Decca, the epilogue

Decca, the epilogue


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2009

It’s all over, bar the paper shuffling.

In response to my column last week, the Universal Music Group issued a statement confirming that Decca’s crossover output will be absorbed into the parent company’s UCJ. It maintains that the label itself will remain ‘active’ and that London will continue to be its ‘creative centre’. It names this process ‘realignment’, which I shall promptly add to my growing lexicon of recession-era synonyms for corporate elimination.

The facts are simple. Without crossover, Decca is dead. Its pop side has been defunct for years and its few extant classical artists – Renee Fleming, Julia Fischer, Erwin Schrott – are being shunted over to Universal’s other property, Deutsche Grammophon. 

Conversations with staff members suggest that all that will remain is an office front, one desk-jockey without a budget and a PA to answer the phone. A helpful cross-poster from the classical music forum brightcecilia comes up with much the same conclusion.

The death of Decca may be inevitable in present economic circumstances and it is certainly very sad. But, by covering up with factoids, euphemisms and simulations of continuing life, the bonus-seekers at Universal merely sustain the corporate make-believe that brought Decca to its knees in the first place. Some day Universal’s head of classics and jazz will be called to account for demolishing a sub-culture by a thousand cuts over a dozen years. Maybe Georg Solti will come back to haunt the vandals from his Hungarian resting-place. Or Pavarotti’s ghost will rise to sit on them. He knows where they live.


  • The RCA label might be headed for the same fate as Decca, since Sony acquired full control of what had been Sony BMG late last year. Sony already owns the Columbia, Epic, and Masterworks imprints (all acquired from CBS Records over two decades ago), and I have already seen some recent RCA Red Seal releases with reproductions of the early 1950’s Columbia Masterworks label and the “LP” trademark! I would not be a bit surprised if the RCA and Red Seal catalogues are absorbed by Columbia and Masterworks, a strange fate indeed for two erstwhile archrivals. I have frequently pondered what the late Goddard Lieberson (the erudite, Eastman School of Music-trained president of CBS Records from 1956-66 and father of composer Peter Lieberson) would have thought of the Columbia/RCA merger.

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