The Omnibus television program of the 1950s and ‘60s has been called “the most successful cultural magazine series in the history of U.S. commercial television.” One of its most popular and innovative undertakings was a seven-part series—plus a bonus eighth performance—Leonard Bernstein made for the program between 1954 and 1958.
Now the Arizona Senior Academy is presenting those eight programs on separate dates this summer in the Academy’s Great Room. The fifth, to be shown at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (July 13), is entitled “Introduction to Modern Music.”
In this episode, Bernstein makes a case for modern, experimental music, hoping to persuade his audience to “hate it less, or hate it more intelligently, or even grow to like it.” In the words of one reviewer, Bernstein is “a very patient teacher, and he anticipates his students’ first objection to the modernism of his time: ‘What has happened to beauty?’ The beauty of Mozart, say, or Tchaikovsky?”
In order to answer this question, Bernstein uses easily visualized analogies to baseball and numerous more or less familiar symphonic passages to explain basic music theory—tonality, harmonics, chord structure, scale patterns, melody, dissonance.
Originally broadcast on Jan. 13, 1957, the episode includes appearances by soprano Saramae Endich and the Julliard String Quartet.
Later ASA programs from the “Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus” collection will cover J.S. Bach, grand opera, and a bonus performance of Bernstein conduction selections from Handel’s Messiah.
Omnibus was created by the Ford Foundation, which sought to increase the education level of the American public. The show’s producer, Robert Saudek, pledged to “raise the level of American taste” with educational entertainment. It won more than 65 awards, including seven Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards.
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer