B0242. THE MAESTRO MYTH - GREAT CONDUCTORS IN PURSUIT OF POWER (Norman Lebrecht). New York, Birch Lane Press, 1991. 380pp. Index; Bibliography; Photos; DJ. - 9781559721080 Long out-of-print, Final Hardbound Copy! 1-55972-108-1
“Here, music-journalist Lebrecht cannonades world-famous, power-hungry conductors for their facades and for placing money over the welfare of orchestras. Lebrecht bolsters his thesis with an anecdotal history of conducting since Beethoven's Ninth. The first conductor of great fame, he says, was Hans von Bülow, Wagner's protégé, who was necessary for organizing Wagner's gigantic operas. Unhappily for von Bülow, Wagner stole his wife, Cosima Liszt, in the summer of 1865, following which the humiliated conductor led the four-hour premiere of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. Then Wagner cast von Bülow out of his service and von Bülow went on to become the first internationally acclaimed wandering conductor, despite bad nerves and mental problems. According to Lebrecht, von Bülow set the style that led to Leonard Bernstein, once the most traveled conductor on earth. Lebrecht sets forth the good example of Mahler, who exhausted himself trying to forge a great opera house out of Vienna Court Opera: ‘He set the standard by which all operatic regimes are judged’,' Lebrecht says. The early great conductors, from Arthur Nikisch up to Wilhelm Furtwängler, had a sense of family with their players and, like Mahler, focused on the growth of their home orchestra. But post-WW II conductors, Lebrecht argues, have spread themselves thin and become divorced from the players while building mythic images and raking in fees from recording companies. Lebrecht scores lacerating cuts to the reputations of Bruno Walter (’a pig’), Arturo Toscanini (‘the icon whose brutality became widely imitated’), Herbert von Karajan (‘the ex-Nazi who became the richest classical musician in history’), Leonard Bernstein, and many others. Vital, delicious - and dangerous to imposters behind the baton.”
- KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Despite the hokey title, this is the liveliest, most penetrating and best researched book on the nature of the orchestra conductor, and on many of the best-known past and current practitioners of that arcane art, to have appeared in years. Lebrecht, a London music critic, traces the growth of conductors from the 19th century, when increasingly complex works began to require a central organizing figure, to today's jet-set superstars with their fickle loyalties and fat recording contracts. Lebrecht reveals what top conductors earn: many times what even their best players do, and rising rapidly. The author is harsh on some idols, particularly Toscanini and Bruno Walter, melancholic about burnout cases like Andre Previn and Klaus Tennstedt and acutely aware of the dearth of present conductors with the musical culture or audience impact of past masters. Among contemporary conductors only England's Simon Rattle in Birmingham seems to gain his entire approval. The book can be enjoyed on many levels: as an acute history of conducting, as a study in conductorial psychology, as a text on the economics of the classical music business, as a collection of delightfully gossipy but not malevolent anecdotes and as the best guide to today's concert music scene--including the ‘authentic’ revival."
- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“The maestro's traditionally god-like aura is shattered by Lebrecht's candid depictions of personalities, performance practices, and quests for power. Beginning with biblical chorus leaders, Lebrecht traces the conductor's evolution to such figures as Hans von Bülow, Arthur Nikisch, Arturo Toscanini, and Herbert von Karajan, and finally to modern global stars including Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein. Challenging questions are posed as to whether celebrity status supersedes the requirement for special musical talent within the profession. Lebrecht has done formidable research and presents his often startling conclusions with gusto while examining social, historical, political, and personal facets of the maestro's role. Of particular interest are stories of individual careers during the rise and fall of Nazism. Live concerts will never be the same for readers of this book.”
- Carol J. Binkowski, LIBRARY JOURNAL
“If the podium is one of the world`s last bastions of absolute power, then conductors` power, or at least their commercial success, has grown all out of proportion to the innate abilities of the musicians wielding the baton.
Norman Lebrecht has expanded that by-no-means-original thesis into a book that is partly a 150-year history of the art and business of conducting, partly an examination of the role these overpaid prima donnas play in society. Lebrecht, an author and critic who writes for the SUNDAY TIMES in London, considers today`s symphony orchestras ‘mausoleums’ and blames their anachronistic status on a host of factors, including money-grubbing artist managers, symphony executives concerned only about the bottom line, subscribers who shun anything but the most familiar music, and symphony players who in the process of attaining a living wage and job security have lost their zest for making music.
Most of all, he criticizes conductors for, in their quest for glory, bringing about their own extinction. He strips most of the kings, including Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwaengler, of their crowns, defrocks prominent saints like Bruno Walter and portrays Herbert von Karajan as a monstrous crypto-Hitler.
He is even less charitable to members of the current generation of batonsmiths, most of whom he suggests are imposters who, thanks to limited supply and widespread demand, have been allowed to usurp thrones several sizes too big for them. The only ones who garner his unqualified approval are Simon Rattle and Sian Edwards - both British. He has apparently never heard of such gifted Americans as Hugh Wolff, Dennis Russell Davies and Gerard Schwarz.
Lebrecht writes entertainingly and has a wicked ear for backstage gossip. When he is on - as in his portraits of Karajan and Ronald Wilford, the Machiavellian power broker of Columbia Artists Management - his lance can be deadly. And his contention that our desperate need for cultural icons has made us pump up even limited talents into mythical figures gives sobering pause.”
- John von Rhein, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 14 Aug., 1992