Omnibus was a TV series that debuted in 1952, was hosted by Alistair Cooke, and was mostly about the arts. You might see an original play or a dance performance, a discussion of architecture, or some comedy. Conductor Leonard Bernstein appeared many times over the years. This collection features six of his talks about music and a performance of Handel's Messiah.
Bernstein's first appearance on the show was in 1954 with a fascinating half hour on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. In it, Bernstein explores Beethoven's notebooks to discover what changes Beethoven made to his most famous composition before he decided it was ready for prime time. It's really quite interesting to hear an orchestra play what were early drafts of the Fifth.
It's just as interesting to see this young, dark-haired Bernstein, already a star, athletically urging the orchestra on, singing (a good singing voice was one of the few musical gifts the Maestro did not possess), playing the piano and organ, conducting, even sneaking a cigarette now and then. His manner is professorial and enthusiastic, an engaging combination. He seems to genuinely want to share what he loves about music, and although he indulges in a bit of showing off now and then, it never comes off as condescending.
As someone who knows next to nothing about the study of music, I found this set educational, but not always in the way Bernstein intended. I learned a lot from the Beethoven episode, and the shows about Bach and jazz. Sometimes we end up learning more about Bernstein's preferences than anything else. In the show about opera, he contrasts operatic scenes from La Boheme with the same scenes, but done as theater, without music. The intent is clearly to show how much more drama can be wrung out of a scene if everyone is singing, but I found the acted scenes to be quite dramatic and less overwrought.
I was afraid the set would be hard to watch since it's from the early days of TV, but the picture is clear enough and the sound is good enough, not great, but not distractingly bad.
Fun surprises are seeing an as yet unknown Carol Burnett, aged about 22, belting out a song called "Ooh La La" in a powdered Marie Antoinette wig, and Jean Marsh, later to become famous in Upstairs, Downstairs, as Mimi in the non-musical scenes from La Boheme.