Commissioning music for the Proms 1960–1985: constructing new music

Marshall, Christopher James (2022) Commissioning music for the Proms 1960–1985: constructing new music. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

Christopher Marshall PhD Thesis published_Final version_Submitted Dec 2021_Final Award Oct 2022.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (4MB)


This thesis investigates the way that music was commissioned for the BBC Proms between 1960 and 1985 as an exemplar of the relationship between composers and classical music institutions. It focuses on the intersection between the artists’ creativity and the institutional practices of the industry in which they operate.

The commissioning of music in general, and by the BBC in particular, has been relatively little studied in academic research. Histories of the BBC and the Proms focus on what was commissioned, rather than why or how, and musicology has tended either to focus on the music as an autonomous object, independent of the circumstances of its creation, or to concentrate on the social history surrounding its creation. This study brings those two narratives together. Standing at the intersection between the worlds of broadcasting, and of new music composition, it asks how the music was commissioned, and, informed by methodologies drawn from musicology, cultural studies and the sociology of science, interrogates the relationships between the composers commissioned, and those who commissioned them, to see how a large organisation like the BBC could control such a slippery process as the creation of new music. These relationships are examined through a reading of the written materials held in the BBC Written Archives Centre, and interviews with composers, publishers and former BBC staff.

Two dominant discourses emerge from the findings of this thesis, each developed collectively by BBC staff, composers and the wider music industry, to their mutual benefit: firstly, that as the Proms were reinvented during the 1960s, for a composer, a commission for the Proms became the ultimate validation; and, secondly, that the BBC simply enabled composers to write what they wanted. These two discourses reveal, firstly, why certain composers were commissioned; and, secondly, why these composers wrote what they did, without recourse to a detailed commissioning brief. These findings provide a model for studying the composition of music, or other forms of artistic creation, as part of its social and cultural milieu, and in particular the regulation of apparently autonomous artists by large institutions. This approach could similarly be applied to other areas of broadcasting, and the management of seemingly independent creative figures.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
2 December 2021Submitted
7 October 2022Accepted
Uncontrolled Keywords: BBC, Radio 3, Third Programme, Proms, William Glock, Robert Ponsonby, commissioning, classical music, new music, Elisabeth Lutyens, John Buller, Stephen Plaistow, Andrew Kurowski, Robert Saxton, Anthony Payne
Subjects: CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-02 - performing arts > CAH25-02-02 - music
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Depositing User: Jaycie Carter
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2023 16:03
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2023 16:03

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


In this section...