In our Western world where God is nowadays rarely referred to at all, music has also lost this point of reference. And in some cases God is replaced by self-ordained judges stepping forward to act as public arbitrators of good and bad, value and non-value, beauty and ugliness.
Music, of course, belongs to this realm. But in this respect I shall leave the history of traditional music criticism out of account. Music criticism is an art in itself, the best performers of which are genuine essayists, literary talented and capable of doing both analysis and synthesis. Their works – in the form of books or in the form of music reviews – can be as edifying as any good literature. Then there are also the pure disasters, the low-water marks. Among those we can find, within the Swedish field, music critics like Wilhelm Peterson-Berger or Leif Aare who in the Swedish daily “Dagens Nyheter” would spread their venom of malice and self-righteousness for many decades – to very little glory of themselves in the end but to the harm of music life.
Today the printing press is getting less and less important as a mediator of attitudes and opinions. Internet, the new “Gutenberg Galaxy”, is taking over, with its nearly unlimited capacity of reaching out to the public, not being inhibited by any geographical and national borders.
And of course this applies to music as well as all other topics. A certain Mr. Norman Lebrecht of the UK, being a kind of factotum in “classical music and related cultures”, to use his own expression, is the father of the music blog “Slipped Disc” which has been online for some years. Mr. Lebrecht boasts of his website having 1,4 million readers every month. Not very unusual in the era of cyberspace communications, but to Lebrecht quantity as such seems to be an important criterion of reliability.
At the first glance, “Slipped Disc” gives the impression of being a very ambitious website, providing a broad scope and an abundance of valuable information that should be appreciated by everybody taking interest in classical music (and “related cultures”, whatever that may be referring to).
But when you scratch a little on the impressive surface, a different picture slowly evolves. The site more or less turns out to be Lebrecht’s personal noticeboard of his likings and dis-likings. He takes interest in every new opera house or concert house that is being built, as well as every major orchestra world tour that is being undertaken, but he is equally interested and vigilantly observant when a musician – singer or instrumentalist, famous or less famous – is calling sick. When that happens, it is immediately “reported” on “Slipped Disc” along with with some insinuating twist or derisive remark.
Lebrecht has his darlings as well as his favourite bully victims. The reply field on his blog has no approval function. It goes without saying that this has made it a safe haven for online vitriol (sometimes even just vaguely music-related), checked and supervised by nobody, least by Lebrecht himself.
The Norman Lebrecht story is largely one of ill-funded statements, public slander, senseless provocations and clashes with musicians. In 2015 the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov refused to receive the Cremona Music Award because Lebrecht had been given the award the year before.
And we can most certainly look forward to more of this kind of dishes served from the Lebrecht cuisine in the future.
Humility is not an obvious gift in all artists. However, I dare to maintain that in the truest and most genuine artists you will always find a deep sense of humility. What they are doing is not about them, it is about art, and nothing else.
One would hope that a similar humble attitude would also permeate those who make out the comet’s tail: the critics, the commentators, the enthusiasts, the protagonists, the loud-voiced supporters of classical music and other arts. At least music life would fare better, its health would improve.