ON AND OFF THE RECORD: A Memoir of Walter Legge by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

ON AND OFF THE RECORD: A Memoir of Walter Legge

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Schwarzkopf fans, beware. This is not, as you might think if you don't read the subtitle, an autobiography by the great German soprano. Nor is this, as you might think if you do read the subtitle, a memoir of Walter Legge--the great record producer and musical taste-maker--by his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. So what is this, then? It's a gathering of reviews, articles, and fragmented memoirs by the late Walter Legge himself--plus a sampling from his letters, an ""appreciation"" by Dorle Sofia (widow of Dario Sofia, founder of Angel Records), an article on ""Legge in the Studio"" by Edward Greenfield, a few paragraphs of annotation by Schwarzkopf. And the result is a poorly organized, erratically edited, and grossly mislabeled volume. Nonetheless, all that said, readers with a serious interest in classical music will want to browse here. Throughout English-born Legge's 1920s jottings and 1930s reviews, his fierce opinions about vocal art and technique (any ""wobble"" was anathema) recur intriguingly. Memos from his years at EMI include stinging comments on Furtwangler. The excerpts from his letters--though woefully undated, unannotated, and taken out of context--offer juicily nasty comments on the gamut of star singers, along with angry reactions to the labeling of Karajan and Schwarzkopf as pro-Nazi. There are perceptive profiles of Karajan (he ""knows the psychology of an orchestra. . . probably better than anybody else""), Klemperer, Beecham, Lotte Lehmann; rather predictable memories of Callas (she ""suffered from a superhuman inferiority complex""); an essay on the collaboration with Schwarzkopf (""We have tried to communicate and stir emotions like painters, by beauty and truth of line and colours in the voice""); a brisk history of the Philharmonia Orchestra; and useful notes on Hugo Wolf, whose music Legge championed. All in all, the cut-and-paste sketchiness of this anthology is disappointing--especially when contrasted with Putting the Record Straight (1981, p. 1556), the fully satisfying posthumous memoir by that other record pioneer, John Culshaw. (Ironically, sadly, the last Legge words here are a reference to Culshaw: ""as far as I can see, we two have no successors!""). But highly knowledgeable music-readers will be eager to sift through and extract the morsels of valuable history and criticism.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
Publisher: Scribners