Early in 1908, twenty-nine-year-old Frank Bridge was invited to contribute the first movement to a collective string quartet based on The Londonderry Air
. This folk tune, collected in County Derry by Jane Ross, had become very popular following its publication in 1855. The idea for the collaboration came from the youthful Hambourg String Quartet, whose members would have been well known to Bridge. Boris (cello), Jan (violin) and their eldest brother, the virtuoso pianist Mark Hambourg (1879–1961), came to England with their musician parents as exiles from Tsarist Russia in 1889. Bridge’s contribution was published in 1916 as An Irish Melody
. Hamilton Harty’s touching slow movement, featuring the solo violin, eventually appeared as an orchestral movement entitled Danny Boy
. There was also a set of variations by J D Davis, a minuet by Eric Coates, who played viola in the quartet at this time, and a finale by the pianist-composer York Bowen. The Hambourg Quartet gave the complete work its first performance at Aeolian Hall in London in 1908.
Bridge treated the familiar tune as if he had composed it himself, using its main features to construct a typically fluid and varied musical journey, skilfully adapting traditional sonata form. The tune’s memorable opening phrase provides a dramatic opening gesture, out of which flows a seamless weft of lyrical counterpoint. With impeccable timing, the complete melody, beautifully harmonized, emerges for the only time after the main climax, and Bridge contrives to let the music ebb away, ready for Hamilton Harty to take over.
from notes by Paul Hindmarsh © 2013