More on Norman's pulped fiction

The UK press (and some bloggers) have been strangely reluctant to cover the Norman Lebrecht versus Klaus Heymann case which I reported here more than a week ago. But today's Independent on Sunday reports:

"This week Penguin agreed to pulp all copies of Lebrecht's book, which criticised Mr Heymann. Behind the scenes the victory has been greeted with glee by figures in the classical music world who have yearned for Lebrecht's wings to be clipped.

Mr Heymann said yesterday ... "The book made me look like a shit, so something had to be done," he said. "When Lebrecht talks to people he doesn't take notes so he confuses and confounds what people say."

(Lebrecht's) polemics on the music industry have also made him many enemies, which is why this humiliation has been met with glee. Such is his power as a critic that few are willing to speak publicly against him. One of the world's leading conductors, however, told the IoS that Mr Lebrecht has, "for years, been getting away with "pompous, preposterous judgment" and "inept research".

Lebrecht said he could not comment on the Naxos case, but added: "The book contains a handful of minor errors, as most books do. They are being corrected." He also denied not taking notes or confusing his facts.".

But while we are on the subject of errors and confusing people a couple of points for the Independent On Sunday.

Their headline - 'Music critic's book is pulped as Penguin loses defamation case' - is confusing. Penguin didn't lose the case, it was settled out of court.

And it is an error to say on Oct 28 that 'This week Penguin agreed to pulp all copies of Lebrecht's book.' The pulping announcement was made ten days ago, on Oct 18, and was reported on this blog more than a week before the IoS ran the story.

Which is, presumably, why I received this email last week:


Lebrecht v Naxos‏
From: A.Johnson at
Sent: 24 October 2007 16:46:38
To: overgrownpath at

Hi there. I'm a reporter for the Independent on Sunday and I'm writing an article for this week's paper about the Lebrecht book on Naxos being withdrawn. I'd really like to speak to someone (off record if necessary) about the rights and wrongs of the row, the standing of Naxos in the classical music world, and the standing of Lebrecht. My numbers are below.

Everything in confidence of course.

Thanks for reading this. Please do not post.

Andrew Johnson
The Independent on Sunday


Sorry about posting Andrew. But as a journalist famous for his polemics once blustered -"Until bloggers deliver hard facts … paid for newspapers will continue to set the standard as the only show in town".

Follow the Lebrecht paper trail here.
Image credit KMX Shredding, who are doubtless rubbing their hands. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
This headline says it all:

Blogs: A Week Ahead of the Newspapers
Daniel Wolf said…
Lebrecht is a lively writer and he does, in fact, come close to identifying the most critical problem in the contemporary structures of professional music making. However, the combination of his sloppiness with facts and apparent inability to recognize the degree to which his own position as a traditional critic is embedded in the very same structures. Traditional music publishers, concert management agencies, recording and broadcast companies, and traditional critics created a system that functioned well enough under very different circumstances than those found today. That system is now breaking down under a dramatically altered environment for music making, and the natural lethargy and inevitable petty corruptions in the system -- against which Lebrecht rightly rages -- are not making the transition any easier.

The relevant question now is not the "survival" of classical music but rather which of these institutions have the flexibility to operate in the new environment and also which new institutions will now come into play, supplementing or, in some cases, replacing old ones. In this era of transition, we have to be prepared for the possibility that many features peripheral to musical life will change or disappear altogether -- publishing houses, for example, or newspaper critics -- but also be prepared for the possibility that the new enviroment will be less tied to large institutions, a traditional star system, and a narrow repertoire.
Civic Center said…
Dear pliable: You are usually so decorous and kind, but when you are not, watch out! Printing A. Johnson's note from The Independent and employing the wonderful pun of "Pulped Fiction" were both brilliant strokes. Thanks.

And completely off-topic, I've just performed in an abridged version of "The Magic Flute" in San Francisco, which is using Andrew Porter's witty and beautiful English translation. Do you have any idea what has become of Mr. Porter since he left New York in 1990 and returned to England? Google, for once, was of absolutely no help other than confirming that he's still alive.
Jon Crane said…
So, how does someone like Lebrecht reach such a high position in the classical music world?
Pliable said…
Mike, I don't know Andrew Porter's whereabouts. But, I think he must be 78 now. So I hope he is enjoying his retirement and enjoying some fine music. Do any other readers know more?
Pliable said…
Jon, the question of how does someone like Norman Lebrecht reach such a high position? is an important one, and I may return to it.

We have to be careful here, and I am getting a liitle uncomfortable with all the schadenfreude, which I know my blog is part of.

Lebrecht is a very fine writer. You don't win a Whitbread Award for your first novel for nothing.

The following may help provide the answer:

The three biggest music stories on my blog in reader numbers in the past 12 months have been:

1. Joyce Hatto
2. Norman Lebrecht
3. Robert King

Do we build these people up to knock them down?
Dennis said…
Given that there was no trial and the matter was just settled out of court, how much do we really know about the facts of this case? Is this just a case of someone with deep pockets being unhappy with how he was portrayed in a book, so he uses every legal means at his disposal to hound the author and publisher, or was Lebrecht truly guilty of falsifying information? Heyman claims Lebrecht made him look "like a sh*t", but has he provided any evidence to demonstrate that Lebrecht actually said anything untrue? Maybe Heyman is a sh*it!

Of course, this case also demonstrates the problem with British libel law being much too plaintiff-friendly. Note that the book was only challenged in the UK and is only being pulped in the UK, but not in the US, where it is much more difficult for a plaintiff to prevail in a libel suit. Until I see evidence from Heyman demostrating that Lebrecht lied, I'm not ready to presume that Lebrecht had no solid sources for the things he published about Heyman and Naxos. I agree there has been way too much schadenfreude over this issue from the Lebrecht-haters, many of whom are motivated, I think, less by professional considerations than by simple jealousy of Lebrecht and his position.
Drew80 said…
As far as I know, Andrew Porter is still writing occasionally for Opera and the Times Literary Supplement.

Early this year, Porter reviewed the most recent Covent Garden "Carmen" (the one with Antonacci and Kaufmann) in the TLS and I recall reading his 2005 review of the ENO "Butterfly" production that the Met later picked up. He detested that "Butterfly" with a passion! I remember his cutting dismissal well.

Porter occasionally directs, too, generally at universities or at smaller companies.
Pliable said…
Someone has linked Norman's Wikipedia entry to this blog, and it wasn't me!

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