Individuality, Corporate Identity and the Development of Wind Playing Style in the Recordings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1930-1939

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The marked shift in orchestral performance styles during the inter-war decades of the 1920s and 1930s has been widely studied. It is commonly explained with reference to factors such as the advent of more rigorous rehearsal practices, and homogenisation and internationalisation resulting from the dissemination of playing styles through recordings. However, these explanations fail to account for the complex nature of individual and collective agency and decision-making in orchestral music making. Moreover, poor documentation of orchestral players’, as opposed to conductors’, experiences makes it challenging to establish a direct casual link between these commonly-cited explanations and specific instances of orchestral musicians altering their practice in the recording studio and concert stage.

This chapter addresses this problem through case studies of the wind sections of two orchestras founded in the early 1930s: the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Adrian Boult, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Thomas Beecham and funded by EMI. As the first two London orchestras using salaried and contracted musicians, these ensembles are regularly credited with revolutionising the standard of orchestral playing in London. Far from being a stepping stone on the road to a homogenised, internationalised, ‘modern’ orchestra sound, however, the playing styles of both orchestras were highly contrasting. A study of their recordings from the 1930s, contextualised with documentary evidence of the interactions between the individual players and the orchestras’ institutional cultures, organisational principles and chief conductors, demonstrates how these contrasting performance styles developed. This shows that while the financial resources and exposure provided by the emergent recording and broadcasting industries established the conditions for orchestral style change, the characteristics of each orchestra’s approach were a result of a complex interplay of individual personalities, collective training, and in the case
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly Sound Recordings
Subtitle of host publicationAcademic Research and Practice
EditorsEva Moreda Rodriguez, Inja Stanovic
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon; New York
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781032047515
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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