The Omnibus television series of the 1950s and ‘60s has been called “the most successful cultural magazine series in the history of U.S. commercial television and a prototype for the development of programming on educational 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 showing those eight episodes on separate dates this summer in the Academy’s Great Room. The first, to be shown at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday (June 15) will feature Bernstein’s analysis of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The lecture, entitled “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” involved Bernstein explaining the work with the aid of musicians from the former NBC Symphony Orchestra (later renamed the “Symphony of the Air”) and a giant page of the score covering the floor. Original broadcast on Nov. 14, 1954, it is regarded as the best remembered of the Bernstein episodes.In it, the conductor demonstrated what the music might have been like if Beethoven had left some of his discarded music sketches in the symphony.
Subsequent broadcasts of Bernstein’s Omnibus lectures to be shown by ASA will cover jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, modern music, J.S. Bach, and grand opera, plus a bonus program of selections from Handel’s Messiah. These programs were made available in the U.S. in a DVD set in 2010.
Omnibus was created by the Ford Foundation, which sought to increase the education level of the American public. The show was produced by Robert Saudek, who believed that Omnibus could “raise the level of American taste” with educational entertainment.
The show was broadcast live, primarily on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. EST, from November 9, 1952 until 1961. The series won more than 65 awards, including seven Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards.
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer