Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Edward Benjamin Britten, was a modern era Romantic English composer born November 22, 1913, in Suffolk County, England. Benjamin Britten was also an accomplished conductor, and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. Britten lived until the age of 63, dying of heart failure on December 4, 1976.

One of Benjamin Britten’s most famous and most popular piece [still to this day] was his iconic orchestral showpiece, “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra“.

Benjamin Britten wrote the piece just as the title of the piece states, as an introduction for children on how a symphony orchestra works to make beautiful music. Britten uses a mesmerizing theme from a fellow Englishman, Baroque composer, Henry Purcell and uses that theme in a fugue and theme and variations style to demonstrate how the different sections of the orchestra sound. The piece begins with the Purcell theme by the whole orchestra, before it is broken down by each of the four sections [and the instruments in those four sections] of the orchestra: woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. The piece culminates with the entire orchestra coming back together in a stirring polyphonic majesty that includes Purcell’s original theme. This piece uses a narrator to help children and those young at heart, unfamiliar with a symphony orchestra, understand the various sections of the orchestra.

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is also referred to as “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell“.  

Sometimes, when this piece is played in a children’s program, it is accompanied by another piece of music that also uses narration for children, composed by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, “Peter and the Wolf.”  Prokofiev uses the children’s story to also explain about the sound of different instruments in a symphony orchestra.  The narrator will explain which musical instrument represents which character in the story. 

That is why “Peter and the Wolf” and “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” may be the best two pieces used to introduce classical music to young children.

Without further ado, here is on You Tube, Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” [including narration for children]. And as a bonus, a video of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

Please turn up the volume and enjoy these two great works explaining the various instruments and sections of a symphony orchestra.

Benjamin Britten: “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”:

Sergei Prokofiev: “Peter and the Wolf”:

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