of titles are available for little. Ironically, this is what makes life so wonderful for classical music collectors shopping on Amazon: just about anything ever made is available somewhere, usually for a more than fair price.

-- Indestructability, mainly of the CD. This is where the book wasn't produced late enough for, today, people talk about the CD being dead, replaced by downloads.

-- Noira Ogho, the head of Sony that tried to overtake DG late in the 20th century. I think this a figurehead for the excesses of major labels and concommitant bureaucracy that could not respond quickly in the leaned out new century. I saw this happen to the industry that dominates my backyard, the U.S. auto industry. Yet they still make millions of cars, just as the classical music industry still makes thousands of recordings.

-- The Internet, Lebrecht says. "Google and Amazon brought the whole of Western Civilization to the world's fingertips. There was no further need to keep a reference collection of classical recordings." Had the book been written a few years later, he'd have added YouTube. Again, these are the entities that best serve classical music fans today.

He concludes saying, "A failure of invention sunk the genre" meaning no new composers to keep fans interested. While I doubt many of the other elements of his argument, this one is clearly causal. Dmitri Shostakovich, that poster boy on Time magazine's cover, was the last living composer with a body of work equivalent to the greatest composers in history. He died 1975, nearly four decades ago. Imagine any other industry moving ahead with its last great creator being dead 40 years. What would be the state of popular music if The Beatles, who broke up about 1970, were the last great group before the public. Would anyone continue to listen, follow new artists, or buy new products?

It's not the only thing that has affected classical music; here are others:

-- The Second Viennese School, that collaboration of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Hans Eisler, was pretty much the end of the line for classical music in Germany. While classical music flourished in the Soviet Union, the United States and France in the 20th century, there has not been a consensus master born Germany or Austria since the onset of atonalism prior to World War I. The Second Viennese School turned the German lineage from Bach to Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven to Brahms to Wagner to Mahler to noise and gave rise to minimalism. There hasn't been a great German composer since 19th century born Richard Strauss, who died 1949. Gustav Mahler (died 1911) was the last master symphonist. Who wrote the last great German piano concerto?

-- Lebrecht said overproduction, I say overexposure. When Karajan recorded his 1963 Beethoven symphony set, he had only one other stereo set to compete with, the one from Bruno Walter. It is difficult to say what the most recent set is, perhaps those from Gielen or Jan Willem de Vriend, but how many sets are available now? It has to be in the hundreds. I maxed out on Beethoven in the early 1980s, losing interest. It wasn't until Norrington's 1985 set came out in period detail that I became interested again. Now most either mimic what he started or go back in time to the old way. I wish there were other areas of my life where the available options were so great.

-- The end of the star system. The postwar era is generally considered the golden age for classical music recording, in particular the era from about 1950-90, the year Leonard Bernstein died. Karajan died 1989. This period encapsulated just about every major conductor of the recording era from Furtwangler (died 1954) and Toscanini (died 1957) to Szell, Bohm, Kempe, Solti and through those greats born in the era who still may be recording such as Claudio Abbado, Colin Davis, Daniel Barenboim, Lorin Maazel and Bernard Haitink. As a music collector for 40 years, there is little question the latter five on this list never generated the excitement of their earlier brethren. Is there a young conductor on the horizon that could join yesterday's throng?

-- The visual arts, film and theater. The 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th centuries were aural decades. Since then, we have entered a visual arts period. Richard Wagner spent a decade of his life writing his Ring tetralogy on German legend. Director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is the new century's equivalent. Would Steven Spielberg, had he been born 1896 instead of 1946, set Melville's Moby Dick to opera instead of Jaws to flim? Wagner's concept of music-scene-drama was perfectly realized by film, which essentially killed opera. Simultaneously, music theater has contiued to thrive, turning out hits like Cats, Les Miserables and Jersey Boys while classical music hasn't had a memorable symphony created since Henryk Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in 1976, the year after Shostakovich died. And finally...

-- Classical music and its creative culture and product. It's a sad state of affairs for worldwide classical music when a mid-20th century composer like Samuel Barber has two more masterpieces regularly played and recorded worldwide than any composer now active, but that's the case with classical music. The plain fact is that, beginning with the Second Viennese School in the early 20th century, classical music since that time has let down its following and contributed more than anything else to the downward spiral of the art form. There hasn't been a classical music recording in the top of Billboard magazine's rankings since Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs in 1976. While there has been interesting new music created and there have been composers that were attractive to hardcore classical fans, there has been nothing since the Gorecki symphony that created legions of new fans for classical music except the emergence of artists like Lang Lang in Asia, where more classical music fans exist than anywhere in the world. But that hasn't translated to bright new creative minds at the top of the creative pyramid.

There is no question that the relative quality of music being created is the greatest reason for classical music's ongoing decline as a force in the world of art. With no top 25 creative mind since Shostakovich, it means classical music is going on four decades without a top composer. Try to find another period in classical music history since the Renaissance when this was the case. I'll bet you can't find one.

I think these are the questions Lebrecht's book raises but does not answer. He seems to think classical music died with the major label system collapse. I don't think that's true. I agree there may never be another recording that sells 2 million downloads but it doesn't mean the industry is dead. The 1955-57 Chevys sold 2 million and there's never been a tryptich of vehicles that sold that number again. Part of that was because GM sold half the cars in the world in the 1950s; today they don't even sell half the cars in the United States. That industry's bigness died, too, but it didn't kill the industry. Isn't it the same with classical music?

The latter half of Lebrecht's book is probably the more interesting part to most music fans. He details 100 recordings, beginning with Caruso's first recording, he says were historic points in time. He also has a list of 20 recordings he says should never have been made. I think his first list has greater justification but both are clearly personal sets. His book has other shortcomings, one being his list of the greatest selling recordings in history. He admits earlier in the book acquiring sales figures were difficult before the Internet and -- though he says the record industry cooperated with him on sales figures he included -- he proves that by omitting a recording that sold more than 2 million just in LP version -- this one. In fact, on page 225 of his book he admits this Dorati collection sold 2 million copies and was Decca's second-biggest seller to Solti's Ring.

For me, the greatest joy of Lebrecht's books raise questions about the music industry they don't answer in far greater proportion to the issues he raises. I think ideas that classical music is dead is nonsense. There are more recordings available today than ever before, more live performances available than ever before, and everything ever made is available somewhere even if big labels and big city orchestras have seen their best days. Even though the Internet and new technologies rendered the LP and CD to a living past, they didn't kill them. When I visit my local music resale shop, I am encouraged by an LP revival among college age adults. However, I was discouraged to recently read that countertenor Andrea Scholl listens to music through his smart phone and ear plugs, a professional musician eschewing the concept that music is meant to be heard in space, not in confinement. To me, this means classical music has expanded, not contracted.
31 internautes sur 32 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 vérifié
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.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Opinionated but Fascinating 7 septembre 2008
Par Larry D. Maupin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I have just finished the book "The Life and Death of Classical Music", by Norman Lebrecht. It is a most fascinating read, my favorite of the year so far. As someone who has collected LP vinyl since the late 1950's, and CDs since they arrived on the market, I found Lebrecht's inside view of the record industry, producers, and moguls most enlightening. There also is much insight into the conductors, artists and performers, their temperaments and foibles, their successes and failures. Besides the wealth of inside information on the operation of the recording industry and its cast of characters, nearly half the book is devoted to an enthralling (if highly opinionated) listing of Lebrecht's picks of the "100 best and 20 worst recordings ever made". One may agree or disagree with any or all on the list, but you will not be indifferent to this enumeration of recordings spanning the years from 1902 (Caruso) to 2004 (Pascal Roge). Enlightenment, entertainment, even a little outrage to go with some hearty agreement--you cannot miss with this little paperback. (Anchor Books, $14.95)
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Five Stars 29 septembre 2016
Par DAVID EPPARD - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Excellent overview of the greatest classical music.
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