Norman Lebrecht

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Norman Lebrecht, 2004

Norman Lebrecht (born 11 July 1948 in London) is a British commentator on music and cultural affairs and a novelist. He was a columnist for The Daily Telegraph from 1994 until 2002 and assistant editor of the Evening Standard from 2002 until 2009. On BBC Radio 3, he has presented from 2000 and The Lebrecht Interview from 2006. He also writes a monthly column for the magazine Standpoint.


The Maestro Myth (1991) charts the history of conducting from its rise as an independent profession in the 1870s to its subsequent preoccupations with power, wealth and celebrity. When the Music Stops (US title: Who Killed Classical Music, 1997) is a history of the classical music business, presenting an exposé of its backstage workings and predicting the collapse of the record industry. Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry (US title: The Life and Death of Classical Music, 2007) is billed as an inside account of the rise and fall of recording, combined with a critical selection and analysis of 100 discs and 20 recording disasters.

Lebrecht has written about the composer Gustav Mahler, including in books Mahler Remembered (1987) and Why Mahler? (2010). His interest in contemporary music is reflected in The Complete Companion to 20th Century Music (2000) and in the Phaidon Press series of 20th-century composer biographies, of which he was founder and editor.

Other books on music he has written include The Book of Musical Anecdotes (1985), Music in London (1992), and Covent Garden: The Untold Story (2000).

His career as a novelist began with The Song of Names, a tale of two boys growing up in wartime London, which was published in 2001 and went on to win the 2002 Whitbread Award for First Novel. His second novel, The Game of Opposites, was published in 2009 in the USA

Lebrecht lectures at major cultural institutions and universities. He has delivered addresses and courses at the Universities of London, Yale, Syracuse, SUNY Buffalo, UMKC Kansas City, USC Los Angeles, Claremont McKenna, Carnegie Mellon, Tel Aviv and the University of Granada, Spain. He has also worked with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Southbank Centre, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Intelligence Squared, the Shanghai International Literary Festival; and with the festivals of Verbier, Toblach, Cheltenham, Edinburgh and Melbourne.


Lebrecht's polemical writings have often drawn fierce responses. While Robert Craft praised The Maestro Myth as an "exposé of the business practices of orchestral conducting (that) is likely to be the most widely read classical music book of the year,"[citation needed] the opera critic Michael Tanner wrote in The Times Literary Supplement that "this may be the most disgusting book I have ever read". Lebrecht was described by musicologist Richard Taruskin as "a sloppy but entertaining British muckraker".[1] Although many eminent conductors, from Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim to William Christie and Franz Welser-Möst, maintain cordial relations with Lebrecht and appear in his radio programmes, an anonymous informant identified as "one of the world's leading conductors" told The Independent that Lebrecht had for years been getting away with "pompous, preposterous judgment" and "inept research".[2]

Pianist Grigory Sokolov refused to accept the Cremona Music Award 2015 declaring: "According to my ideas about elementary decency, it is shame to be in the same award-winners list with Lebrecht."[3]

In October 2007 the founder of Naxos Records, Klaus Heymann, sued Lebrecht's publisher, Penguin Books, for defamation in London's High Court of Justice.[2] Heymann claimed that Lebrecht had wrongly accused him of "serious business malpractices" in his book Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness, and identified at least 15 statements he claimed were inaccurate.[4] The case was settled out of court. As a result of the settlement, Penguin issued a statement apologising for "the hurt and damage which [Heymann] has suffered". The publisher also agreed to pay an undisclosed sum in legal fees to Heymann, to make a donation to charity, to refrain from repeating the disputed allegations and to seek the return of all unsold copies of Lebrecht's book.[4] Commenting on the affair, Heymann said that "For me it's beyond belief how any journalist in five pages can make so many factual mistakes. It's shocking. Also, he [Lebrecht] really doesn't understand the record business."[4] The settlement did not extend to the US edition of Lebrecht's book, but Heymann vowed to seek its withdrawal in the United States.[2]

In the early blogosphere, Lebrecht was critical of some online trends, arguing in his Evening Standard column that "Until bloggers deliver hard facts … paid for newspapers will continue to set the standard as the only show in town".[5] One blogger used this statement to charge Lebrecht with hypocrisy in light of the Heymann suit.[6][7] Despite his early criticism of classical music blogs, Lebrecht launched his own blog, Slipped Disc, in March 2007. In May 2014, the Lebrecht blog became a standalone, commercial website, supported by advertising and promotions, at[8]



  • Lebrecht, Norman (1982). Discord: conflict and the making of music. London: A. Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-97442-3. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1985). The Book of Musical Anecdotes. London: Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-97730-9. 
    Also published as Hush! Handel's in a Passion: tales of Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries.
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1987). Mahler Remembered. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-15009-8. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1987). A Musical Book of Days. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-217715-3. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1991). The Maestro Myth: great conductors in pursuit of power. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-71018-4. 
    Updated editions published 1997, 2001
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1992). Music in London: a history and handbook. London: Aurum. ISBN 1-85410-223-0. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1992). The Companion to 20th-Century Music. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-71019-2. 
    Revised edition published 2000 as The Complete Companion to 20th-Century Music.
  • Lebrecht, Norman (1996). When the Music Stops: managers, maestros and the corporate murder of classical music. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81681-4. 
    Also published as Who Killed Classical Music?: maestros, managers, and corporate politics.
  • Lebrecht, Norman (2000). Covent Garden: the Untold Story: dispatches from the English culture war, 1945–2000. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85143-1. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (2002). The Song of Names: a novel. London: Review. ISBN 0755300947. 
  • Lebrecht, Norman (2007). Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: the secret life and shameful death of the classical record industry. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9957-0. 
    Also published as The Life and Death of Classical Music: featuring the 100 best and 20 worst recordings ever made.
  • Lebrecht, Norman (2010). Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-26078-2. [9][10][11]



  1. ^ Taruskin, Richard (22 October 2007). "Books: The Musical Mystique". The New Republic. 
  2. ^ a b c Johnson, Andrew (28 October 2007). "Music critic's book is pulped as Penguin loses defamation case". The Independent. 
  3. ^ Gramophone "Grigory Sokolov refuses award because it has previously been won by Norman Lebrecht"
  4. ^ a b c Wakin, Daniel J. (20 October 2007). "British Critic's Book Is Withdrawn". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Lebrecht, Norman (8 November 2006). "Music writing on the internet is getting better, but online blogs won't be required reading until they start focusing on the facts". Evening Standard. 
  6. ^ "Norman Lebrecht and Unchecked Trivia". Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  7. ^ "Maestros, Masterpieces and Unchecked Facts". Retrieved 20 October 2007. 
  8. ^ Lebrech, Norman (14 May 2012). "Welcome to the new Slippedisc".
  9. ^ "Fate, death and Alma", review of Why Mahler? by Philip Hensher, The Spectator (23 June 2010)
  10. ^ The Economist (8 July 2010). "Gustav Mahler: The agony and the ecstasy". Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  11. ^ Botsein, Leon (9 October 2010). "Bookshelf: A Fierce Enthusiasm". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2014.

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