Generally, I’m perfectly happy just to sit back and watch these little postings of mine travel across the web without much in the way of ‘plugging’ from me or anyone else. The present posting is a different matter, however: on this single occasion, I’m aiming for worldwide internet saturation, and I’m asking — seriously, genuinely asking — for your participation in what I think is an important musical and musicological search. Please join in and help: I really need you to.
Not that anything particularly onerous is required: I’m not going to ask anyone to do anything that poses a danger to life, limb or bank account. What I’m asking for is simply this: I want every reader — yes, every single reader of this page, be they stranger or friend! — to email the link and a few words of explanation to at least two or three other people. If possible, these should of course be people with some degree of interest in classical music; but in addition, it would be good if they are the oldest people you are able to contact online. (You’ll see in a minute why I’m saying that.) Though really, anyone will do: after all, they’ll be emailing the link as well, and everyone knows someone! So, if you would please be so kind…
Now, why do I want you — and everyone else! — to go to all this bother? I’ll tell you.
You may have seen reports in the news about recent discoveries of long-lost radio programmes — things that the BBC threw away years ago, but which turn out to have survived in some form because a recording of the broadcast existed in private hands. Most recently, decades-old tapes of the radio series Desert Island Discs have surfaced — featuring, among others, Louis Armstrong, William Hartnell and Diana Rigg. (If you want to see the relevant BBC ‘Press Release’, you’ll find it here.)
Now, I’m nothing to do with the BBC — and I’m not interested in Desert Island Discs: I’m interested in music talks — which the BBC, the Canadian CBC, all kinds of American stations, and countless other organisations across the world used to produce and broadcast by the hundred, but which have since been wiped or otherwise discarded in tragic quantities because the stations concerned couldn’t or wouldn’t store them.
My search is for these old music talks — and I want you to join in and help me find whatever survives!
You see, somewhere out there are an unknown number of off-air tape-recordings from the golden age of post-war broadcasting — say, from the 1950s to the mid-80s. Among them are music talks and similar programmes that ordinary people recorded and kept because they valued them: Deryck Cooke talking about Wagner and Delius; Robert Simpson discussing Bruckner and Nielsen; Hans Keller’s (in)famous ‘Wordless Functional Analysis’ performances; Jack Diether and Jerry Bruck talking about Mahler before Mahler was cool; broadcasts by Egon Wellesz, Ronald Stevenson, Cornelius Cardew, Humphrey Searle, Susan Bradshaw, Alan Walker, William Mann, Harold Truscott, Antony Hopkins, Donald Mitchell — the list goes on and on… And if you’re not aware of the sheer quality of the music talks that the big radio stations used to put out in those days, just hear a bit of one of them (this is a fragment that someone put online: we really need to find a complete copy!):
Over the decades, there must have been a million private recordings made of many thousands of such music talks around the world — broadcasts every bit as fascinating as that one! — and somewhere or other, there will be tapes that still survive.
Here’s the problem: time is running out. Cassettes and quarter-inch tape reels never die (they just fade away…) — but their owners most definitely do. No-one who recorded, say, Hugh Ottaway talking about Rubbra’s symphonies on the Third Programme in 1955 is going to be less than 75 years old today — and when they finally drop off the perch, the youngsters who sort out their belongings aren’t going to know what a 7-inch reel is even for, let alone be wondering how best to look after it. In short, if we aren’t quick about this, the last remaining copies of so many old broadcasts will go into a skip.
A few years ago, I described a particularly awful loss in a piece I wrote for the magazine Musical Opinion. If you think you can stand a tale of real archival catastrophe, you can read the article by clicking on this panel to the right.
And I, for one, don’t want that kind of disaster to happen again. Inevitably, the generation of 80- and 90-year-old musicians and music lovers that still has these items in its possession can be hard to reach online — that’s why I want people to focus on the oldest folks they can contact. Once we’ve started finding people with boxes of old reels or cassettes gathering dust in the garage, we can sort out how best to find the treasures a secure home: I’m in touch with a few university music departments and a couple of important libraries that will be more than happy to look after the things.
But first we have to find out where the stuff is hiding. Do you have such tapes? Do you know anyone who has such tapes? Do you know anyone who might know anyone who might know anyone who has such tapes? If you can’t think of anyone to email this page to, why not go and post it to an online forum or ‘social media’ group? In fact, that’s a darn good idea: if you need a ‘shortlink’ to post or tweet or whatever, you can use this: http://wp.me/pc0ZJ-um
And when something turns up (perhaps you even have something in your own collection?), you know what to do! Thanks very much!Over to you, dear reader… The hunt is on!!
[[For a look at my developing ‘wish list’, click here!]]
If you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.