So! “Schubert Lab”?

Then why not “Dyson Lab”, or Lovelace, Faraday, Bamford?

The great composers of classical music are celebrated as intellectually subtle, with wide achievements that buttress our civilisation, and enrich our culture.

A series of ‘Schubert Lab’ programmes recently on Radio Three featured experts and were for the interest of the lay–person. They spoke of the keys and chords; not in general but digging deeply into named pieces of music,. The programmes must have totalled something like 3 hours over 8 days in a Schubert strand that was 200 hours overall.

One of them, for example, discussed Schubert harmonies. Laura Tonbridge, an academic, spoke to Tom Service of a song that describes a journey and then he went to the meta-level by suggesting the journey that ends six years later as another song also about a journey. Then Jonathan Cross, a pianist talked about harmonies in another song that “sets up the home key of E minor ….. and then suddenly just by changing one note he moves the bass down a semi-tone and ….the [whole song] as if flips through the other side of a mirror”.

This is no aberration: many programmes scattered throughout the 24 hours on Radio Three operate at this level. It is powerful, technical, professional stuff with no patronising. There is no pandering to an audience that is without knowledge of music theory and notation; it is aimed at those who revel in subtle, new ideas. No dumbing-down here then. And – it’s before the watershed.

The great engineers are equally subtle, with wide achievements that buttress our civilisation, and enrich our culture. Yes. Yes, alright! So too are scientists. If this is a disturbing, unacceptable idea, it is because we hear in our education and the media so little of the detail of the engineers’ work, achievements and satisfactions. There is, in this field, nothing similar to the Schubert Lab other than, possibly, ‘The Material World’ on Radio Four.

Why not have expert, practising engineers speaking of their work, the whys and wherefores?

The Dam designer could describe what the choices are in choosing the type of dam [concrete arch, earth], how to build it without it being washed away as fast as they work, and what she has to consider before the water is finally held back.

A contemporary engineer can describe fibre composite materials and their unusual, non-isotropic properties and what he applies them to.

The discovery or invention of stainless steel has tremendous resonance in the modern world. There are many others to choose from. Some stories could be told by the engineer responsible, others from longer ago could be related by an insightful, modern engineer.

There will be intensely satisfying Eureka moments. It even happens in Mathematics: how many have heard how Poincare had his? He was working on a theory in complex functions and a massive insight came to him just as he stepped up onto the platform of a bus. Its connection to non-Euclidean geometry rose from his subconscious like the filmic Jaws from the sea. It’s the Arrêt De Bus Poincaré now.

Where is the Commissioning Editor – OK. – for Radio Four or BBC Four perhaps?


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