'One of this country’s most significant composers.' Anthony Payne
Frank Bridge was well-grounded in music from his earliest years. He was taught the violin by his father, from the age of six. Later, in his teens, he took an active part in his father's theatre orchestra, both as violinist and arranger. These invaluable childhood experiences established a pattern for his future development.
The seven early orchestral pieces in the present catalogue reveal a gradual refinement of musical idiom and growing subtlety of expression, which blossomed in the sensuous tone poetry and warm lyricism of later works.
In October 1903 Bridge wrote a substantial Symphonic Poem, after the example of Lizst and particularly Tchaikovsky. Bridge himself conducted the first performance ata Patron's Fund concert, 20th May 1904, in London's St. James's Hall. The second performance took place in September 2000, when the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra under Richard Hickox recorded it for Chandos. Mid of the Night, as it has been titled for publication, is a rich and tuneful work, looser in construction than Bridge's later orchestral works, and less personal in idiom, but fresh soundingand full of youthful exuberance.
The symphonic poem Isabella (1907) shows Bridge on the threshold of his truly individual style, containing some delightful lyrical moments and a splendid orchestral climax. Cast in a concise and tightly argued ternary form. It may be to the music's advantage that Bridge, aged 28, did not have the harmonic resource to match the more macabre elements of the Keats poem on which it is based.
In total contrast, Bridge, in his Dance Rhapsody of 1908, delighted in an altogether more virtuosic and flamboyant orchestral sound. While its four dance episodes are only loosely connected by rudimentary transitions, and only a semblance of overall unity is given by the return of the opening material (typically towards the end of the last section), the exuberance and rhythmic vitality of the invention carries all before it. The melodic charm and grace of the central 'Viennese' section are well matched to the exhilarating orchestral sound of the opening episode, dominated by some superb writing for the horns.
In November 1910, Bridge was the Musical Director of a short opera season at London's Savoy Theatre. It was staged by the opera singer Marie Brema and included a play by the Belgian playwright Emile Cammaerts. Bridge composed Five Entr'actes for the production - all of them based on Belgian folk-tunes. They are tuneful, thoroughly well crafted minatures and well within the capabilities of good amateur and children's orchestras. in this published suite Bridge's original order has been changed to provide a more appropriate concert ending.
The Dance Poem (1913) is a crucial work in Bridge's output. To the arresting themes and vivid orchestral colours of the earlier pieces has been added the more concentrated logic of symphonic development. Each of the six sections of this symphonic waltz conveys the emotions expressed in a dancer's movements. The mosaic of flexible motivic shapes, supported by an increased richness of harmonic vocabulary and the greater refinement of orchestral gesture, recall Debussy's Jeux and Ravel's La Valse.
Bridge's next large-scale orchestral pieces were written at the height of his powers and in his fully developed radical idiom. The rhapsody Enter Spring, conceived as an expansive ternary form movement, exhibits all the exuberance, blustering energy and dynamism of the South Downs spring. Benjamin Britten remembered its Norwich premiere as 'a riot of orchestral colour'. The energy of the heavily motivic main section contrasts vividly with the grandeur of the sweeping phrases of the central 'pastoral' melody. The central episode opens with a sequence of 'bird song' over a magical harmonic ostinato.
The monumental power and intense introspection found in Bridge's orchestral masterpiece Oration 'Concerto Elegiaco' could not be further removed from the extrovert Rhapsody. Bridge's passionate hatred of the futility and horror of war is at the very heart of this ambivalent score. Fully justifying its title Oration contrasts funereal and bizarre march-like tuttis with elegiac solo episodes in Bridge's most contemplative lyrical vein, and more hard-driven and densely polyphonic paragraphs. The haunting Epilogue adds a final note of calm. Cast in a broadly based arch-shape mould, the work is one of undoubted originality and power, worthy to take its place among the finest of 19th and 20th century cello concerti.
After the enigmatic piano concerto Phantasm, Bridge he did not write for orchestra again until the overture Rebus (1940) and the Unfinished Symphony (Allegro moderato). This was the first movement of a symphony for strings on which he was working at the time of his death. Anthony Pople as edited the work for performance and has orchestrated the final page of the sketch. The Suite for cello and small orchestra was commissioned by the Frank Bridge Trust in 1982, and consists of three of Bridge's early pieces for cello and piano, orchestrated by Robert Cornford.