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Bridge, Frank (1879-1941)

Frank Bridge

born: 26 February 1879
died: 10 January 1941
country: United Kingdom

Frank Bridge was born in Brighton on 26 February 1879 and died on 10 January 1941. He was one of the finest all-round musicians Britain has had, being a string player of the highest class (playing violin or viola in the best string quartets of the first quarter of the century), a good conductor of both orchestral music and opera, and an excellent teacher. Though his teaching was concerned with string playing he had one composition pupil, Benjamin Britten. He was a competent pianist, occasionally appearing on the concert platform in performances of his songs. All this besides being one of the major composers of his time.

Bridge went to the Royal College of Music in 1896, studying violin and piano. In 1899 he started composition lessons with Stanford. Bridge was primarily interested in instrumental music, particularly chamber music. He had a first-class command of the technique of composition and, being a string player, naturally understood the quartet ‘from the inside’. Until the end of the First World War his idiom was conservative, deriving from Brahms and Stanford but acquiring almost Delian chromatics at times. His music was popular, and he was always able to provide pieces the public could understand and love.

After the war his attitude changed. Bridge came under the influence of Alban Berg, and his music became much more dissonant and almost atonal. This took him beyond the reach of many of his contemporaries, and his popularity declined. Nevertheless, his last two Quartets and the second Piano Trio are major works of this century. It is fascinating to wonder what would have happened if Bridge’s efforts to make Benjamin Britten study with Berg had been successful. But the musical establishment of the time did not approve, and Britten stayed in England.

from notes by Michael Pilkington 1997

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