The mystery behind this wonderful figure…perhaps adds to the allure of his pieces. Privacy is often disregarded as one of the most valuable tools in preserving the true value of a piece of music.
Bridge found his ultimate expression through his music. This is utterly evident in the absolute expressiveness coming through his pieces. They all seem to reach for some intangible bit of life. Hopeful, yet extremely fragile in depth.
Bridge was deeply affected by World War I and this had great affect on his pieces notably.
Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.
To write this account of Bridge’s life was both a rewarding and a frustrating enterprise: rewarding because it provided the opportunity of coming into contact, albeit only at second hand, with the life of a highly distinguished musician whose contribution to English music, once almost forgotten, is now becoming increasingly recognized as of substantial importance; frustrating because the material available for researching into Bridge’s life is limited. Bridge died childless, and many of the usual artefacts that biographers rely on for their information – letters, diaries, photographs, memorabilia of all sorts, frequently handed down through the family – are missing, almost without doubt destroyed. Bridge’s earlier life is especially problematic from this point of view. The biographer has to rely basically on those facts relating to his student activities that are contained in the archives of the Royal College of Music, London, and on reports in the musical press for his achievements of the following ten years or so. Bridge’s personality at this point remains in the shadow.
However, from roughly 1920 on, the picture becomes clearer. Two of Bridge’s closest friends, whom he had originally met around that time, had the foresight to preserve his correspondence, and so we can read with great interest and fascination of his thoughts and feelings, of his ideas on a wide variety of subjects, both musical and extra-musical. His personality emerges unmistakably. Indeed, both Bridge and his wife were excellent letter writers; at the very least their letters are always entertaining. Therefore we can but regret that very little of Bridge’s correspondence survives from earlier in his life. In addition, although there are significant collections of letters to a handful of recipients, their replies have not been preserved. Thus there are letters from Bridge to Britten, but sadly none in return. The only large collection of letters extant from a correspondent of Bridge’s is that of Mrs Coolidge, the American patron of chamber music and his benefactor. Unfortunately these tend to be of a rather formal nature – they were tidily typed, copied and filed by her secretary.
Bridge could indeed be a ‘figure of happiness’, his high spirits finding an outlet in his sense of humour. Daphne Oliver, a close neighbour during the 1930s, remembers how amused he was when she referred to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden String Quartet as ‘Death and the Major’. When she realized that something was not quite right, she offered as her second attempt ‘Death and the Minor’, provoking further amusement. She described Bridge as having a predominantly gentle disposition, never a bully, and if ever cross, would temper annoyance with laughter.4 He was full of vitality, his abundant nervous energy finding release not only in his musical activities and high spirits but in talking. According to Ethel Bridge: ‘You know Frank’s trouble – he was vaccinated with a gramophone needle!’
The three main problems that Bridge had to face during the immediate post-war years – financial insecurity, concern about his creativity, and the painful adjustment that had to be made regarding the new post-war world – were inseparable and appeared depressingly insoluble. How could he ensure that he had sufficient time for composition yet also be able to earn enough money for living expenses? A solution to the problem came not from England, where he was well-known, nor from Australia – he proposed to emigrate and start a new life there – but from quite a different quarter, America, where he was almost unknown.
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