Archive for January 14th, 2016

Frank Bridge Reborn

Britten immortalised his teacher Frank Bridge in a set of variations but isn’t it time we recognised Bridge for the innovative composer he really was?

Over 50 years after his death, Frank Bridge is still primarily remembered as the composer of some delightful songs and as the teacher of Benjamin Britten. Britten himself would have been dismayed at this: as a young man he counted Bridge alongside Stravinsky and Schoenberg as one of the few ‘real composers’ then living. Later he programmed Bridge’s works alongside his own at the Aldeburgh Festival in an attempt to make them better known. But Bridge remains on the fringe of the repertory (or beyond it) despite his pupil’s advocacy.

Or because of it, perhaps? The greatest teachers aren’t necessarily the greatest composers, and we can read Beethoven’s affectionate message to his teacher, Christian Gottlob Neefe (‘If I ever become a great man, you will share part of my success’), or Verdi’s warm memory of his, Vincenzo Lavigna (‘I wish all teachers were like him’) without feeling any need to hear their music (though Neefe, as it happens, wrote some good songs). Surely Britten’s affection, like theirs, was due to gratitude and fond piety, not to any realistic assessment of Frank Bridge’s talent?

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