What are majestic orchestral music

Benjamin Britten - orchestra leader for young people

In 1945, Henry Purcell's 250th anniversary of death was celebrated. Benjamin Britten, widely regarded as the most important English composer since Purcell, was heavily involved in this commemoration - Purcell's music had, after all, greatly influenced his own. Around the same time, the UK Department of Education asked him to write the music for a documentary. It would be about the orchestral instruments and be shown in schools across England.

Britten decided to introduce the instruments in a number of variations and a fugue. He chose a horn pipe from Purcell's play "Abdelazar" as the theme. This hornpipe had the advantage that it was often played by English school orchestras. Many students therefore knew the melody and were all the more able to pay attention to how differently it was played by the individual instruments.

When Britten had composed his piece, it quickly turned out that it was not only good film music, but could also be played excellently in concert. It was therefore performed before the film was even finished - sometimes with a narrator explaining the individual instruments, sometimes without.

The shape of the piece is simple. First the theme is played by the whole orchestra, then by each orchestral group (woodwinds, brass, strings and percussionists) and again by the tutti. This is followed by the variations:

1. two flutes (with piccolos) over a violin and harp accompaniment
2. an oboe duet accompanied by the lower strings and timpani
3. a clarinet dialogue over plucked strings and tuba
4. a march for two bassoons, with strings and snare drum
5. a “Polacca” (Polish dance), played by the violins against the rhythmic background of brass, bassoons and drums
6. a lyrical variation of the violas with wood and brass interjections
7. a sonorous cello variation, accompanied by horn, clarinet, harp and violas
8. a virtuoso variation of the double basses, plus woodwinds and tambourine
9. the harp, accompanied by strings in tremolo
10. a horn variation against the background of low strings, harp and timpani
11. a march-like trumpet dialogue with strings and snare drum
12. A majestic variation of the trombones and then also the tuba, plus wood and brass and double bass
13. a performance of various percussion instruments, accompanied by strings.

The series of variations is followed by a fugue in which the instruments start in roughly the same order. You are playing a new theme, invented by Britten himself, which at the end, as the climax of the piece, sounds at the same time as the old Purcell theme.