Norman LebrechtNo one would blame anyone, bookstore customer and editorial staffer alike, for wondering aloud "It died?!" at the sight of Norman Lebrecht's book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, published this summer by Anchor. By all accounts, Classical Music is alive and well as always, more alive in some ways – on the concert circuit and among independent labels – in recent days than in awhile, though ailing right along with all of the other arts in these economically challenged times. However, Lebrecht's take is that major recording concerns – the former Polygram, BMG/RCA, CBS/Sony, and EMI – did the job of husbanding classical music, and its star performers, better than anyone else in history. With their complete re-organization after the turn of the new century into new entities that are handling far less classical music than once was the case, Lebrecht's view is that this is sufficient cause to declare it dead. This is despite the many concerts, young artists and composers, publishers and independent labels that are out there pursuing it as though it's still alive. He blames this grim state of affairs on corporate greed, overspending, and kowtowing to powerful classical artists; his highly anecdotal "histories" are also laced with scandals and lots of spicy sex.
It is widely reported that there are an awful lot of errors of fact, or misinterpreted data, in Lebrecht's books, particularly in The Life and Death of Classical Music. HNH/Naxos founder Klaus Heymann, who once employed Lebrecht as a feature writer for the Naxos website, decided that a section in the book written about him was sufficient grounds to go to court in the U.K. And the court agreed – on October 18, the U.K. courts ordered Penguin Books, the publisher of the English edition, titled Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry, to pulp the remaining stock of the book, de-list it, and issue an apology to Heymann. This will not affect the American edition, still available as The Life and Death of Classical Music, though under the circumstances it appears the rule of law has ordained that reports of Classical Music's death, to paraphrase Mark Twain's sarcastic comment, "have been greatly exaggerated."