Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Now generally remembered as the teacher of Benjamin Britten,who made his gratitude clear in his variations on a theme by his mentor, FrankBridge has been largely neglected as a composer until recent years. Born inBrighton in 1879, he was a pupil of Stanford at the Royal College of Music inLondon, a conventional and restrictive training for a composer. His principalstudy, however, was the violin, which he had played from childhood, assistinghis father, who conducted the Empire Theatre orchestra in Brighton. Heestablished himself as a conductor and viola player, in the latter capacityreplacing an indisposed member of the Joachim Quartet during the latter's 1906visit to London. In a remarkably busy career he served as violist in theEnglish String Quartet, an ensemble that reduced its public schedule after1915, and undertook conducting engagements for the 1910-1911 Savoy Theatreopera season and for Covent Garden in 1913, also deputising for Henry Wood atthe London Promenade Concerts, as occasion demanded. Further opportunitiesarose from his ability to master a score quickly, so that he won a reputaton asa particularly reliable substitute for any otherwise indisposed conductor.
Bridge's early compositions included a quantity of chambermusic. He won the Cobbett Prize for his 1907 Phantasy Piano Trio. In the firstcompetition, in 1905, he had taken third place, after William Hurlstone andHaydn Wood, and there were two later works that followed for the awards offeredby Cobbett. In the same period he wrote a quantity of songs and piano pieces.This stage of his career as a composer culminated in 1911 with the completionof the orchestral suite
The Sea. This was followed in 1914 by a tone poem, Summer,and the following year Two Poems of Richard Jefferies. A pacifist, Bridge hadinevitably been appalled by the atrocities of war, and these war-timecompositions may be heard as an escape into a kinder world. In the 1920s hiswork underwent a change, moving with his Piano Sonata, completed in 1924, into anew world that was much less English in character, reflecting in particular hisinterest in the music of Alban Berg, a composer with whom his own pupil Brittenhad planned to study. The patronage of Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge brought aninterest in his work in the United States, where he conducted his ownorchestral works and was able to take some delight in the performances of hischamber music. Enter Spring, completed in 1927, belongs to this later phase ofBridge's career, when his work seemed out of kilter with prevailing insularEnglish musical conventions. Bridge died in 1941, in the second year of anotherwar, leaving unfinished a symphony on which he was working.
Bridge wrote his Two Poems in 1915, drawing inspiration fromthe writings of Richard Jefferies on the life of the English countryside. Thefirst of the two, scored for woodwind, horns, timpani, harp and strings, has asuperscription from The Open Air, a book written in 1885: Those thoughts andfeelings which are not sharply defined, but have a haze of distance and beautyabout them, are always dearest. This aptly describes the gentle pastoralism ofwhat follows. The oboe sets the mood, answered by the clarinet, muted stringscontinuing with a motif developed from this. The second poem includes brass andvaried percussion in a lighter-hearted movement. The Jefferies superscriptionis taken from the 1883 The Story of My Heart: How beautiful a delight to makethe world joyous! The song should never be silent, the dance never still, thelaugh should sound like water which runs for ever. Piccolo and flutes, with theharp, burst in, introducing a movement of lively joy.
Scored for full orchestra, Enter Spring, completed in 1927,represents a later stage in Bridge's work. Sounds of the approach of spring areheard from the flute, a muted trumpet and then a solo violin. Short motifsappear, developed and interwoven in a complex texture. New elements areintroduced, as the flute opens a calmer section, with bird song over harparpeggios and string harmonics, before the robuster representatives of springreturn, leading to a moment of triumphant grandeur. This is interrupted by agentle Andante tranquillo, with snatches of bird song. The music grows inintensity, as the progress of spring marches on, fading to move into a finalsection of reminiscence, with its own brief moment of tranquillity, before asolo bassoon leads the way forward, as the procession resumes.
Summer, written in the years 1914-15, breathes theshimmering country heat of the season, as it gradually unwinds, at first over ahushed and busy murmur of the strings, a figure later taken up by the woodwind,to reappear during the course of the movement, while fragmentary motifs areheard through the haze. Relatively lightly scored, the movement has somethingin common with the music in pastoral vein of some of Bridge's Englishcontemporaries.
The orchestral suite The Sea is scored for full orchestraand was written in 1910 and 1911. It reflects some contemporary influences andwon some success. In the first movement, Seascape, a sustained chord isfollowed by the first theme from the violas, fragmentarily echoed by the oboe,before the violas return with a modified version of the same theme, now with asuggestion of the minor. This develops as the music swells to a climax, only tosubside again into a clarinet melody, accompanied by the syncopation of thestrings. Once again the waves mount to a further climax, a relaxation ofintensity and the return of the main theme. The opening viola theme is heardfrom a solo clarinet before the music finally dies away. The woodwind provide alively broken figure in the second movement, Sea-foam, before new material isintroduced by the strings, with the flung spray and blown spume reflected inthe woodwind. The movement suggests, in its conclusion, what is to follow inMoonlight, evoked in the instrumental textures in music that is developed,before the strains of the opening return. The Storm bursts out with some fury.A lull allows the cor anglais to lead to a final passage of triumphantoptimism.