William Glock

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Few musicians could claim to have revitalized the musical tastes and interests of a whole generation of music-lovers. William Glock did so almost single-handedly, and helped put Britain back on the cultural…
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Few musicians could claim to have revitalized the musical tastes and interests of a whole generation of music-lovers. William Glock did so almost single-handedly, and helped put Britain back on the cultural map when serious musical activity was at its lowest ebb after the Second World War.

From 1930 to 1933, he studied music at Cambridge University and piano with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. A fine pianist, he was also music critic of The Observer, a national Sunday newspaper, from 1944-1945. In 1948, he founded an influential Summer School of Music for amateurs and students in Dartington, Devon, which continues to be held annually.

It was, however, in his capacity as Controller of Music for the BBC from 1959 to 1972 that he planned and carried through one of his boldest ventures--that of changing the direction and content of music broadcasting in the UK. The BBC's Third Programme, specializing in music and the arts, was launched in 1946 at a time when only two professional symphony orchestras were London-based, and even the Promenade Concerts, now broadcast worldwide, were dogged by insular ideas about "what the public wanted." Glock opened doors to a wider range of nineteenth-century orchestral and chamber music, and to the lesser-known territory of contemporary music. His promotion of modern composers brought a sense of discovery, freshness and novelty not only to the musical life of Britain, but also wherever the Third Programme could be received. He firmly believed that if people were confronted by the highest standards, as he had been, the music would speak for itself.

To that end, he worked continuously, programming, inspiring, and enthusing his young team of producers, cajoling conductors and artists and resolutely resisting the Old Guard who "knew what they liked" (and, in the main, liked only what they knew). New works by composers such as Britten, Tippett, as well as their less well-known European and American contemporaries, were consistently given a fair hearing.

Glock was a patrician figure, and inevitably accused of being a dictator, though his broad outlook and intimate knowledge of music succeeded in establishing a policy that made the BBC world-famous for the high quality of its music broadcasting, and breathed new life into what had hitherto been a stagnant scene.

Glock retired from the BBC in 1973 and continued through his trenchant writings and informed criticism to challenge the preconceptions and prejudices of the British musical establishment. He was knighted in 1970.