Sir Thomas Beecham has been dead for forty-eight years, so there are not too many around who heard him in the concert hall. His recorded legacy is more extensive and, to this reviewer’s taste, not especially impressive. Other conductors of the Beecham vintage – Furtwängler, Monteux, even Toscanini – shine through even the scrappiest of recorded sound: Beecham somehow appears less obvious in his magnificence. This book, by a sympathetic but thorough writer, suggests that Beecham was a legendary figure for what he did outside the concert hall far more than for what he did inside it. He appears also to have been an ocean-going shit for much of his life, which helped feed the legend considerably.
Beecham was born in 1879 to a nouveau riche family, the manufacturers of the eponymous pill. His grandfather had been a quack and a huckster, his father was almost respectable, and Tommy determined from the outset to live the life of a gentleman. For all his advantages he