Rob Cowan

The Sound of Music during Conflict

The last Penny Lecture Morley’s 125th anniversary year we saw a large and appreciative audience hear BBC Radio 3 presenter Rob Cowan deliver a fascinating talk on music made in times of war and tyranny.  Illustrating his talk with rare vintage recordings from his own and other archives, Rob focused on the difficult conditions leading up to and during the Second World War. 

In addition to recordings which featured the sound of distant - and not so distant - bombing in the background, we heard a chilling interruption of a concert objecting to the performance of music by the Jewish composer, Mahler and a recording of a Mozart piano concerto made in the dead of night and at much haste to satisfy Stalin’s demand for “the record” of a performance he had just heard on the radio.  These and many other examples served as testament not only to the challenges of making music in times of war and tyranny, but also to the bravery and commitment of those who did so. 

In the Q&A session that followed, Rob touched on many subjects from how he got hooked on classical music, the importance of comparative listening, some of the considerations that go in to the making of his radio programmes and his hope that he might yet persuade the BBC to let him turn his enthusiasm for vintage recordings and what they say about performance practice and society of the time into a BBC Radio 3 programme.  We must keep our ears out!

This lecture forms part of the College’s 125th anniversary celebrations and is one of a series of lectures that have taken place this year. Other speakers include the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, feminist writer Caroline Criado-Perez and Guerrilla Gardener Richard Reynolds.

Look out for details of the new lectures from September. The first Penny Lecture has been announced with Profession Tony Travers discussing The London Boroughs at 50 on Friday 18 September.

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