What music was broadcast on the day you were born?

That is Edmund Rubbra at the piano in the photo above. Mark Berry, who writes the authoritative Boulezian blog, has added a comment to my post about the first interview with designate BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey. In his comment Mark strongly disagrees with Alan Davey's view that the Third Programme - the predecessor of Radio 3 - had brought no 'context' to works. Coincidentally, I have been playing recently with the beta release of the addictive BBC Genome which lists the programmes for every day of broadcasting on the Third Programme/Radio 3 and all other BBC radio and TV channels. The game of choice on BBC Genome is to find out what was broadcast on your birthday; with auspicious synchronicity the Third Programme opened at 6.00 pm on the day I was born with a programme of unspecified new music played by the Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Trio comprising Rubbra with William Pleeth (cello) and Erich Gruenberg (violin). The main works of the evening were Purcell's Te Deum and Ode on St. Cecilia's Day (1692) - I was born on St Cecilia's day - with the The Boyd Neel Orchestra conducted by Boris Ord with Thurston Dart (harpsichord) and counter tenor Alfred Deller. The Purcell was followed by a live debate from the Cambridge Union on the motion 'That military conscription should now cease', and the evening ended with Michelangeli playing Scarlatti, Albeniz and Mompou. Just a few minutes searching the BBC Genome shows that both content and context abounded in the past - check out the Hans Keller listing for instance - and I would be a lot more confident about the future of Radio 3 if its new controller aspired to reaching the quality of the Third Programme, instead of denigrating it. Auspiciously synchronous birthday music found by readers on the BBC Genome is welcome as comments.

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Philip Amos said…
If he is not, as Mark Berry suggests he may be, feigning ignorance, I find Davey's nescience in re the Third Programme frightening. As you imply, Bob, but a few minutes with the Genome would bring him up short and sharp.

Now, on my birthday: April 1, 1949. At 6 pm, Musical Curiosities: A Programme of Unusual Music. The works are not specified, but what is most relevant here is that there is an introductory talk by Steuart Wilson, who also performs with, among others, four pianists: Ronald Smith, Frederick Stone, Lionel Salter, and Humphrey Searle! I think we may guess one of the composers.

At 6.30, a talk on events of the day, followed at 6.50 by a concert of seven short works by Monteverdi. I did notice here what one might think an auspicious hash made of transcribing details of the performers from the Radio Times. It would not be the last.

At 7.45, Othello with Jack Hawkins, Margaret Leighton, and John Clements. Again noteworthy, there was an introductory talk by M.R. Ridley, a distinguished Shakespeare scholar whose name may still now be familiar to younger readers if at school they studied works of Shakespeare in the Arden editions or know the Folger Shakespeare. And again perhaps auspicious, the "Contributors" list begins with "Unknown: William Shakespeare".

At 9.30, an interval in the play, with a performance of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro, as it is listed in the Genome, played by an ensemble that included Reginald Kell, Jean Pougnet, and Frederick Riddle. Whets the appetite and I must check to see if that was a recording. And so, from 9.45 to 11.10, the second half of Othello.

At 11.10, both books of Brahms Paganini Variations played by Tomford Harris, followed at 11.35 by Raymond Aron's Letter from Paris. And so to bed. Reading everything above made me nostalgic and a bit depressed, but it was the Aron that made me think of "What we have lost."

Now, I wonder if anyone knows what became of Tomford Harris. This is a bit odd. It took a bit of research just to establish that he was born "about 1904", according to a census, in Pasadena, studied with Harold Bauer (at which we perk up), made his professional debut in London at age 18, got high praise in reviews I found of two concerts in the US in 1931 and 1935, taught at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and moved to London during WWII. After that, we have what I'm sure was a studio performance of the Brahms as above, and the BBC Genome compilers have put out an enquiry as to whether a Home Service listing of him in 1954 was actually broadcast. If they don't know, I doubt if anyone else does.

And he does seem to disappear. He recorded an Ampico roll of an etude by Liapounov which has been transferred in a compilation of Ampico performances on the Eleced label. That disc is in the Naxos Music Library, and the Eleced note on Harris says the writer knows nothing of him after his move to London during the War. I'm wondering, of course, if anyone might know what became of him, for such traces as there are suggest he was a major talent.
Frank Little said…
Born too early for the Third Programme, I see that the Home Service (which provided the serious music in those days) was broadcasting News in Welsh at the time of my birth, which is interesting in view of later developments, though rather irrelevant at that time to the maternity ward in Kent.

Later that evening came "The Promenaders' Progress", "A musical adventure in six movements devised by Ronald Hilborne", about whom I know nothing.
Philip Amos said…
Ronald Hilborne was something of a satirist, mainly musical. I'm quite sure The Promenaders' Progress would have been a compilation of recordings. He did quite a few similar programmes on the Forces Programme between 1940 and 1944. One made fun of "modern love lyrics", e.g., but the one I very much want to hear is described as making fun of a day of BBC broadcasting! I can't quite imagine anything of that sort being broadcast now. A book titled 'Finland's Greatest Son' was published in 1900, and I must wonder if the Ronald Hilborne given as the author is the same man. There are no details of the book whatsoever to be found, so I only surmise that the subject is Sibelius, though the date is rather early for such a book.

A curiosity about the Genome is the plethora of 'Unknown' in the list of 'Contributors'. I've come to suspect that although the programme's synopsis often makes it perfectly clear what the person 'contributes', the individual responsible for composing the 'Contributors' listings doesn't know who these people were and what they customarily did. Thus we find that Vivien Leigh, Freddie Grisewood, Jessie Matthews, Ronald Hilborne, Arthur Askey, Jack Payne, Shakespeare et (an awful lot of) al. are unknown to, I suspect a very young BBC IT employee.
M C Tangora said…
Tomford Harris was my mother's last piano teacher -- late 1930s, early 1940s I think. He really does seem to have disappeared without a trace. The American Conservatory did too :-)
M C Tangora said…
The "Unknown" commenter on the Tomford Harris thread may have been me; at any rate my mother did study with TH. I have a little more info on TH but nothing about his last years, death, burial, or obituaries if any. Nor any recordings. I'd be happy to communicate with Philip Amos (or others) on the matter. My email is tangora@uic.edu.
M C Tangora said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
RP said…
Tomford Harris's real name was Thomas Barnum Harris, he was born 1-1-1904 in Chicago and died in early 1980 in London. His father, Kennett, was an English born author and journalist, his mother an American piano teacher.

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