At the Guardian, the dead lie unburied (update)

At the Guardian, the dead lie unburied (update)


norman lebrecht

January 02, 2012

Two of the most searched-for terms on Slipped Disc this past week have been ‘Martin Isepp’ and ‘Omus Hirchbein’.

The first was one of the most influential opera accompanists and teachers of our time, the second was New York’s most dazzling musical organiser.

Both died in the past ten days. Neither has received the decency of a newspaper obituary.

The Guardian announced before Christmas that it was cutting its death watch pages by half.  That’s bad news – bad for social decency and bad for the Guardian, which loses social relevance and sales. I am exactly half as likely to buy a paper that has halved its obituary coverage.

Meanwhile, 15 tributes to Martin Isepp have been posted here on Slipped Disc, including a wonderful track of him accompanying Paul Austin Kelly in the Schumann Dichterliebe, in what may have been the last recital of his life. Listen up here.


As for Omus, the New York Times hardly noticed his work at the 92nd Street Y when he was alive. They have yet to report his death.

It does seem that print newspapers are collectively writing their own death warrant.


UOPDATE: The Times of London, which has not shrunk its obits coverage, today published a full-page appreciation of Martin Isepp. Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall so I can’t share it. Two snippets – Martin failed a music degree at Oxford because he was too fond of playong music, and the task of teaching the Marschallin to Montserrat Caballe was so arduous that he could never listen to her again.


  • Dafydd Llywelyn. Composer in Munich. says:

    Dear Norman, I used to think & say that nothing shocks me any more Norman, but curiously enough the special way that you have related to us the sad news of the passing away of 2 very special people in the world of our classical music hardly going noticed or mentioned,after having dedicated their whole lives & love to the Art does move me & shock me,also the Bad ” Guardian” news of cutting it’s “death watch pages”,which to my mind is a very singular lack of respect,which is on the increase on a daily basis internationally which i can only describe in German as being “Unerquicklich “, & ” Undank ist der Welten Lohn ” which badly translated means that ” Thanklessness are the Wages of the World “, in this very superficial & brutal society where human values of real depth & sincerity are dissappearing down the drain, & this planet is becoming more & more uncivilized the older it becomes. So what do you expect Norman from ” Niveau Riche Proleten ” ? How does one expect them to respect the “Dead “when they don’t even respect the “Quick” (Living ) ! I think that it would be in keeping Norman if YOU took up the initiative & created your own Obituary Column on Facebook on a regular basis of an informative Biographical Nature for Classical Musicians World Wide,also informing the people where their favourite musicians are buried & laid to rest so that they can visit the Graves in paying their respects to them, & later publishing all the Obituaries in Book form as a ” continual Work in Progress “, renewing & adding on a half yearly basis. As a working title for the Book. ” The Quick & the Dead in the Classical Music Concert Halls.” ( Just a Suggestion) – I’m sure Norman, that millions of Classical Music Lovers in the World would appreciate,welcome & buy such a Book !- Your views please.- Sincerely, Dafydd Llywelyn.

    • Warren Maxwell says:

      Excellent idea! I agree with both of your sentiments. I am of the belief that the New York Times, is a newspaper whose quality has drastically declined over the past decade. Its decline is in all aspects. On the topic of obituaries, the NYT posted obituaries a week or so after the passing of Kurt Sanderling and Gunter Wand, for example. There is also an element of condescension in the NYT and the Guardian where they act as if they are above criticism, but know how to dish the criticism out.