Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Frank Bridge Gargoyle (1928) for piano solo

The last original solo piano piece that Frank Bridge wrote [1] is usually regarded as his ‘harmonically most advanced piano work.’ This short piece, lasting about three minutes, is certainly one of the hardest of composer’s works to come to terms with.  
Gargoyle was composed in at Friston, Sussex during July 1928. It was given the title provisionally: the manuscript has a question mark against the name. It was rejected by his publisher Boosey and Hawkes: ‘the advanced bitonal procedures being [apparently] an uneconomic proposition’. It was returned to the composer and placed in an envelope: it lay unheard until 1975, when the pianist Isobel Woods performed it on 21 December 1975 at a Glasgow University Annual Conference of Research Students. It was given its first concert performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by Richard Rodney Bennett on 31 January 1977. The score was edited by Paul Hindmarsh and duly issued by Thames Publishing the same year.

It is perhaps easiest to follow Jed Adie Galant (The Solo Piano of Frank Bridge, 1987, Thesis) and regard ‘Gargoyle’ as being ‘essentially a bitonal or perhaps even atonal, two-part invention in ternary form.  Bitonal typically means music written in two keys at once, played simultaneously. Ternary form usually means and ABA structure. However in the present case the form is not obvious to the causal listener.  Finally, an invention is a two or three-part work for keyboard that is designed for technical proficiency rather than public performance. The most famous examples are Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two and Three Part Inventions and Sinfonias BWV 772–801.

Calum MacDonald in the liner notes for Peter Jacob’s recording of ‘Gargoyle’ suggests that the music is an ‘astonishing, eldritch, (weird, uncanny) [and] sardonically witty piece’.  He notes the ‘spiky, angular melodic material, bitonal harmonies, frequent biting dissonance and stark, uncompromising textures’. He concludes by suggesting that this is ‘...a brilliantly vivid impression of some scuttling, sarcastic, impish being.’
According to Anthony Goldstone in the programme notes for his recording of the work, ‘Bridge's transformed musical language was eminently suited to suggest a grotesque, grimacing figure, and an alarming, ironic mood is instantly set. Jagged motifs, fanfares and a violent 'curse' give way to a pitiful central song; after a modified reprise the coda quotes a sardonic version of the song and a final violent outburst melts into a Scriabinesque haze.’
Yet in spite of the bitonal procedures, its largely atonal mood and the impressionistic feel, there is certain intangible something to ‘Gargoyle’ that makes this piece equally a part of Bridge’s canon of piano music as the salon pieces of the Edwardian years.

Frank Bridge’s ‘Gargoyle’ is currently available on three recording, although not all of them may be easily obtainable:-
Frank Bridge Piano Music Vol.III, Mark Bebbington SOMM CD0107
Frank Bridge Complete Music for Piano Volume 1, Peter Jacobs CONTINUUM CCD 016
Britten Resonances, Anthony Goldstone DIVERSIONS 24118
For immediate hearing there is a YouTube file which also displays the score. 

[1] One further ‘original’ piano piece did appear from Frank Bridge’s pen – Todessehnsucht (Come Sweet Death) was an arrangement of a piece by J.S. Bach for A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen published in 1931 and given its first performance by the dedicatee on 17 October 1932 at he Queen’s Hall. 

Thanks to Britain Express for web-photo

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