The critic who ‘never liked to write anything bad’

The critic who ‘never liked to write anything bad’


norman lebrecht

July 02, 2015

We’ve received sad news of the death of Edward Greenfield, two days before his 87th birthday.

greenfield Joan-Sutherland


Ted was music critic on the Guardian for 30 years (1964-1993) and senior reviewer on Gramophone magazine for longer still. His agreeable, authoritative, unfailingly gentle style gave him huge industry clout; one DG executive told me, only half in jest, that Ted sold more records than most of their artists.

A former political correspondent, he maintained a stubborn admiration for Edward Heath, the most lamentably awful of British prime ministers, and a failed musician to boot.

Once, over a long cool drink in Salzburg, I asked Ted for his critical values.

‘Well, you see, Norman,’ he beamed, ‘I never like to write anything bad about anyone.’

‘Er, Ted, so why did you become a music critic?’

‘Because I do like listening to the stuff.’


photo (c) Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

Sic transit.

First tribute here.



  • Stephen says:

    I would say he was a positive critic since his own assessment of himself implies an “anything goes” attitude, which was not the case. I found his judgements almost always trustworthy and enjoyed reading him, which is more than can be said of many pedantic record critics, some of whom know less about music than the village choirmaster.

  • Luis says:

    Wonderful people. What a pity!

  • Olassus says:

    What, no mention of The Stereo Record Guide — ?

    • M_von_Kolinahr says:

      … Yes, regarding the Penguin Guide, my father first bought a copy nearly 40 years when I was just in my teens, and especially when I was getting back into classical music again more intensively in recent years (having grown up in a musical family and learned piano in my youth), I studied the Guide and its newer incarnations prodigiously, finding it absolutely invaluable for navigating through the ever-growing, bewildering maze of recordings on offer, while also appreciating all the passing comments on the virtues of specific works themselves – all hugely informative and helpful, in conjunction with other references. Messrs Greenfield, March and Layton also seemed to be so constant right through the years, and only the other day I was quoting part of the Guide to someone in relation to Otto Klemperer’s classic 1957 recording of Beethoven’s “Pastoral”, including the words “a deeply satisfying, idyllic performance, much loved by EG”… so this news feels a bit like the end of an era coming on. Thanks very much to all three of you for all your help.

  • phillip says:

    Sad to hear the news. I used to see Ted in his wheelchair shopping in our local Tesco.
    He and his carer always had a cheery word. I had been a fan and read him avidly in the Guardian and Gramaphone for many years. I was influenced by his reviews in my record buying and was never disappointed. A lovely man.

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    He wrote a geat biography of Andre Previn.

    • Olassus says:

      Great except for stopping in 1973!

      Previn was still writing music in 2014, and much of his recent chamber music is terrific.

      • John says:

        Well, if he had waited, I suppose we wouldn’t have gotten that biography, right? (I’m going to go look for that right now.)

  • Erich says:

    That really is the end of an era. A truly knowledgeable enthusiast, a wonderful raconteur, a good human being. After Michael Kennedy, another great loss.

  • Nigel Harris says:

    Yes, sad indeed. He was so obviously a charitable and humble critic who loved music and musicians more than his own opinion. That, to my mind, was what gave him authority.

  • Ed says:

    EG was my guide for many years.

  • PDQ.BACH says:

    Just the other day, commenting on your Schoenberg post, I had to look up one of Edward Greenfield’s obiter dicta, which I used to jot down whenever I listened to his broadcast on a crackling shortwave radio. For many years, the Greenfield Collection and its predecessor were my jour fixe on the BBC World Service.
    Thank you, Mr Greenfield!

  • chris pollard says:

    Sorry Norman, but those are thoroughly miserable and misleading remarks.

    Ted did love music, in the most generous way, and he loved to communicate that love in hs writing. Having had the pleasure of editing his reviews for Gramophone I know very well just how well regarded he was by the vast majority of his readers, who relied on him in Gramophone, in the Guardian and on Radio 3 for unfailingly well-informed and entertaining assessments of the latest recordings. It may be that Ted was a last bastion of more generous times, but I would suggest that he was by far the most influential British writer on recorded classical music of the last 50 years, and that the overwhelming majority of those who were influenced by him would have only gratitude for all the wonderful recordings with which he connected them.

    • Olassus says:

      The very concentration of his influence has been upsetting.

      I was misled for 20 years about Pelléas et Mélisande and Turandot, only to discover on my own the better sets. Our times now, with many influences, are healthier — which is not to say Greenfield didn’t do a good job overall.

      Alan Blyth was more reliable in opera.

  • Pedro says:

    He very much influenced me when buying LPs and later on CDs. I have all the editions of the Penguin Guide since 1977. The first ones were the better but I was unable to stop buying it.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    True, Edward Heath was neither a very good prime minister nor musician but your gratuitous slur on him demeans both Edward Greenfield, a truly pivotal figure in music, and yourself.

    • Ray Richardson says:

      Probably a lot of this site’s followers think that NL from time to time does make the odd gratuitous comment, but I as one of them did in no way feel that in this case. The comment seemed most apposite, NL made the remark in the light of already having said that EG had been a former political correspondent as well as music critic. His opening article gives one the overall impression that he very much respects and admires EG, whilst at the same time finding EG’s undeniable admiration for Ted Heath justifiable only by regarding it as one of those rather strange idosyncrasies that the good and the great often seem to have. But as has been mentioned above, it’s a shame that NL hasn’t referred to the landmark achievement of EG’s having been joint architect of the Stereo Record Guide.

  • David Boxwell says:

    EG’s OTT adoration of Schwarzkopf was perhaps his only blind spot as a critic.

    • Hilary says:

      He gave a fairly bad review for Rach3/ Weissenberg when it first came out, so another blind spot and an indicator of the middle -.ground which the Penguin Record Guide so ably represented.