Yet, if you could bring yourself to concentrate on the normal run of programmes during this terrible period, there was more to stimulate and fascinate than is often the case. What had originally been planned, for instance, as the only televised Prom of the week on BBC1 brought us an interval feature that was one of the most engaging and information-packed introductions to a piece of music I have heard on the box for a long time. The subject was Bartok's tremendous ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, to be given an ear- and mind-stretching performance by Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the second half.
Without recourse to jargon, we were led into the world of Bartok's imagination and given vital background information tying in the composer's psychological profile with the nature of his artistic vision. The original scenario that had so fascinated Bartok was read out while puppets enacted its sordid yet profoundly revealing story. It was a model of how television should treat music appreciation, something it rarely does, and even then often with embarrassing fatuity or condescension.
And there was more to come later. Jonathan Miller's intriguing series about opera production on BBC2, Opera Works, is making an excellent stab at showing us the psychological and emotional truth behind an art form whose conventions can sometimes seem to divorce all stage action from reality. Working with students from the Royal Northern College of Music, Miller rehearsed love scenes from La Boheme, The Coronation of Poppea and The Marriage of Figaro with a fetching combination of Rabelaisian humour and psychological insight. One minor quibble: on a few occasions, the music director Charles Hazlewood stepped in with a shrewd comment relating a musical phrase to dramatic detail, and we could have done with more. Still, this was Miller's show, and his work was always watchable and perceptive.
Meanwhile Radio 3, like nearly every other broadcasting medium, was suffering unavoidable programme changes. While occasionally disappointing our expectations, this also provided some serendipitous delights. After turning to what I thought would be a half-hour recital of music by Frank Bridge, I was regaled by thousands of gleeful young voices delivering "Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory" at the end of the over-running Junior Prom. Bang went the whole Bridge recital, but the joyful singing was a cheering experience after the previous week's gloom, and the postponing of Bridge allows a plea to programme producers not to go on calling Bridge Britten's teacher. He has been back before the public now for over 25 years. How about re-billing him as one of the most radical British composers of his age. Either that, or go the whole hog and call Rimsky-Korsakov Stravinsky's teacher.
Finally, there was a welcome follow-up - Lost in London - to Andrew Green's series of short Radio 3 documentaries on London's vanished concert halls which made such an excellent impression a while ago. The Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens furnished us with a virtual history of concert-going in the mid- 18th century, and was full of colourful and touching detail. What a fine book or CD could be garnered from these programmes.Reuse content