REVIEW: Slipped Disc (Norman Lebrecht) — C H R I S L L O Y D:pianist (2024)

Review: Slipped Disc (Norman Lebrecht)

*

Norman Lebrecht, author and critic, has been a mainstay of classical music commentary for several decades now, opting most recently to devote his time and work to the well-known online blog, Slipped Disc.

A master of the vitriolic, and proponent of a virulent strain of polemic, Lebrecht has always placed himself in the limelight: a self-made keyboard crusader that would make any online troll feel awed in his presence. Whilst never allowing the truth (or adequate referencing) to get in the way of his whimsical story-telling, Lebrecht has systematically attacked historical figures (both alive and dead, though more vociferously when the deceased only have their surviving institutes and trusts to support them) in the pursuit of revealing inadequacies and inequalities in the classical music industry.

Unfortunately, Lebrecht’s penchant for spinning a good tale often leads him into the territory some might refer to as ‘classical music tabloid trash.’ Indeed, his writing is best described as the classical music equivalent of the U.K.’s The Sun Newspaper or the US-equivalent New York Post. High praise for some, perhaps.

His previous opus numbers include: Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry and Who Killed Classical Music? Maestros, Managers, and Corporate Politics. Both works, whilst relatively popular upon release, display a disdain for factual information, preferring instead to add as much ‘soap’ to the ‘opera’ as possible. These early works – aside from being depressingly low on supported fact — utilise a grammatical technique that allows the author to combine actual quotes with sarcastic comment and fiction; with a near-constant undercurrent of misogyny and racism never far from the narrative.

Nonetheless, these books do include some well-researched points, and both provide a base for further research. Whilst the historical characters developed in his works are often painted as Commedia dell’arte villains, he has at least compiled a workable history of industry figures that must then be examined further by dedicated researchers. His ability to source industry statistics/figures and interview certain high-profile actors belies a strong industry network, and therefore these books remain a valuable contribution to the canon of musical literature - albeit one that should be treated with extreme caution. Perhaps most disappointingly, is the fact that several of Lebrecht’s philosophies and innovative beliefs are very high quality – in fact one can find oneself agreeing with certain statements at the pointy end of his works; though the relentless stream of unsupported ‘evidence’ and character assassinations that precede these conclusions mostly erase any hope that any reasonable reader will ever get that far.

Which brings us to his latest offering, the aforementioned sniper-esque site, Slipped Disc. Surely this is where quality music journalism goes to die: offering one last, anguished and tormented middle-finger to the establishment, with no regard for the pillars of our industry – i.e., solid research and journalistic integrity. As a potential microcosm of our current political times, the dedicated readers of – and commenters on – this site are no more immune to the flaws and factually-anaemic quality of the articles than any reader of a far-right trash site, a la Breitbart. One pictures these readers and commentators as a turgid mix of a similar demographic to Lebrecht, or perhaps those of the traditional and conservative model of classical music listeners — the same ones who take umbrage at the charges of élitism in classical music, before then savagely attacking any audience member who attends a Hauschka or Einaudi concert as an uneducated plebeian.

Credit must go to Mr Lebrecht for maintaining an online presence in the form of an almost exclusively gossip-based blog for over a decade (and as a standalone website since 2015). It is perhaps a shade ironic then that in 2006, he commented in the Evening Standard that “Until bloggers deliver hard facts … paid for newspapers will continue to set the standard as the only show in town ... that is the real scandal and it could have been exposed hadthe bloggertaken the trouble to check his scoop ...the supposed fraudshows up the flaws of a classical blogosphere that trades in unchecked trivia ... online blogs won't become required reading until they start focussing on the facts.” Unfortunately, Mr. Lebrecht has never heeded his own advice, and continues to bombard us with inaccurate and thinly-veiled attacks on those with whom he seems to have personal issues, for not much more than the kicks he gets out of a salacious commentary.

For a highly nuanced and accurate critique of music and the industry that supports it, this author highly recommends writers who actually value good research practice, such as Alex Ross at The New Yorker (Author of The Rest is Noise and Listen to This), the recently-resigned Anne Midget at The Washington Post, and almost anyone else writing about classical music. Thankfully, there is nothing easier than starting at the bottom, and with Mr Lebrecht, we have a firm knowledge of the lowest one can go in terms of classical music industry writing.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

REVIEW: Slipped Disc (Norman Lebrecht) — C H R I S L L O Y D:pianist (2024)

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