Thursday, 24 September 2009

W.W. Cobbett writing on Frank Bridge

Walter Wilson Cobbett was the best known musical amateur of his day: he was a chamber music enthusiast par excellence. What he did for chamber music and almost especially the stringed instruments by means of his famous and well supported competition is almost too great to be estimated. Composers as diverse as Frank Bridge, Elizabeth Maconchy and Benjamin Britten have entered and/or won these competitions.

Frank Bridge has done more than any British composer to bring about consciously or unconsciously, my projected revival of the old English Fancies. The three Phantasies found in the catalogue, which are the outcome of certain of my competitions, are modern Fancies in one movement. The Quartet for piano and strings is memorable for the thrilling climax contained in its concluding bars, and the Trio Phantasy for its wealth of thematic material. All are short works, styled by Sir Charles Stanford in his work on composition, tabloid sonatas.

Other short works by Frank Bridge are still more in the nature of Fancies than those I have mentioned, for example the Londonderry Air, in which some florid passages form an embroidery round the central theme, and Sally in our Alley And Cherry Ripe, which are true folksong Phantasies, though not so styled.

The Miniature Trios for children I hope you all know. The children of today are lucky little people. Their literature, their music, even their toys interest grown-ups as much as the little ones themselves. The reputation, however, of Frank Bridge rests mainly upon his delightful Idylls and the Noveletten, and still more upon his works composed in full sonata form, some of which have yet to be published, notably the Piano Quintet and Sextet. The two full Quartets in the catalogue are of a high grade of excellence. The first, in E minor, contains many features worthy of mention. The lovely second subject of the opening movement always haunts me for days after I have played it, and I find the Adagio as full of deep feeling as anything Tchaikovsky wrote.

The second Quartet, in G, won one of my prizes, and is an altogether bigger work, appealing perhaps to musicians more than anything this composer has written. He has chosen subjects less for their melodic curve than for their rhythmic nature and capacity for musical treatment. I stipulated that the two violins should be of equal importance, and this has led to a richness of effect not surpassed by Brahms himself. In his management of string he is unequalled by any British composer.
The Music Student November 1918 p98/100 [minor edits]

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