Frank Bridge

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Not to be confused with Frederick Bridge.
Bridge in 1921

Frank Bridge (26 February 1879 – 10 January 1941) was an English composer, violist and conductor.


Blue plaque, 4 Bedford Gardens, Kensington, London

Bridge was born in Brighton and studied at the Royal College of Music in London from 1899 to 1903 under Charles Villiers Stanford and others. He played the viola in a number of string quartets, most notably the English String Quartet (along with Marjorie Hayward), and conducted, sometimes deputising for Henry Wood, before devoting himself to composition, receiving the patronage of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.

According to Benjamin Britten Bridge had strong pacifist convictions, and he was deeply disturbed by the First World War, although the extent of his pacifism has been questioned in recent scholarship. During the war and immediately afterwards Bridge wrote a number of pastoral and elegiac pieces that appear to search for spiritual consolation; principal among these are the Lament for strings, Summer for orchestra, A Prayer for chorus and orchestra, and a series of pastoral piano works. The Lament (for Catherine, aged 9 "Lusitania" 1915), for string orchestra, was written as a memorial to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania (Cerabona 2014). The piece was premiered by the New Queen's Hall Orchestra, conducted by the composer, on 15 September, at the 1915 Proms, as part of a programme of "Popular Italian music", the rest of which was conducted by Henry Wood (Anon. 1915; Anon. 2014).

Bridge's idiom in the wartime works tends towards moderation, but after the war his language developed significantly, building on the experiments with impressionist harmony found in the wartime piano and orchestral music. Bridge's technical ambitions (documented in his correspondence) prompted him to attempt more complex, larger works, with more advance harmonic elements and motivic working. (Huss 2015,[page needed]) Several of the resulting works have some expressive connections with the First World War, which appears to have influenced the mood of the Piano Sonata, and certainly Oration. However, as Huss has pointed out (drawing on Leonard Meyer's comments on direct causation theories in Meyer 1967,[page needed]), it is inadvisable to identify the war as the primary stimulant for the development of a modernist language.(Huss 2015,[page needed])

Bridge was frustrated that his later works were largely ignored while his earlier "Edwardian" works continued to receive attention (Hindmarsh 1980).

Bridge is mostly remembered for privately tutoring Benjamin Britten, who later championed his teacher's music and paid homage to him in the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), based on a theme from the second of Bridge's Three Idylls for String Quartet (1906). Bridge was not widely active as a teacher of composition, and his teaching style was unconventional - he appears to have focussed on aesthetic issues, idiomatic writing and clarity rather than exhaustive technical training. Britten spoke very highly of his teaching, saying famously in 1963 that he still felt he "hadn't come up to the technical standards" that Bridge had set him (Mitchell 1991,[page needed]). When Britten left for the United States with Peter Pears in 1939, Bridge handed Britten his Giussani viola and wished him 'bon voyage and bon retour'; Bridge died in 1941 without ever seeing Britten again.(Kildea 2013, 149)


The earliest extant works are a series of substantial chamber works produced during his studies with C.V. Stanford at the Royal College of Music, along with a number of shorter works in various genres. Bridge completed his first major orchestral score, a Symphonic Poem (sometimes referred to as Mid of the Night), shortly after completing his studies. Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Franck and Fauré are notable influences on this period.

The works completed in the following years suggest a search for a more mature and expressive idiom, culminating in the tumultuous First String Quartet and a series of Phantasies for chamber ensembles. His orchestral idiom developed more gradually, reaching a new maturity in The Sea of 1911, which was to become his most popular and successful orchestral work, receiving frequent performances at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts during his lifetime.

In the period leading up to the First World War Bridge demonstrates an interest in more noticeably modernist tendencies, most notably in Dance Poem of 1913, which suggests the influence of Stravinsky and Debussy. During the war period, his exploration generally took more moderate forms - most often a pastoralism influenced by impressionism - although work such as the Two Poems for orchestra and several piano pieces display significant developments in his harmonic language, specifically towards a coloristic, non-functional use of harmony, and a preference for harmony derived from symmetrical scales such as whole tone and octatonic. During the same period Bridge completed two of his most successful chamber works, the Second String Quartet and Cello Sonata.(Payne1984,[page needed])

During the 1920s Bridge pursued his ambitions to write more serious, substantial works. The Piano Sonata was the first major work to showcase his mature, post-tonal language on a substantial scale. This language is developed and used more effectively in the Third String Quartet, which sparked a series of major orchestral and chamber works, several of which rank among Bridge's greatest (Huss 2015,[page needed]; Payne1984,[page needed]).

A final group of works followed in the late 1930s and early 40s, including a Fourth String Quartet, and overture Rebus, and the first movement of a projected Symphony for strings.

Although not an organist himself, and not personally associated with music of the English Church, his short pieces for organ have been among the most-performed of all his output (Hindmarsh 1980).


See List of compositions by Frank Bridge.


  • Anon. 1915. "Concerts. &c" (classified advertisement). The Times, issue 40960 (Wednesday, 15 September): 1.
  • Anon. 2014. Seasons: 1915 Season". Proms 2014: 18 July – 13 September. BBC Radio 3 website (accessed 27 June 2014).
  • Cerabona, Ron. 2014. "Pianists Celebrate Wartime Composers". Canberra Times (8 May).
  • Hindmarsh, Paul. 1980. Liner notes for The Organ Music of Frank Bridge. Stuart Campbell, organ. (LP recording, 1 disc) Pearl SHE 545. Kent: Pearl Records.
  • Huss, Fabian. 2015. The Music of Frank Bridge. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781783270590.
  • Kildea, Paul. 2013. Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 9780141924304 (pbk); ISBN 9781846142321. Reprinted, London: Penguin Books, 2014. ISBN 9781846142338 (pbk).
  • Meyer, Leonard B. 1967. Music, the Arts, and Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-52141-1.
  • Mitchell, Donald (ed.). 1991. Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten 1913–1976, assistant editor Philip Reed; associate editors Rosamund Strode, Kathleen Mitchell, and Judy Young. Vol. 1: 1923–1939. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 9780571152216.
  • Payne, Anthony. 1984. Frank Bridge: Radical and Conservative. Published in conjunction with the Frank Bridge Trust. London: Thames Publishing. ISBN 9780905210254.
  • Payne, Anthony, Lewis Foreman, and John Bishop. 1976. The Music of Frank Bridge. London: Thames Publishing. ISBN 9780905210025.
  • Payne, Anthony, Paul Hindmarsh, and Lewis Foreman. 2001. "Bridge, Frank". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

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