RESIGNATION OF AN "UNKNOWN" IDEA-DIVINER Why the B.B.C. Does Not Make News
Eric Maschwitz, whose resignation from the B.B.C. has just come into effect, has been a familiar name to listeners for many years. He had an uncanny power of divination; indeed when 1 saw a water-diviner at work the other day I was irresistably reminded of Maschwitz. Part of his job was to listen to people with ideas for sale. Or they would bring him scripts to read— scripts which nine people out of ten would throw straight into the wastepaper basket. Not so Maschwitz, If there was an idea there, down went the hazel twig, and no one was probably more surprised than the idea-monger.
Mr. X or Y Many a programme has appeared of late under the name of Mr. X or Mr. Y whose authorship, if everyone had their rights, was Eric Maschwitz. I can recall one in particular—it was produced a year or two ago has twice been revived, so deservedly popular is it—in which there is not a single word in common between the author's script and the script as broadcast. Matchwitz had divined an idea, which the author was quite incapable of putting into words, still less of moulding into play-form, and had re-written the entire script. But the " author " went off with the glory—and the fees.
Maschwitz never troubled whether his name appeared or not; so it never appeared. All he cared about was a good Script and the listener's enjoyment. I have never known a man with less self-interest.
Toscanini has gone, and he has left us to ponder over certain mysteries. Perhaps the mystery that puzzles the ordinary listener is how an orchestra that has been playing under Toscanini can settle down next day, or next week, or next month even, to play the same music under anyone else. Virtuoso conducting, as it is rather stupidly called, is a comparatively modern discovery. There were no conductors at all in the days of Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven. The composer sat at the harpsichord with a scroll of music in his right hand with which he occasionally indicated the tempo. When orchestras became larger and orchestral music more complicated, the conductor appeared; but his office at first was principally to keep time.
The idea that a man can play upon an orchestra, as a man plays upon a piano, came later, in fact about the end of the 'seventies. The first exponents of this new virtuosity were men like Felix Matti and Nikish and Hans Richter.
But Toscanini differs from these in a remarkable way.
He imposes not his own interpretation upon the orchestra but the composer's. This is what is called Toscanini's amazing
Now, all this bears upon a question of B.B.C. policy, which at this slack season of the year may well engage the attention of listeners.
If anything emerges from these Toscanini concerts, apart from the pre-eminence of Toscanini, it is that the B.B.C. orchestra is now one of the half-dozen great orchestras of the world. Yet we hear rumours of resignations. Some of the principal players are threatening to leave and no inducement of a higher salary is of any avail.
No " News Value "
If the B.B.C. orchestra were a cricket team the papers would be full of these rumours.
None the less it is a national matter in which the prestige, not only of the B.B.C. but of the country is at stake. Having created this magnificent orchestra it is the duty of the B.B.C. to keep it in being. This it will never do if it insists on using it for every sort of concert under every sort of conductor. It is not playing under different conductors that matters, but playing now under admirable conductors like Boult and now under conductors whose talents are pedestrian to a degree and whose rehearsals can only be an intolerable waste of time. Let the B.B.C. see to it that an international achievement is not turned into a national disgrace.
Bleak Season Ahead
I have said this is the slack season. Indeed I have just been reading the advance
programmes with which the B.B.C. so kindly supplies me and there is nothing to which I would care to draw the attention of a convict on Dartmoor. We must address ourselves to the more permanent problems of broadcasting, one of which has been raising its ugly head again in the last week or two. This is the recent vast increase in anti-British propaganda sent out in English by various wireless stations abroad under the guise of news. According to correspondents living in Italy, the Bari station broadcasts daily in sixteen languages "news" specially directed to the Moslems and other inhabitants of the Near East calculated to stir up hatred against this country. It is a commonplace that Germany, Russia, Italy, and France indulge in active wireless propaganda and that we have no such thing. The matter is already, I understand, engaging the attention of the Foreign Office. If a new Department of Propaganda has to be created, and the B.B.C. is to be saddled with an activity it has consistently eschewed, this will impose an extra burden on its finances. On the top of television -foreign propaganda! Glyudebourne, I hear, has applied for a little assistance from B.B.C. funds. It would be difficult to name an enterprise more worthy of subsidy. But what an unpropitious moment to ask for it! The B.B.C. will have to he given higher percentage of the licences. Or the licence will have to be increased. And why not? Dearer radio would hurt nobody.