Composers Datebook®

Britten for young persons

Composers Datebook for October 15, 2017


Liverpool may be renowned as the birthplace of The Beatles, but it has other claims to fame as well. On today’s date in 1946, for example, one of Benjamin Britten’s best-known orchestral works received its first concert performance in that British city.

“The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” was its title, with “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell” offered as an explanatory subtitle. Britten himself preferred the “Young Person’s Guide” as its official title and complained whenever the BBC tried call it just “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell” when announcing the piece on the radio.

Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a British education film on the instruments of the orchestra, Britten’s score can be performed with a spoken narration, or, as is more common, as a purely instrumental work. In fact, the 1946 Liverpool concert premiere actually preceded the first showing of the film by a month or so.

A spectacular display of instrumental sounds and colors, the “Young Person’s Guide” is a kind of mini-concerto for orchestra, showcasing each section of the modern symphony and culminating in a grand fugue on the Purcell theme for the whole orchestra.

Music Played in Today's Program

Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; André Previn, cond,. Telarc 80460

On This Day


  • 1775 - Finnish-born Swedish composer Bernhard Crusell, in Nystad (Uusikaupunki), Finland;

  • 1844 - German philosopher and occasional composer Friedrich Nietzsche, in Röcken, near Lützen;

  • 1905 - Swedish composer Dag Wirén, in Noraberg, Oerebro;


  • 1900 - Czech composer Zdenek Fibich, age 49, in Prague;

  • 1964 - American composer Cole Porter, age 73, in Santa Monica, California;


  • 1780 - Haydn: opera "La Fedelta premiata," at Esterházy;

  • 1886 - Mussorgsky: "A Night on Bald Mountain," posthumously, in a re-orchestration by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, in St. Petersburg, by the Russian Symphony conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov (Gregorian date: Oct. 27);

  • 1886 - Dvorák: oratorio "St. Ludmilla," Op. 71, at the Leeds Festival in England;

  • 1905 - Debussy: "La Mer," at a Lamoureux Concert in Paris, conducted by Chevillard;.

  • 1933 - Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1, by the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Fritz Stiedry, with the composer as piano soloist, and the trumpet solos played by Alexander Shmidt;

  • 1938 - R. Strauss: opera, "Daphne," in Dresden at the State Opera, karl Boehm conducting, with vocal soloists Margarete Teschemacher (Daphne), Torsten Ralf (Apollo), Helena Jung (Gaea), and Martin Kremer (Leukippos);

  • 1943 - Britten: "Serenade" for tenor, horn, and strings, in London;

  • 1943 - Lukas Foss: “The Prairie,” by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1946 - first concert performance of Britten: "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell)", in Liverpool; This music was written for an education film entitled "The Instruments of the Orchestra," which was first shown on November 29, 1946;

  • 1955 - Xenakis: "Metastasis" for 61 instruments, in Donaueschingen, Germany;

  • 1981 - Robert Starer: Violin Concerto, by the Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa conducting, with Itzhak Perlman as soloist;

  • 1985 - Christopher Rouse: “Lares Hercii” for violin and harpsichord, in Rochester, N.Y., by Charles Castleman (violin) and Arthur Haas (harpsichord);

  • 1988 - Conlon Nancarrow: String Quartet No. 3, in Cologne, Germany, by the Arditti Quartet;

  • 1997 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "The Jacobite Rising," in Glasgow, with the composer conducting soloists and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus;

  • 2003 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Naxos Quartet" No. 3, at Wigmore Hall, London, by the Maggini Quartet;


  • 1738 - London music publisher John Walsh the younger issues Handel's Organ Concertos, Op. 4 (see Julian date: Oct. 4);

  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in g, Op. 6, no. 6 (Gregorian date: Oct. 26);

  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in F, Op. 6, no. 2 (see Julian date: Oct. 4);

  • 1844 - Johann Strauss, Jr., age 18, conducts his own orchestra for the first time, at Dommayer's Casino in Hietzing (just outside Vienna);

  • 1956 - Leonard Bernstein named co-principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic (with Dimitri Mitropoulos).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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