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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Heavy reading

By Norman Lebrecht / October 17, 2007

Here are the big music books of the season, and I mean big. A Mozart biography from Yale University Press thumps in at 1544 pages, weighing 6.5 lbs. Janacek: Years of a Life, by John Tyrell (Faber and Faber) is just 1,074 leaves, but it is only half a life, the second volume of a detailed study by a Cardiff University professor.

Weightiest of all is the fourth tome of Henry-Louis de La Grange’s epic account of the life of Gustav Mahler, due from Oxford University Press at 1728 pages. No wonder the postal workers want better pay.

While all three books are written in user-friendly language and contain important new information, both heft and price – £45 to £70 - put them beyond the reach of all but professionals and fanatics. That is unfortunate. Yale’s Mozart, an update of Hermann Abert’s classic German work, is forested with footnotes and burdened with a 90-page bibliography and work-list. Oxford’s Mahler boasts ‘several hundred pages’ of appendices.

Such minutiae have no place in modern publishing. The internet allows university presses to do as the music industry does: post additions and disputations on a dedicated website, leaving the published object to tell its story at an affordable price. There is no reason in the 21st century to expect readers to break a wrist and the bank in pursuit of essential musical knowledge.

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]


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