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Music Made Him: Raymond Leppard’s New Memoir

WFIU’s Adam Schwartz speaks with acclaimed conductor Raymond Leppard about his new memoir, Music Made Me.

  • The cover of Music Made Me

    Image 1 of 3

    Photo: Courtesy photo

    The cover of Music Made Me

  • Raymond Leppard in tuxedo conducting from the podium

    Image 2 of 3

    Photo: Courtesy photo

    Raymond Leppard conducting

  • Raymond Leppard at home sitting at a black grand piano with his dog Debo

    Image 3 of 3

    Photo: Music Made Me

    Raymond Leppard at home with Debo

Raymond Leppard has written a memoir about his six-decade career as a musician and conductor.

Now in his eighties, the former music director of the Indiana Symphony Orchestra looks back at the friends, experiences—and above all, the music—that shaped his life.

Maestro Leppard spoke with Artworks‘ Adam Schwartz about his new book Music Made Me.

A Warrantable Superstition

The memoir begins with scenes from Leppard’s boyhood in Bath, England. He writes about the childhood experience that instilled in him a lifelong aversion to playing the Schumann solo piano work Scenes of Childhood.

“On two nights, in 1942, [the Germans] bombed Bath. And it so happens that the night before the first raid I was playing Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. I sort of play-acted as if I were doing a little recital, so I played the whole thing through. And that night, we were bombed, and the house I was in was pretty nearly destroyed.

“So I think it was almost a warrantable superstition that Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood were not for me.”

The Monster that Needed a Shave

Leppard was conducting Rameau’s Dardanus at the Paris Opera when the production turned into what he calls in his book, “a fiasco.”

“Dardanus has to kill a sea monster in order to win his beloved. So the [set] designer invented this thing of having black plastic at the back of the stage, which he would blow up with wind machines. Which of course were noisy as well.

“For the first time it was rather impressive. The way it was lit, it was very sinister. You’ve got this billowing black shape coming downstage, and Dardanus has a sword and he slashes at the monster, and the monster deflates.

“Well, that’s all right, but it means you have to have a new black plastic sheet of big dimensions for every performance. Or if not—and they didn’t—you have to put a plaster on the cut.

“Eventually it looked as if [the monster] had trouble shaving. It used to bring the house down. He looked like he needed more than a new razor by the time we’d done the run. It really was altogether a disastrous situation.”

The Challenge of Building an Orchestra

The last chapter of Music Made Me tells the story of Leppard’s coming to the Midwest in the mid-1980s. He was invited to become music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, but his manager urged him to decline, calling the city “Indianoplace.” He took the position, he says, “because [he] was very attracted to it.”

“[My manager] didn’t really know Indianapolis, but it didn’t have a great reputation. I was very attracted to the orchestra when I came. There were lots of weaknesses in it, but if you like building things—and I do—that’s a challenge and an attraction in itself.

“And they were also wonderful people; they really wanted to work. And they still do—they’re a wonderful crowd.”

Adam Schwartz

WFIU Arts and Culture Producer, Editor "Directions in Sound"

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  • John Myers

    I have heard many wonderful performances in my 59 years. At the very top would be the Chicago Symphony playing the Mahler 8th at the Medina Temple in Chicago. Right at the same level though is Leppard and Indianapolis playing Mahler 4th. An absolute stunner of a performance. Great man, great conductor. Indy will never be able to replace him.

  • Geoffrey

    I find your post interesting. Were you in attendance at a Mahler 8th recording session made by the CSO at Medina Temple? It sounds as though you must have been since it was at Medina.

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