The Secrets Of The Music Reading Panel



To mark the 70th anniversary of the Third Programme, Charlotte Higgins investigates how the BBC chose new pieces of music for performance and broadcast through its Music Reading Panel. Who were these gatekeepers and what was the effect of the Panel's decisions on the wider musical landscape of the time?

In the 1930s, the BBC Music Department established a Music Reading Panel to decide which new compositions were suitable for broadcast. It was usually composed of three people including eminent living composers of the time, and was intended to be an independent body to preserve quality and music standards.

Composers hoping for a broadcast sent in their scores. Several were passed and the works put out on the air - a huge career boost for their creators. But many more were rejected, including some works by composers like Elisabeth Lutyens and Andrzej Panufnik. It even led to rumours of a 'blacklist' of those whose work, it was suggested, would never make the airwaves. Did such a list ever exist?

Charlotte Higgins explores how the decisions of the Music Reading Panel shaped and reflected the wider musical landscape throughout the decades, as a new spirit of adventure and experiment arrived in concert halls and academies. Inevitably there were composers who enjoyed success - and others who felt rejected.

She travels to the BBC's Written Archives Centre in Caversham to read through some of the reports written by the panel members. And she hears from those who were involved with the Panel or affected by its decisions.

Producer Emma Kingsley.