Frank Bridge

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)

Nationality: English
Born: February 26, 1879, Brighton Died: January 10, 1941, Eastbourne (age 61)

Pensiero, H.53

(for viola and piano)
Duration: 5 minutes (approximately)
Composed: c. 1906 (age 26-27)
Published: 1908 (age 28-29)
4 recordings, 4 videos
Maxim Rysanov, Evelyn Chang
Christine Rutledge, Ksenia Nosikova
Louise Williams, David Owen Norris
Martin Outram, Julian Rolton
From Kai Christiansen

Frank Bridge, 1879-1941

Two Pieces for Viola and Piano, 1908 Pensiero Allegro appassionato

Frank BridgeFrank Bridge was an English composer who flourished during the early part of the 20th century. A student of Charles Stanford, Bridge was a generation younger than Edward Elgar, a contemporary of Ralph Vaughan Williams and a generation older than Benjamin Britten, one of his students. This places Bridge within a complex intersection of artistic and historical developments. The French music of Debussy and Ravel had a strong impact on Bridge's generation which found a comfortable blend within a tradition of English "pastorale" music that emphasized a kind of foggy impressionism of modality, mist and melancholy. The new Viennese school of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern staged a musical revolution within Bridge's lifetime that would strongly influence his own mature chamber compositions in a stylistic shift that would obscure his popularity. The early part of the century witnessed a renaissance of chamber music in England with a rediscovery of Elizabethan consort music that helped inspire the Cobbett's "Phantasy" competitions for new English string chamber music. Both Bridge and Vaughan Williams submitted outstanding compositions for these contests to create a modern "fancie." And it was during this time that Lionel Tertis, a fellow Englishman just a few years Bridge's senior, became the first internationally famous violist thereby granting his instrument a new respectability among its kin, the violin and cello. Bridge was an outstanding violist who played with professional chamber ensembles and contributed to the English musical literature noted for its special love affair with the viola.

While his works for orchestra, art song and solo piano were highly regarded, it is not surprising that Bridge has become most well known for his chamber works, a sizable collection for all the traditional ensembles spanning a range of styles that eventually placed Bridge among the most radical composers of his time. But Bridge was historically cursed by the brutal tragedy of two world wars, the second of which he did not live to see resolved. A devout pacifist, Bridge suffered tremendous disillusionment and bitterness and it is likely that his reputation was obscured along with so many things of those dark times that did not survive. Fortunately, his work is being rediscovered.

In the fashion of the times with a thriving market for relatively mass consumption of domestic chamber music, many of Bridge's miniatures were published with a variety of scorings featuring any one of the stringed instruments and piano. Among this cache of skillfully crafted character pieces, one finds two that were written specifically for viola and piano and published during his lifetime. It was the famous Lionel Tertis who asked Bridge to compose some new works for the initial issues of the "Tertis Viola Library", an effort to establish a new repertoire for the instrument. Written around 1906, they were published in 1908 and provide a lovely showcase for Bridge's early style. Very much a reflection of their time and place, both pieces evoke that haunting admixture of French-derived impressionism, English folk modality and an atmosphere of wistful reverie that graces the music of Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams among others. The mellow and husky tone of the viola is ideally suited to the character of the music. Titled Pensiero (contemplation) and Allegro appassionato, they offer a wonderful introduction to Bridge's art by way of contrast. In the words of John Bishop, they " . . . show two of the most important sides of Bridge's musical personality—the former piece restrained and elegiac, the latter exuberant and expansive—and a sophisticated compositional technique."

© Kai Christiansen and Music at Kohl Mansion. All rights reserved.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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