The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra


The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

:"This article is about the composition by Benjamin Britten; for information about the television series, see Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra."

"The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, op.34" is a musical composition by Benjamin Britten in 1946 with a subtitle "Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell". The work is one of the best-known pieces by the composer, and is one of the three popularly-used scores in children's music education, together with Saint-Saëns' "The Carnival of the Animals" and Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf".

This work, in composer's own words: "is affectionately inscribed to the children of John and Jean Maud: Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia, for their edification and entertainment".

Background

Britten worked for Crown Film Unit where he wrote this accompanying music for the documentary film "Instruments of the Orchestra" produced by BBC for children's music education. He began to write the music in mid-December 1945 till the midnight of New Year's Eve. Although the film was shown on 29 November 1946 with the music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Malcolm Sargent as both conductor and narrator, the piece had received its premiere on 15 October by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Sargent with Eric Crozier as the narrator (see "Narration" below). This work has become popular in its own right and is often performed without the narration that introduces the listeners to the instruments of the orchestra.

Instrumentation

The work is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat and A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, side drum, wood block, xylophone, castanets, tamtam and whip), harp and strings.

tructure

The sections of the piece and instruments introduced by the variations are as follows.

;Theme: Allegro maestoso e largamente;Variation A: Presto:Piccolo and Flute;Variation B: Lento:Oboes;Variation C: Moderato:Clarinets;Variation D: Allegro alla marcia:Bassoons;Variation E: Brillante: alla polacca:Violins;Variation F: Meno mosso:Violas;Variation G: -:Cellos;Variation H: Cominciando lento ma poco a poco accel. al Allegro:Double Basses;Variation I: Maestoso:Harp;Variation J: L'istesso tempo:Horns;Variation K: Vivace:Trumpets;Variation L: Allegro pomposo:Trombones and tuba;Variation M: Moderato:Percussion;Fugue: Allegro molto

The work is based on a theme from "Abdelazar" written by Henry Purcell. In the introduction, the theme is initially played by the entire orchestra, then by the individual sections of the orchestra: first the woodwinds, then the brass, then the strings, and finally by the percussion.

After this introduction to the different families of the orchestra by repetitions of the theme, there is a more in-depth look at the different instrument families with variations on the theme played by individual instruments. Although it starts by featuring the piccolo and flutes, the underlying harmonic structure is maintained by the harp and strings. Each member of the woodwind family is then introduced in turn, highlighting the unique sound of each instrument.

This format is then copied by the strings in turn, and then by the brass and percussion, travelling through their individual variations.

After the whole orchestra has been taken in pieces, it is reassembled using an original fugue which starts with the piccolo, followed in by all the woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion in turn. Once everyone has entered, the brass are re-introduced with Purcell’s original melody while the remainder continue the fugue theme until the piece finally comes to an end after building up to a fortississimo finish.

Narration

A narration was written by Britten's friend Eric Crozier, intended to be spoken by the conductor or a separate speaker during a performance. In fact, the composer arranged two versions of this piece for playing: with narration, or without. The one without narration is more often recorded. The commentary often alters between recordings.

References

* Boosey & Hawkes No. 606. Benjamin Britten - The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra Opus 34.

External links

* [http://library.thinkquest.org/C005400/musi/brittenypg.html Complete original narration]
* [http://www.carnegiehall.org/article/explore_and_learn/art_online_resources_listening_adventures.html Animated guide presented by Carnegie Hall]

Video clips

* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi0DQNd6bCc Eight minute clip] performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kR9nDnyIhAU First section of the piece]

Audio clips

* [http://www.theclassicalshop.net/mp3samples/CH/CHAN241-2815T01D02.wma Fugue] performed by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.


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