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The BBC Proms Archive is ready to be explored

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John Bryant John Bryant | 11:50 UK time, Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Generic shot from the First Night of the Proms, taken by Chris ChristodoulouNew job, first day, first meeting with the boss, first item on the agenda: 'Proms database'. The need to complete this project became more apparent the further we got into it. We all know how easy it is to find out facts about other major events: if you need to know how many matches in the Third Round Proper of the 1983 FA Cup went to a second replay (just one, Sheffield Wednesday eventually saw off Southend United 2-1) it takes micro-seconds to find out. But what about The World's Greatest Music Festival? As gaps were identified in Proms history, our now default reaction - 'I'll Google it...' - wasn't much help, as so much information just simply wasn't out there.

For the Proms team, the project was worthwhile in many ways. So much of what we do these days - from programming, participation events and the extended Proms Plus series all the way through to each season's visual identity - is about taking things forward, and introducing and nurturing new audiences. The Proms Archive is a nod to our heritage, and to the fact that all of us who are lucky enough to work at the Proms are aware that we are merely custodians of this unique musical institution.

One of the volumes of old programmes stored in the radio 3 office - this one is from 1901My biggest worry in the lead-up to launch was the relative simplicity of what we had to offer. No sound, video, pictures, celebrities, animations - just a list of who has played what, when, and where at the Proms. But so rich is the history of the Proms that (for the time being at least) the information is enough in itself. It's as if the Proms Archive has become a kind of sixth sense to people - just seeing the details of a favourite concert on our website seems to have the ability to sweep a tidal wave of memories, sights, sounds, and nostalgia over those present. The feedback from the press has been hugely gratifying, but emails from users have reminded us all just what a special place this series of summer concerts has in many people's lives.

From the personal to the academic: we're hoping to further develop our relationship with Professor John Deathridge and the Music Department at King's College London to use the Archive as a research tool into musical and social trends over the past 115 years. What can the archive tell us? For example, that Wagner is the most performed composer in Proms history may not be a surprise, but the fact that he remained so during 1914-18 and 1939-45 is certainly worthy of further investigation.

So four years on - our complete set of Proms Guides and concert programmes will now be repaired and retired, and those of us involved in getting the Archive ready will take a few minutes to enjoy the reaction to its launch. Of course, some have been slightly put-out that the Archive does not contain an equally comprehensive library of Radio and TV broadcasts. That is certainly on our wish-list too.

John Bryant is the BBC Proms Publications Editor





  • The photo from the First Night of the Proms was taken by Chris Christodoulou


  • The photo of one of the volumes of old programmes stored in the Radio 3 office - this one is from 1901 - was taken by John Bryant 


  • Comment number 1.

    Its great to have all this data online. But couldn't you link it in better with existing data on /programmes and /music?

    For example, there is now information about this year's prom 6 on:
    the Proms site,
    /programmes (TV version),
    /programmes (radio version),
    iplayer (tv version),
    iplayer (radio version) and
    this new archive.

    (That's not even mentioning the two versions of Programme Notes or reviews page.)

    Surely all you really need is one page per prom?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello lucas42,

    thanks for your comment and suggestion, here is John Bryant's reply:

    "That is certainly our intention. At the moment, much of the Proms website is hard-coded html. When we discussed creating the database a few years ago, we also looked at how it could be integrated with the main Proms website. We hope to be able to use the database's content management system to drive current-year listings on the Proms website which should go someway to address your points. We have also been building links within the Proms database to MusicBrainz - we hope to develop this further so the Proms Archive is not only more integrated within bbc.co.uk but with the wider web as well".


  • Comment number 3.

    Thanks for your response.

    I'm glad to see that more linking and more integration are on your agenda.

    Keep up the good work :)

  • Comment number 4.

    Prom 04 July 17 - Havergal Brian Gothic Symphony: Well done BBC! But why was the music (only) subject to such heavy DRC? Listening via HD Sound... The DRC was turned on the moment the music started and turned off the moment the applause started (wrong way round). How can it be called HD Sound with such heavy DRC applied?

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello PGP566, thank you for your comment about the dynamic range of Prom 04. There was a technical problem which reduced the dynamic range; it was rectified for subsequent concerts. I would like to apologise for the reduced dynamic range during this concert and assure you it was not intentional.

    Rupert Brun
    Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music.


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