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Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry [Hardcover]

Norman Lebrecht
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 April 2007
For the vast majority of its fans around the world, the experience of listening to classical music has been through recording. Indeed, one of the striking aspects of the past century has been the overwhelming popularization of a form of music previously restricted to particular places and people of wealth. "Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness" is an extraordinarily enjoyable, original and revealing account of how a random alliance of engineers, entrepreneurs, conductors and fixers invented a new medium containing the entire back catalogue of Western civilization. The huge array of masterpieces they recorded, now safely digitalized, will last forever. But they also created a mountain of schlock, schmaltz, ego-trips and inconceivably misguided projects. This century of productivity that shaped the minds of millions of people came to an end when the dawn of the internet and the onset of corporate insanity conspired substantially to shut down the industry. Norman Lebrecht compellingly demonstrates that classical recording has reached its end point, but this is not just an expose of decline and fall. It is for the first time, the full story of a minor art form, celebrating the genius of Schnabel, Toscanini, Karajan, Callas, Rattle, Pavarotti and others and the ways that their work has enriched our lives. For the dazzling legacy lives on, even if the means of production has gone. The book ends with a suitable shrine to classical recording: the author's critical selection of the one hundred most important recordings - and the twenty most appalling.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713999578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999570
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 15.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,004,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Norman Lebrecht is classical music's chief mischief-maker. As full of bombast as a fairground barker, he will print what most would only hint ... [it is] a lickety-spit history of the industry from wax cylinders to MP3s.' -- Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Norman Lebrecht won the Whitbread First Novel Award for 2003 with The Song of Names. The judges described it as 'not just a brilliant first novel but a brilliant novel - thought-provoking, lyrical and profound'. Born in London, Norman Lebrecht is Assistant Editor of the Evening Standard and presenter of lebrecht.live on BBC Radio 3.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining rogue 21 Sep 2008
Norman Lebrecht is an extremely entertaining writer though somewhat of a rogue, I fear, in that he does tend to use his material to sustain his own highly subjective arguments. In that he can be described in the same breath as documentary film maker Michael Moore. This book sets out to prove Lebrecht's theory that the classical music inductry has been brought to its knees chiefly by the corporate greed of individuals and power-players. Herbert von Karajan is a chief villain of the piece - probably in Lebrecht's eyes he was also responsible for World War 2 as well! Some facts are also questionable - I thought Glenn Gould played Beethoven's op 109 at his US debut not the Hammerklavier. But Lebrecht is never less than entertaining and it's worth reading this for his amusing turns of phrase. But do treat some of the conclusions with a pinch of salt.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By Dr Carl
Normal Lebrecht has always been a provocative, well-informed, opinionated and generally stimulating writer. As a long-stending lover of classical music, I found this a very revealing book about the powers behind the classical music recording industry and the reasons for its current demise. Lebrecht is very well informed and cuts straight through all the nonsense, the hype and the dumbing down of the music industry. I very much share his revulsion at the way many young musicians are currently marketed, hyped up, 'managed' and raised sky-high through exaggerated praise only to disappear shortly afterwards, eclipsed by a newer, younger, prettier face. It is also tragic how many honest, gifted and even great performers are silenced, simply because the major recording companies cannot find a way of 'packaging them' in order to sell CDs.

Fortunately, we still have the 'minor' recording companies to thank for venturing into less well-known repertoite, offering honest and unhyped exposure to young musicians and, often, lowering the price at which a music lover can taste and test music that he/she has not known in the past.

Lebrecht's catalogue of 100 of his favourite recordings and 20 the 'should never have been made' is both entertaining and provocative. One can disagree with many of his nominations, but it is interesting to take issue with him. His dismissal and derision of Peter Pears as a Schubert singer verges on the vitriolic - it would have been offensive if one took it out of the context of this book, whose opinionated tone is a pleasure even when one disagrees with it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but not as rigorous as it could be 17 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is really a book of two halves. The first half is a narrative describing the rise and fall of Classical music recording as a commercial activity. Lebrecht's prose is a pleasure to read, and he has a gift for phrases that stick in the mind. However, during the latter part of the story especially, events that take place many years apart, or out of sequence, are placed together in the narrative so as to sustain the argument.
The second half describing 100 great and 20 terrible recordings is an entertaining and well-written piece of criticism; for the most part Lebrecht's views won't ruffle the feathers of anyone familiar with Gramophone or the Penguin Guide but it is good to get some background to the recordings as well as some nice anecdotes, for example Jacqueline Du Pre bursting into tears after the first playback of her (famous and enduring) recording of the Elgar concerto and saying "That's not at all what I meant!".
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