The Maestro Myth

This is an insane book. The Maestro Myth by Norman Lebrecht is fascinating; it follows with great detail and apparently extensive research the rise to power (and fall from it) of many of the “great” conductors all the way back to Mahler, and how the mythic impression of the “Great Maestro” was created and maintained…and yet it reads like People magazine.  Dramatic stories, damning quotes, nary an opportunity missed to talk about who was sleeping with whom, and not the slightest pretense at objectivity and unbiased presentation of the histories of these very complex men.  Toscanini he destroys. Karajan he eviscerates.

To listen to Lebrecht, one would need to conclude that all of these men were pretty much complete assholes. And possessed of fairly severe personality disorders.

I haven’t finished yet…I did skip ahead to the bit on Solti, who was treated much more gently than others, which I appreciated.

It’s 20 years old this year, and Lebrecht has an article here sort of looking back at what’s happened since he wrote it…it’s his impression that the onset of social media’s popularity is making conductors’ bad behavior much more difficult to keep quiet, and raising issues in the wider eye in a way that was not possible before.

I’m learning a great deal from this book, although I’m reading it with a good dose of skepticism and acknowledgment of the author’s bias. Nonetheless, it almost feels like a guilty pleasure, a full-length hardback gossip column…

Really, really interesting book.


  • Heh. I bought this book for my conducting teacher when I left university as a goodbye present. I saw him after he’d had it a couple of days, and his comment was, ‘Well, he’d better have a good lawyer…’

  • J.

    I assume he does, since twenty years later he’s still out there, writing, and Speaking with Great Authority about the profession!

    It was one of those books I got to the end of and still couldn’t figure out whether I’d enjoyed it or not. It was really interesting, but the surfeit of completely two-dimensional thinking got really old after a while.

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