Friday, August 29, 2014

The "Curious Experiment" of 14 November 1954

Our Summer 2014 Friday Blog and Podcasts reach into past musings. Today's post is a repeat of a Tuesday Blog from November 14, 2011.

Some of the post's content and illustrations were changed to fit this month's thematic arc.

Today's post is a re-hash of an old Tiesday Blog, which I count among my very favourites. The initial discussion in that post goes at length into what I had called "the Golden Age of Television", interspersed with some personal anecdotes as well as some factoids on the early days of (terrestrial) broadcast television.

In spite of the litanu pf specialty Arts and Entertainment channels available to us over cable and satellite, as well as internet content providers like Netlix, it is interesting that many of the nostalgia content )(if you allow me to call it that), especially cultural content, is best found in places like YouTubee, where individuals post their digitized VHS tapes and other such content.

The Anthology series Omnibus

Under the sponsorship of the Ford Foundation, Omnibus (hosted by Alistair Cooke in his American television debut) featured diverse programming about science, the arts, and the humanities. Broadcast live on Sunday afternoons, Omnibus ran from 1952 until 1961.

On November 14, 1954, Omnibus aired what has come to be viewed as a historic broadcast, featuring the young, telegenic and affable Leonard Bernstein and the members of the post-Toscanini NBC Symphony (now known as the Symphony of the Air) in what Bernstein would himself call “a curious experiment”.

The following is taken from Leonard Bernstein’s official webpage:

On November 14, 1954—the anniversary of his surprise, nationally-broadcast debut conducting the New York Philharmonic—Leonard Bernstein made his first television appearance as a musical educator. This event, while less celebrated in the press than that momentous concert event, launched a new and significant facet of Bernstein's career.
[…] At the suggestion of [Omnibus] producers, he put together a program about the genesis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony using sketches discarded by the composer. The scholarly nature of this material could have been seriously dull, and was something of a gamble for the mass medium of television. Bernstein, however, made the subject seem vivid and vital through his clear, unpretentious writing and clever metaphors.
The floor of the television studio had been painted with a huge blow-up of the first page of Beethoven's score. Bernstein had the musicians stand on the lines of music representing their parts to illustrate, visually as well as aurally, the changing colors of Beethoven's orchestration.
[…] The program was widely acclaimed as a model for quality, educational television programming. Over the next few decades, through more Omnibus programs and the many Young People's Concerts, Bernstein set the standard for effective music education, not only on television, but in the classroom as well.

More notes, pictures and artifacts at

As I noted on another post, YouTube no longer displays this Omnibus program. I searched the web, and did find a copy of the program. Here is the hyperlink .

In order to "future proof" this post, what I did is to upload the program to the Internet Archive, and have embedded it here, so that we will always have at least Bernstein's lecture available... AT least, that's the idea.

This post would not be complete without a complete performance of the Fifth symphony. Though YouTube pulled the original clip I had used (Klemperer for BBC television conducting the New Philharmonia), there is no shortage of performances available from a variety of open sources.

People get particular about their fifths, and I'm sure you have your personal favourite performance - maybe it is even available on line! We even have a Bernstein performance on an earlier montage (Montage # 36). Because we can and because I thought it was really cool, I embedded to this post a 78 RPM transfer of a vintage 1941 recording by the New-York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter. It is in the true German tradition: muscular, intense, and nothing is lost in the translation from Analog to Digital.

I think you will love this music too!