THE MAESTRO MYTH: Great Conductors in Pursuit of Power by Norman Lebrecht

THE MAESTRO MYTH: Great Conductors in Pursuit of Power

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, music-journalist Lebrecht (Mahler Remembered, 1987-not reviewed) 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 Billow, 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 Billow out of his service and von Billow 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. Lehrecht 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.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Birch Lane/Carol