Worthington, Emily (2015) Orchestrating British Musical Identity: Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, 1930–39. In: The State We’re In: Directions in Researching Post-1900 British Music, 16-17 April 2015, University of Surrey, UK. (Unpublished)

The importance of orchestral performance as an arena for the establishment of British musical identity in the early twentieth century has until recently largely been overlooked by studies of British music history. Yet at the turn of the century, the national press was full of debates about the characteristic qualities that defined British orchestral playing, and during the 1920s nationalistic sentiment was used to stoke support for the establishment of a ‘permanent’, subsidised orchestra that could rival those of Berlin, Vienna and New York.

The BBC entered this arena in the late 1920s, a young organisation rapidly transforming from private monopoly to public institution. Heady with its burgeoning cultural influence and eager to establish its ‘brand identity’, the Corporation answered the ‘orchestral problem’ by the creation of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Documentary evidence and contemporary sound recordings reveal the BBC SO’s promotion of the Corporation’s modernist performance aesthetic, a style radically different from other orchestras of the period.

This paper explores the BBC’s motivations for creating the BBC SO, and how the BBC’s entwined vision of its own identity and that of the nation were manifested in its selection, training and management of musicians. Consideration of presentation of the orchestra show how the Corporation’s efforts to cement the positions of the orchestra and itself during the 1930s had a lasting effect on the history and historiography of music-making in Britain.

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