Warner Classics Closes

Posted: June 21, 2006 in Classical Music

In some rather disappointing news, Warner Classics has been shut down by its parent company, AOL-Time Warner. Norman Lebrecht offers a perspective in his column at La Scena Musicale. If what Lebrecht says is true, that Warner Classics bought up independents including Erato, Teldec, Finlandia, and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and has been profitable over the last five years, why on earth would AOL-Time Warner shut down a profitable division? The disappearance of diversity within the classical music marketplace now leaves only three big labels: EMI, Sony-BMG, and Deutsche Grammophon/Decca. Smaller labels are continuing to produce worthwhile recordings, but small labels don’t tend to nurture and develop long-term relationships with major artists and ensembles the way the big labels do/did.

The most telling remarks in Lebrecht’s column are these:

Edgar Bronfman Jr. [chairman of AOL-Time Warner] had no patience for the prestos and adagios of an offshore accessory that contributes barely two percent of pop-music revenues … Classical music used to be the industry’s core resource. The Beatles could never have developed their sophisticated sound world without the symphonic expertise on hand at Abbey Road and most subsequent groups are indebted, wittingly or not, to the stern disciplines and mathematical logic of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. “People in the record business understood that classics was where we all came from — the basis of what we do,” a former head of Sony Europe told me recently. “We were happy to carry on making records in that area, even losing a bit of money.”

Another way of putting this is that typical media executives have little refinement or sensibility for running artistic concerns and, in their shortsightedness, are only too happy to jettison one of the richest artistic traditions of the last millennium in favor of the ephemera of pop music.

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