Listening Quest October 2016: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Saturday, October 1, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

Even though we are focused on learning music through learning to play the piano, I would like to you to be at least somewhat familiar with other instruments! Back in 1946, the composer Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write a piece for orchestra that would highlight different sections of the orchestra for an educational video. The piece he wrote is called The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. He took a theme (a main idea) from another composer, Henry Purcell, and used that for a set of variations and a fugue. Each variation is played by different instruments or by different sections of the orchestra (woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion) to demonstrate how each section has its own kind of sound. Some variations are very similar to the theme, while others only have hints of the main idea included in them. To finish the piece off, he composes a fugue (“Fewg”) where instead of having a clear melody with harmony, instead the melody is played by three or four voices or instruments slightly later (a little like singing Row Row Row Your Boat as a round) or sometimes at different intervals, upside-down, or with other changes so that harmony is created by how the melodies intertwine.

You’ll be able to listen to The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with an interactive score that shows you which instruments are being played here: Get comfy – it takes 17 minutes to listen to it all!

Extra Exploring: If you’re interested, there are also a few musical games based on this piece that you can play on the right hand side of the screen.