Britain’s Sonic Therapy: listening to birdsong during and after the First World War

REMEDIA

by Michael Guida

It was a quarter to eleven in the evening on Monday 19th of May 1924 when the pacey dance music of the BBC’s Savoy Orchestra was interrupted on the wireless by a duet between a human and bird. What radio listeners heard was Elgar’s favorite cellist, Beatrice Harrison, in her wooded Surrey garden playing The Londonderry Air to prompt a nightingale to pour forth its song. This live broadcast experiment was sanctioned by John Reith, the Managing Director of the BBC, and nobody was more relieved than him when the transmission crackled into homes across Britain. But what was Reith up to?

Broadcasting the Nightingale. Punch magazine, reproduced in Radio Times, 25 April 1924. Broadcasting the Nightingale. Punch magazine, reproduced in Radio Times, 25 April 1924.

He had certainly pulled off a broadcasting coup with the BBC’s very first live outdoor broadcast. But this was no mere technical triumph. For Reith, this was art coaxing Britain’s natural heritage into…

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Acerca de Leoncio López-Ocón
Historiador. Investigador del Instituto de Historia del Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales del CSIC. Madrid.

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