PICTURE ARTHUR FIEDLER conducting the Boston Pops - not his signature, "Stars and Stripes Forever," with its unabashed, noisy patriotism, but rather something like the "Blue Danube," "Bolero," the "William Tell Overture" or any European classic that became popular through repetition. Mr. Fiedler was the democrat of good music.

That was no easy feat. It required a sense that performance is a form of publication - that music is written for anyone to whom the air carries it. And it also required a very special sense of a country that was ambivalent about European culture even before Emerson warned us against it, a sense that we wanted the best of European art, but on our own buoyant terms, that we sought the circumstance minus the pomp, which was embarrassing and didn't fit.

So Mr. Fiedler brought us Europe without embarrassment. For 50 years while he conducted the Boston Pops (a contradiction of names itself), his podium was the perfect middle ground between formality and joy. "There are only two kinds of music," he said, "good music and bad. If it's good, I play it." That alone was music to the ears of a country continually troubled by distinctions between high and low culture. Mr. Fiedler was a first-rate musician leading a first-rate orchestra, and the people could not get enough.

What they came to hear was the music; but what they came to see, with just as much enthusiasm, was Mr. Fiedler - himself the embodiment of contradictions. Dignified, almost solemn as he flailed that wand, his face like Einstein's, a study of thoughtful nobility, he was Europe itself, all the honor and seriousness of the Old World framed by a field of hair and a white hedge of a moustache. Yet he was a national hero. When he played the "1812 Overture" on July 4, 1976, it was the only event of the Bicentennial year that brought the nation to its feet: all those happy kids with flags, shouting against a spray of Roman candles, trying wildly to cheer as loud as the drums and brass under the direction of Arthur Fiedler.