BBC's Ten Pieces: All you need to know about the chosen works

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

Image caption,
Performances at the 2016 Ten Pieces Prom

Clueless about classical music? Then help is at hand.

The BBC's Ten Pieces scheme has been running since 2014, with the aim of educating children about Mozart, Mussorgsky and everything in between - but it's a pretty good primer for adults, too.

The latest list of 10 works (it's probably ok to call them songs, too) includes music by Purcell, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, alongside a new piece written especially for the project by Kerry Andrew.

Schoolchildren will be able to hear the Ten Pieces performed live at concerts across the UK throughout the year; while the BBC's orchestras and choirs, and the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland, will give free coaching to young musicians.

And on Monday 13 November, a "live lesson" will be beamed into schools, with the Royal Opera House and Royal Ballet School encouraging children aged seven to 11 to create their own original dances to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.

Here's all you need to know about the music selected for this year's Ten Pieces.

1) Henry Purcell: Rondeau from Abdelazer

Who was Purcell?

Henry Purcell was the most important English composer of the 17th Century. He started out as a child chorister in the Chapel Royal but had to leave when his voice broke. He subsequently became the organ tuner - and then the organ player - at Westminster Abbey. His other official positions included "composer in ordinary to the king" and "royal instrument keeper". A prolific writer, he is best known for his choral works, as well as the incidental music he wrote for theatre productions - making him the John Williams of his day.

What is Rondeau?

Rondeau was written for a play called Abdelazar (or The Moor's Revenge) - which is no longer performed. It premiered in 1695, the year that Purcell died at the tragically young age of 35.

A brief baroque piece, it is perhaps best-known as the basis for Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

Where will I have heard it?

It was the theme to the 1969 TV show The Churchills, and is a recurring theme in the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom.

2) Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Allegro (1st movement) from Symphony No. 1 in G major

Who was Bologne?

The son of a French plantation owner and his slave mistress - who became a virtuoso violinist and a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette. Prior to the revolution in France, he was also famous as a swordsman and equestrian and became known as the "black Mozart".

Tell me about the allegro.

A typically short and lively dance number, it was written to showcase Bologne's own skills on the violin.

Media caption,
Naomi Wilkinson explores the music of Saint-Georges

3) Antonin Dvorak: From The New World - Largo (2nd movement) from Symphony No. 9 in E minor

Who was Dvorak?

The son of a village innkeeper and butcher, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak exhibited remarkable musical gifts as a child and played violin from the age of six. As a composer, he drew on Czech folk music, and his works are noted for their rhythmic variety and melodic invention.

What is special about this piece?

Dvorak wrote this symphony during his time in America - the "new world" of the title. He was fascinated by Native American music and the African-American spirituals, and developed those themes in his symphony. But the composer was also feeling homesick - and that seeped into the music, too.

Did you know?

Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon in 1969.

Image caption,
Kerry Andrew, who has written one of the chosen pieces

4) Edward Elgar: Theme (Enigma), variations 11, 6 & 7 from Enigma Variations

About the composer

Sir Edward Elgar's father owned a music shop and taught his son piano, organ and violin. Apart from that, Elgar was basically self-taught - but went on to become one of England's most important composers. His music is inventive and resourceful, drawing inspiration from the culture and landscape of England. The first of his Pomp and Circumstance marches, also known as Land of Hope and Glory, is an unofficial "second national anthem" but he is best known for the Enigma Variations. Speaking of which...

Who is the enigma?

It was Elgar himself. He improvised the main theme at his piano - and, after his wife praised the melody, he began to play around, suggesting how various different friends might play it. Variation six is based on one of his students, while variation seven mocks the limited piano skills of his friend, Arthur Troyte Griffith. The 11th variation, meanwhile, was inspired by his friend's bulldog falling into a lake.

Where might I have heard it?

Dance anthem Clubbed to Death by Rob D samples the first movement of Elgar's Enigma Variations, while the piano solo is improvised around the main theme. The song was later included in The Matrix.

Media caption,
Naomi Wilkinson explores Elgar's musical portraits

5) Jean Sibelius: Finlandia

Who was Sibelius?

A Finnish composer, whose works are often personal and mystical - while containing a strong streak of nationalism. He was so popular in his home country that, by the time he was 32, he was awarded a lifetime grant by the state which permitted him to devote his career to composing.

What is Finlandia?

Sibelius wrote this in 1899 as a protest against increasing censorship of the Finnish press by Tsarist Russian. The opening passages are turbulent and urgent, signifying the struggle of the Finnish people, but later gives way to the more serene, hopeful Finlandia Hymn.

Where might I have heard it?

Finlandia features prominently in the score for Die Hard 2: Die Harder. The film has nothing to do with Finland - but the director, Renny Harlin, was born in Riihimaki.

6) Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers; Russian Dance from The Nutcracker

Who was Tchaikovsky?

The most popular Russian composer of all time, thanks to his vivid, melodic music.

The Nutcracker... I've heard of that

You don't say? A Christmas classic, the "fairy tale ballet" has charmed audiences since its premiere in St Petersburg 125 years ago. Waltz of the Flowers and the Russian Dance are two of the most recognisable moments in the 90-minute piece.

Where might I have heard it?

Just about everywhere. Most famously, the Russian Dance provides the theme to the classic video game Tetris.

Media caption,
Lemn Sissay explores Tchaikovsky's music from The Nutcracker

7) Carl Orff: O fortuna from Carmina Burana

Who was Orff?

Carl Orff was a German musician who, aside from his highly-successful career as a composer, helped to make music education more accessible by designing a range of instruments (Orff instruments) that enable children to play music without formal training.

What is O fortuna?

Inspired by a medieval poem about the Roman Goddess of fate, O fortuna has been called "the most overused piece of music in film history".

Simon Cowell is a fan

If you've seen The X Factor, you've heard O Fortuna. It's the dramatic, tension-building orchestral piece that heralds the arrival of Simon Cowell on stage (he probably thinks it sounds evil but the piece is, in fact, highly religious). If you don't watch the X Factor, the song has also featured in Excalibur and the Old Spice aftershave ads.

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
Grammy-nominated Mason Bates combines a classical career with work as a DJ

8) Aaron Copland: Rodeo Hoe-Down

Who was Aaron Copland?

A US musician, often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers". A pianist from the age of five, he won an Oscar for his score to The Heiress, and a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for Appalachian Spring.

And he wrote a Rodeo Hoe-Down?

Pretty much. Imagine what would happen if an orchestra soundtracked a line-dance and you're pretty much there. Capturing the spirit of the American pioneers, it captures the vigour and energy of a square dance, as the cowgirls and boys pair off.

9) Mason Bates: Sprite: A Bao A Qu from Anthology of Fantastic Zoology

Who is Mason Bates?

Recently named the most-performed composer of his generation, 40-year-old Mason Bates combines symphonic music with the rhythms and instruments of club culture. He combines his classical career with a sideline as a DJ.

What is Sprite about?

Inspired by creatures from Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, Sprite: A Bao A Qu promises to "conjure up ideas and pictures from our imagination".

10) Kerry Andrew - No Place Like

Who is Kerry Andrew?

The only female composer in the Ten Pieces repertoire, Kerry was specially commissioned by the BBC to write an a capella piece for children to perform in schools.

What did she come up with?

No Place Like is a song about home - with words and lyrics suggested by children in more than 100 schools across the country.

"I was really interested in asking kids where they were from and I got lots of really fascinating answers back," Andrew told BBC News.

"I noticed a lot of themes: Home is where the love is and the trust is, but I also chose ideas that felt individual.

"In the end, I made this really long poem and had to zoom in and choose my favourite lines - or ones that felt long enough to be sung - and which felt like they represented the kids words as a whole."

The finished piece uses the form of a round (like London's Burning or Three Blind Mice); but also includes a variety of vocal noises - including percussion - allowing kids to explore the different ways they can contribute to a piece of music.

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