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Piano Trio No 2

composer
1929

 
The 1929 Piano Trio No 2 is dedicated to Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the American patroness without whose financial support it, and several of Bridge’s other works, would not have been written. Bridge hoped that she would take the Piano Trio under her wing so that the process of international recognition that had already begun with her promotion of the String Quartet No. 3 might be sustained. She had no hesitation in suggesting a performance at the earliest possible date. The date was fixed to coincide with the end of Mrs Coolidge’s European trip (June to November 1929).

Bridge’s first choice of string players was available, and by September Harriet Cohen had been engaged as the pianist. The premiere was given before an invited audience in the Langham Hotel on 4 November 1929.

Although Bridge was pleased with the performance and grateful for the opportunity afforded him through the continued generosity of Mrs Coolidge, he was deeply affected by the tone of two press notices. The personal attack in The Daily Telegraph was especially galling. Herbert Hughes wrote:

This was patently 1929 music—owing a great deal to Scriabin and more to Schoenberg. As it proceeded one wondered whether Mr Bridge had not somewhat forced upon himself this style of writing, whether the great part of this trio had any real meaning, even superficial, to the composer himself. We are, or so it seems to me, faced today, in this present international vogue of atonalism, with a new species of Kapellmeistermusik. Mr Bridge is not the only instance of a composer on this side of the Channel having suddenly adopted a manner (as he did in his recent piano sonata) that bears no recognisable relationship to his own natural development—and, like so many others, he can no longer be regarded as a ‘young British composer’. It must be said that the work was beautifully played and admitted that at no point did it fail to hold the attention of a highly critical audience, even if it was not at all clear what the composer was trying to convey. The idiom is no longer strange, and it should not be hard for a good craftsman to make himself understood.

Bridge’s reaction was immediate and bitter. He wrote to Elizabeth Coolidge:

I see quite clearly that it is going to be increasingly difficult for people who have standardised their ideas as to what music is when they compare my work at twenty-seven and that at fifty, but that there can be any compromise between what is expected by others and what my instinct insists upon is utter impossibility. The last few years have strengthened my mental powers—such as they are—to a degree that leaves them untouched by any outward manifestation. You will admit that it is a difficult moment when one reads the kind of personal slight that Hughes finds pleasure in doling out ad infinitum, but the effect is a momentary one. A kind of superficial sting in the flesh, but no more, and so on with the next work.

Benjamin Britten recalled that Bridge was also extremely distressed by comments printed in The Musical Times following the second London performance in April 1930:

It seems evident that he has made common cause with the advocates of modernity and put technical interest before aesthetic pleasure … My impression is that he is bartering a noble birthright for less than a mess of pottage.

At Mrs Coolidge’s instigation the work was taken that autumn on a tour of the USA with the same players, and the enthusiasm of the audiences made up somewhat for the cold reception it had received in England.

Later critics have found it considerably easier to come to terms with the work, and it is now widely thought to be one of Bridge’s most satisfying and imaginative achievements.

from notes by Paul Hindmarsh 1988

Recordings

Bridge: Piano Trios & Phantasy Quartet
CDH55063

Details

Movement 1: Allegretto
Movement 2: Molto allegro
Movement 3: Andante molto
Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo

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