May 26, 2022

British Library Acquires Original Manuscript of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’

From The British Library:

The British Library has acquired the draft score of ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, one of the most famous compositions of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Completed on New Year’s Eve 1945, this original manuscript charts the composer’s earliest ideas for what has become one of the most frequently performed pieces by any British composer. Britten subsequently wrote out a full orchestral score, after which no further use was made of the draft, which he gave to a friend. It remained completely unknown until last year.

The manuscript was sold to an overseas buyer at auction in November 2011, but Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on the manuscript, to provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the manuscript in the country. The Minister’s ruling followed a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by Arts Council England. The British Library acquired the manuscript for the national collection on 30 March 2012.


Richard Chesser, Lead Curator of Music, British Library, says: “We are delighted to have acquired this important manuscript, keeping it in the UK. Many of Britten’s draft scores give similar evidence of his consummate genius, but this is a particularly fine example and a celebrated piece of music. It is remarkable that there is no evidence of planning of the larger structure, such as numbering of the variations: this information was added only later, in the full orchestral score. The manuscript is an exciting addition to the British Library’s archives.”

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and Creative Industries, said: “I am delighted that the temporary export bar I placed on the manuscript has resulted in the British Library being able to save this fantastic piece of British musical history for the nation. The British Library is home to one of the world’s most impressive research collections, including a fine collection of music manuscripts, so it is a most fitting home for this item.”


The British Library acquired the manuscript through private treaty sale, as invited by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in the DCMS press release of 9 March. It joins the Library’s outstanding collection of twentieth century musical autographs, which also includes major holdings of the manuscripts of Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Tippett and Maxwell Davies.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.