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.
Benjamin Britten was a modern composer [living in the 20th century] who was not just a composer but also a pianist and conductor. I am sure he was proud to borrow his fellow Englishman's great theme for use in his "Young Person's Guide".
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is also referred to as "Variations and fugue on a theme by Purcell".
As this is meant to be a guide for children, it is often accompanied by narration, with the narrator explaining the different sections of the orchestra. Sometimes, when this piece is played in a children's program, it is accompanied by another piece of music with narration for children by the Russian composer Serge 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.
From the Houston Ballet on You Tube I found this very short sample of what Sheralyn and I will be seeing tonight from our Houston Ballet and their orchestra. This looks like it will be good!
Now, here is the complete grand music from Great Britain's, Benjamin Britten, "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra" without the narration that sometimes accompanies it.
Please turn up the volume and enjoy this awesome music.
Benjamin Britten: "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra":