The British Library has obtained the original manuscript of Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The manuscript, thought to be from 1945, remained unknown until last year – and no earlier sketches for the composition are known to exist.

The undated manuscript was set to leave Britain after an overseas buyer bought it in November last year. But culture minister, Ed Vaizey, following advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, enforced a temporary export bar on the manuscript so funds could be raised to keep it in Britain.

‘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,’ said Richard Chesser, lead curator of music at the British Library. '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 piece, which incorporates music by Purcell, was originally commissioned as part of an educational film, The Instruments of the Orchestra.

Other twentieth-century musical manuscripts held in the British Library include works by Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams and Holst.

Nadia Ismail