Film: 8569

Music | 1940 | Sound | B/W


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An introduction to all the instruments of an orchestra by Sir Malcolm Sargent, who conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in playing Benjamin Britten's 'Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, opus 34', or 'The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra' 1940's

Credits juxtaposed against the London Symphony Orchestra tuning their instruments on a dual-level stage with a backdrop of drapes. Applause. Conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent enters, takes his bows. He addresses the audience, and states his intention to 'take this great musical box to pieces' by introducing the individual instruments that comprise an orchestra. Sargent describes how the sounds of an orchestra are produced by blowing (mimes playing an end-blown wind instrument), scraping (mimes playing a violin), or banging (mimes hitting a drum).

Close-up of the score on the conductor's podium: 'Benjamin Britten: Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell op. 34'; a silver baton lies across the cover. A baton is picked up, the cover flipped open: 'The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra' on the inner cover. Sargent taps his baton, lifts it, begins to conduct. The full orchestra plays.

Camera pans down the orchestra along stage right towards the 'blowing instruments' at the back: first the woodwinds. The woodwind players play the theme on their own: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons. On the level above, the brass players continue the theme: horns, trumpets, trombones, the tuba.

The 'scraping instruments' - plucked with the fingers or played with a bow and called the strings. Shot from above of the full string section: violins, violas, double basses behind them, cellos.

The 'banging instruments': percussion, standing on the level above behind the double basses: the timpani, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, triangle.

Sargent conducts; with a sweeping motion, the orchestra plays again as a whole.

Sargent then introduces each instrument. Each of these plays for about one minute, during which time there are shots of the entire section, and a few close-ups.

The woodwinds. The flute and its 'small brother', the piccolo, the highest in the woodwind range. The oboes, whose 'plaintive tone' is produced by playing through two different pieces of reed. The clarinet, played with one large reed, which gives it a 'more velvety quality'. The bassoons, the largest and lowest of the woodwinds, also played with a double reed.

The strings, starting with the highest, the violins. Two rows of violinists, as a large number of them (22 in this case) is required to offset the small tone of the instrument. First and second violins are introduced. The violas, slightly larger and deeper in tone than that violins. The cellos which rest on the ground because of their size. The double bass, the largest and lowest of the strings. The harp, an elaborate guilded instrument, played by a lady.

The brass instruments: the horns, each with about 12 feet of coiled tubing. The trumpets. The trombones and the tuba, which often play together.

Sargent now explains how he's going to put all the pieces together again. He explains how all the instruments play the same tune in a fugue, but not all at the same time, coming in one after another instead: first the woodwinds, then the strings, the brass and the percussion. Purcell's 'grand tune' will be played on the brass at the end, while the rest play Britten's tune. Sargent turns, begins conducting the full symphony orchestra in playing Britten's piece.


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