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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.
“[Lebrecht] deftly traces the arc of the recording industry's first hundred years through the prism of Western culture's time-tested musical legacy. For those who think jazz, rock, and pop originally brought vice into the biz, Lebrecht serves heavy helpings of sex, drugs, and Rachmaninov. . . . Like the best critics, he wields equally adroit energy in foisting both his veneration and his bile. . . . An industry biography for the enthusiast and the pedestrian alike.”—Seattle Sound Magazine
“A remarkably concise and thorough compendium of the larger events and milestones in the rise and fall of the classical music recording industry, for diehard record collectors and the more casually interested alike.”
“Fun to read, instructive and witty. . . . [An] interesting look at music through the ages.”
“[Lebrecht’s] 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. . . . In its arguments and attitudes, this is a lively approach to this art form.”
“Lebrecht, one of the keenest and most trenchant observers on the classical music scene today, now takes on what he sees as a corrupt 20th-century classical music establishment that has conspired to “kill” its music. . . . As an added bonus, Lebrecht offers his lists of the 100 best and 20 worst recordings, and the latter category is especially great fun. . . . This is an important book dealing with an important slice of modern culture; highly recommended for all libraries.”
“In The Life and Death of Classical Music the smart, crusty, blustery critic Norman Lebrecht frog-marches readers, prestissimo, through the glory days of Toscanini and Glenn Gould to the bloated collapse of the early 2000s. . . . The book ends with a list of the 100 best classical recordings of all time, richly annotated with backstage gossip—and the 20 worst.”
“Classical records might have gone the way of milk bottles and coal fires had it not been for the attentiveness of the cultural critic Norman Lebrecht, who has made it his life's work to demystify the classical music business. Every five years or so, Lebrecht produces a must-read, muck-raking book about some simultaneously heroic and horrific aspect of the industry. Now he has done it again.”
—The Guardian (UK)
“It is hard to put down . . . Lebrecht has certainly done what he does best: stimulate debate.”
—Sunday Telegraph (UK)
“This is Lebrecht at his best: thought-provoking, infuriating, entertaining . . . revelatory, stimulating. In short, to coin a new adjective: Lebrechtian.”