If I wake up at too rude an hour to get up — before four o’clock, let’s say — Through the Night is my reward: I switch on the radio and find it to be inhabited not by humans but by music.
This six-hour programme, which runs every night on Radio 3 from half-past 12 (on weeknights) or one o’clock (at weekends), is scarcely interrupted by the spoken word. Each piece is introduced with friendly brevity, and then left to speak for itself. No one tries to wake me up, divert or entertain me. My attention must be — and invariably is — engaged by the music alone.
At this raw hour, the repertoire can be vivid and entrancing. This morning, for example, between three-ish and four-ish: Schumann’s D minor piano trio; a blissful chaconne for piano by Nielsen; Biber’s extraordinary and wonderful Battalia, and a breathtaking harp sonata by Germaine Tailleferre. I don’t always like what I hear (Svendsen’s Festival Polonaise was a bit of an ear-bashing at 3.30 a.m.) but I never regret having heard it.
Every time I listen in, it feels like a discovery — as if I have stumbled across a private concert, late at night in a foreign town. There’s a reason for this: ‘Here on Through the Night,’ the website explains, ‘we never use commercial CDs, instead we broadcast specially recorded sessions and concerts from both the BBC archives and our colleagues at radio stations across Europe, Australia, South Korea and Canada.’ I used to wish that I could smuggle my bed and my duvet into the concert hall but Radio 3 has improved on this dream scenario: Through the Night brings the concert into my bedroom.