Anne-Sophie Mutter: I blame the record industry

Anne-Sophie Mutter: I blame the record industry


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2019

From an interview with Gramophone magazine:

‘We have the problem of a record industry that is firing up one musician after the other, one product after another, because the market wants new faces, but in classical music things need to evolve slowly, and they need to evolve over a longer period. A musician needs the chance to grow – none of us became who we are overnight.’

UPDATE: She has more to say about film music in this John Williams interview.


  • Caranome says:

    She’s talking from a serious and very successful musician’s view, but record companies need to sell records. What sells today? Sex, flash, short skirts, cleavage, gimmicks… The days of Annie Fischer in her black smock, thick shoes hunched over the piano and playing without fuss is over. She might deliver transcendent performances, but 99% of the audience/record buyers won’t know the difference and could care less. Mutter should remember she was one of the earliest beneficiaries of today’s commercial realities with her strapless Dior gowns. Beethoven never sounded so good with those gowns, and DG sold a boatload of records off them. I am willing to bet she sold more records than Jimmy Lin, Issac Stern, Grumiaux, Perlman et al.

  • PHF says:

    It is going to get much worse while they treat classical music as an “industry” that needs to give what a broad market wants, which will never happen. This will only make this art form deteriorate faster than ever. Greedy companies.

    • Henrik says:

      Agreed. If classical music must die, then at least allow it to die a noble death. I don’t think we would even put nuns in mini dresses in an attempt to further promote the Roman Catholic Church.

      • Caranome says:

        The Archbishops voted for this change, but the nuns voted it down :).

      • Daniel says:

        Very interesting comment! Actually the proof of your point is that the orders of mind who have kept their habits – veils, etc. – are the ones who have survived the novelties, innovations and ‘progress’ and now are the orders attracting vocations. The ones who ‘threw out the baby with the bathwater’ to keep up with ever-changing fads are literally dying out. Sad but true. I like to think that true artists with eternal truths to share will always emerge….but of course they need to be visible/promoted amidst the maelstrom…

  • Speedy says:

    Good for ASM, it had to be said.

  • Adam Stern says:

    From the 1980 film “The Competition”, about an international piano competition and its entrants:

    “If we lived in a world of sanity, nobody would even expect you to start concertizing until you were in your late twenties so you could keep studying and enlarging the repertoire and deepening as a person and growing up to be a national treasure. But, if you waited that long, no-one would ever book you. They want you fresh out of the egg or not at all. They must waste five hundred good pianists a year that way.”

    Greta Vandemann (Lee Remick) to her student Heidi Joan Schoonover (Amy Irving)

    • Colin says:

      Great quote, but “concertizing” grates…!

    • Adam Stern says:


      “I cannot see today’s mass-conscious celebrities as anything but a danger to art, whatever in their youthful years they may have left behind for us that is authentic and fine.”

      — Virgil Thomson (1970)

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Perhaps they should wait a bit before they engage artists. On the other hand, some artists were much better at the beginning of their career than later on, I am particularly thinking of Nigel Kennedy here. As one much missed radio personality in Australia, late Martin Hibble (from Britain by the way), once said that Kennedy was a fine violinist until he decided to be a public idiot instead.

    • Susan Bradley says:

      glad to know someone else remembers and appreciates Martin Hibble.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        I was friendly with one of his colleagues at ABC-FM (and he died recently too) who said MH was a ‘bon vivant who died much too young’. He had a heart attack while running the shower!

  • Olassus says:

    “Williams conducts Mutter and the Los Angeles Recording Arts Orchestra during sessions in a Culver City studio” for Deutsche Grammophon.

    That’s where we are, folks.

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      Back to the Columbia Orchestra with Bruno Walter days. Why is that so bad?

      • NYMike says:

        Walter’s original NY Phil Beethoven recordings were mono. The LA free-lance orchestra stereo recordings cost Columbia less in addition to sounding lighter using fewer musicians culled from the studios and not used to playing together as a unit.

    • Tamino says:

      It seems Mutter and Williams and everyone else had a great time there. Your point is? Are you really that uptight that you think classical music is a thin ivory tower that will fall over, if a classical musicians goes into the studio with a composer who is mostly known for his film work? Are you from the Classical Music Taliban? You think Sibelius is diminished, if Williams records with Mutter? Take a deep breath and relax.

      And… the public gets the record labels they deserve. If people had other demands, the record labels would deliver them. Don‘t kill the messenger. The record labels deliver what the people want. They are not educational institutions.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Yes, I have to agree. And we will always have niche labels producing interesting music by people they rate as a labour-of-love for little or no profit.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The classical music business is not the pop music business. In classical music maturity matters. Middle-aged to very old musicians are as a rule more interesting than all those kids in diapers people have done so much fuss recently.

    • Allen says:

      “more interesting than all those kids in diapers people have done so much fuss recently.”

      But the MSM likes them, even worships them, in many different fields. That’s the problem. Age is being denigrated.

    • hsy says:

      This type of generalization is not helpful. If what you said is true, then you should also explain why music lovers are to this day still fascinated by Mozart, Schubert, and Chopin, who died at age 35, 31, and 39, respectively.

  • sam says:

    It’s like Norma Desmond blaming the studios, in 2019.

    Don’t blame the old recording industry, it is no longer an industry, it is no longer dominant, anyone can record and post on youtube, spotify, and if you have fans, you’ll have a following.

    • Rgiarola says:

      It is true, but not totally for classical music. It is still a hughe boost on anyone carrer to win a famous competition, and/or get a contract with a strong record company that can still merchandize much better than anyone in this kind of music. An outsider doesn’t have the same easyness to be booked by any great hall.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Not any more…the money is in performance and not recording. Many pop bands now view record sales as a means to drive ticket sales for their concerts.

    • The challenge is to monetize that following.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    After this frightful Bach playing below, she ought to keep all opinions to herself :

    • Shimi says:

      Well I am glad that you think your opinion is more valuable

    • DR. GRIMWOOD says:

      And here I thought sewing-machine Bach was a thing of the past, my bad.

    • Nijinsky says:

      Thank you, that was beautiful.
      It’s really quite amazing when people are given the beauty that’s there even at the click of a computer mouse….
      It becomes something akin to: “Look at her, her nose it too big, or gosh he’s got big ears, or who knows what I won’t go further with.”

      Like people going on about Renee Fleming because the way her nature is works for her, and the music actually speaks. Instead, instead of the music speaking, it’s supposed to be how someone decided it’s supposed to be imprisoning it’s freedom to that.

      What Anne Sophie does works, and she’s not trying to be someone else. Neither is she trying to ridicule other people into expressing their nature, or opinions.

      • Nijinsky says:

        That was supposed to read: “Neither is she not trying to ridicule other people into expressing their nature, or opinions.”

        On this site there’s such a degree of bashing and ridiculing anyone who does something against another’s taste that I feel sorry if those portraying their believed objectivity are at all professional music educators.

        That’s what so many teachers do, get in the way of the nature of their students, for the teachers lack of seeing what the music is for. And the composers they are blessed with wouldn’t have written music that transcended time would they have the lack of flexibility the teachers try to make out is in the music.

        Everyone does things differently, everyone has a different nature. The music isn’t there to stifle that. One thing I notice about Anne Sophie Mutter is that she says that the music doesn’t communicate if it isn’t subjective, and that even if it isn’t in her preference of she doesn’t like it, if a person’s interpretations are convincing that should be honored, and that’s what the music is for.

        I find a lot of the comments with people acting as if they have some sort of insight as to how something should be played akin to making remarks about the build that nature gave another person, what silly insecure adolescents do trying to see who fits into a subset in time of who is attractive or who isn’t according to some arbitrary fashion. Except it’s made out to be some profound sensitivity regarding what art is.

      • Nijinsky says:

        Apparently I can’t get that “not” in the right place. Again being wrong, it’s supposed to for the third time have been: “Neither is she trying to ridicule other people into not expressing their nature, or opinions.”

  • Rgiarola says:

    Brave words and pure reality. Besides the fact that a beatifull face isn’t a demand for real talents, but we only see new cute faces at front covers.
    Too much coincidence…

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    The recording industry isn’t run by musically literate people – it’s run by MBA’s, lawyers, vacuous egomaniacs, quick-buck corporate raiders, and nincompoops.

    • Keith says:

      So how do you like the job so far?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Everything else is OK, though? 🙂

    • Nick2 says:

      Not entirely true. Naxos is the world’s largest classical recording company. It is still run by its founder Klaus Heymann, an octogenarian with a vast knowledge of music, a passion for new recordings of a very wide repertoire and a shrewd businessman who saw that the traditional classical recording model was killing itself. He had the wisdom to start up a small label where fees were a fraction of what the majors were paying and where new distribution outlets had to be found.

      I see its October releases will include the Complete Flute works of Casterede, a CD of works by Moyzes and Ping Chang’s Oriental Wash Painting. Hardly standard repertoire. And its wide range of educational recordings with introductions to and analyses of works is hugely admirable.

    • Robert von Bahr says:

      Really??? Are we living in the same world? I look at my colleagues for the better independent labels – led by musicians, producers, technicians, with a hot love and total commitment for what they do.

  • Caranome says:

    The demographics of this site are serious fans and pros, who are lamenting the passing of musical purity and seriousness, in favor of the twin gods of “relevance and accessibility”. But 99% of the consuming audience don’t know and don’t care. While people here may have 20 versions of Bruckner 8th and debate a singer’s mid-range/head voice etc., the rest of the people think they have heard the best voice ever–and partook in high culture and classical music–after watching Andrea Bocelli on a PBS fund raiser. If DG is going to release a retrospective album of Alfred Brendel vs. “A Night on Broadway” by Yujia Wang, how much promo $$ are they going to spend on each, which one will sell 50X of the other? Be honest.

    • hsy says:

      “If DG is going to release a retrospective album of Alfred Brendel vs. “A Night on Broadway” by Yujia Wang”

      If you’ve ever actually compared the two in the same repertoire, you would know this is a hilariously bad example to support your case.

      • Caranome says:

        Precisely my point. You know the difference. The other 99% don’t, therefore don’t care.

        • hsy says:

          The other 99% such as yourself will simply believe what the marketing department of these recording companies tell them and believe Brendel is a grand master and Yuja Wang is known chiefly for her clothes? Is that what you are trying to say?

          I’m afraid you misunderstood me. Your example is hilariously bad because Yuja Wang is a superior pianist to Alfred Brendel. You would know if you actually compared the two in the same repertoire (Brahms concertos, Mozart k.271, Liszt sonata, Brahms Handel variations, Schumann concerto, etc. etc.), instead of listening to the bullshit marketing from the record companies.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          What I love about people like Brendel is that he’s a musician and intellectual to the core and not a ‘celebrity’ who’ll sell recordings (talented though these invariably are!).

      • Tamino says:

        Well, Yuja is a better pianist, but Brendel looks more intellectual. I guess some people just go for the looks.

    • Krelnoy says:

      On target.

    • Anne says:

      “the rest of the people think they have heard the best voice ever–and partook in high culture and classical music–after watching Andrea Bocelli”

      Sadly true. I’ve met quite a few but stopped challenging them, or most of them, some time ago because they can be so prickly.

      I’ve always tried to be polite, using questions such as “why do you choose Bocelli/Watson/Jenkins over xxxxxxxx, who spends more time in the opera house?” Doesn’t help though – an accusation of snobbery usually emerges sooner rather than later.

      More or less given up.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Their claims about snobbery usually says more about them than you. They make the claim because part of the reason they like Bocelli is they “want a bit of class” and “to seem sophisticated”. For if they liked the voice for what it is then surely they wouldn’t care whether Bocelli appeared on the opera stage. Afterall, nobody thinks less of Paul McCartney, someone else who hasn’t sung at Covent Garden.

  • Anon says:

    “We have the problem of a record industry that is firing up one musician after the other, one product after another, because the market wants new faces, but in classical music things need to evolve slowly, and they need to evolve over a longer period.”

    That is perhaps true for major labels, but certainly not the case for the concert circuit. I’m still seeing the same faces in concerts year after year. And frankly, who cares what the record industry does at this point? Many concerts are streamed; the record industry has become superfluous. The focus has returned to live concerts, as it should be.

    • Gerard says:

      There is no recording industry and very few celebrities around music these days
      It’s all just about the music now I think we can say goodbye to personalities and the Pop world is really the poop world

  • Isaac Malitz says:

    ASM is absolutely right. However, taking a long step back and looking at the big picture: The giant marketers are only one part of the record business. If you do great music , you don’t have to go thru one of the majors . Eg the Labeques. ALSO, I think the majors do more good than harm. If some one does an initial listen to Yuja because she looks good, they will then be confronted with music that is fabulous, compelling, can’t get it out of your system . FINALLY, I think of music as a broad, “impure” art which naturally links up with fashion, glamour, theatrics, fame, personality, and a certain amount of PT Barnum. Even “severe” artists from the past played this game – by their rules. Watch Rubinsteins YouTube performances of Ritual Fire Dance. Hokum clothed in severity (also well played of course).

  • El Dong says:

    She’s very talented, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about.

  • Mainstreamwithmeaning says:

    Brilliant interview with John Williams and Anne-Sophie Mutter on yesterday’s CBS Sunday Morning:

  • Nobody says:

    That’s literally been the way since pop / rock started . . how many Beatlemania fans do you think would’ve sat through a Beethoven piece ( / or as the interview would probably say ‘anylistically appreciated’ it ) when I Want To Hold Your Hand came out ( not that I’m discrediting I Want To Hold Your Hand . . ) she just sounds like an old (wo)man yelling at a cloud . . . Pop is pop . . ‘popular’ designed to be appealing to a large mass ( this ties in with appearance which BTW 50+ years ago when Elvis was gyrating his hips on TV, not really a ‘modern day phenomenon’ ) . . . Most (non-technically trained people ) will only care whether it appeals visually, through audio or appealing to brain- sensors . . . not everyone intensively studies composition / music theory for 3+ years . . everything doesn’t have to be Symphony 9 . . I’m guessing she doesn’t perform any Philip Glass . .

  • OmegaWave says:

    Record industry? People buy records?

  • Joel Kilpatrick wendall says:

    I never understood why she is so successful. Her playing is mediocre at best and not even close to liberace or Elton John. Just my two cents worth..

  • Bob says:

    I get what she’s saying but at 2% of the market, I don’t think the record companies are getting greedy. They are bringing people along that a younger audience can identify with. I identify with the past masters but I understand the record companies. I will be willing to give the younger performers a chance.