Friday, 21 December 2012

Frank Bridge: Winter Pastoral for piano solo

Winter Pastoral which dates from 1925 is written in Bridge’s ‘later’ chromatic style. In this case it is not a virtuosic piece; it can be played by any good pianist. However, its ‘chilly’ language and subtle balance of dissonance and traditional harmonies are difficult to ‘pull off’ well. Compared to some of Bridge's more romantic sounding piano music it has a very spare texture. 
The work is played ‘andante molto moderato’ throughout – with a short ‘poco largamente’ at bar 27.  However, there are a couple of time signature changes from the prevailing 6/4 to 9/4. 
Few works of this period (by any composer) opened with a four-bar melodic figure, unsupported by any harmony. Note the preponderance of the interval of the perfect fourth and the use of the tritone harmony (G to C#) at bar 3. This adds to the bleakness of the music. 

The composer repeats and varies this theme, which is the first thematic statement, throughout the work.  The second thematic group is first heard at bar 10:-

The harmonic effect is typically created by counterpoising a dissonant chord followed by, in this case a C major chord with an added 4th. Bridge relaxes the dissonance in this thematic group, however typically the first chord is harsher than the one that follows it. 
At this point (bar 24 below) Bridge makes use of a harmonic cycle of thirds. The progression begins with C major, E minor  then to A major and F major. The following bar has a cycle of seconds: - C major, D major, E minor down a perfect 5th to A major.  There is not a single harsh harmony in these bars. 

The ‘poco largamente’ section begins at bar 27. This is brittle music that has the ‘melody’ played by both hands an octave apart and is decorated with chords of the tritone.

The work concludes with a reprise of the opening unaccompanied theme.

Winter Pastoral describes a cold, frosty morning to perfection. However, it is a million miles away from any kind of ‘folksy’ bucolic pastoral scene.  As Chung Sik Bae has remarked in his thesis Frank Bridge’s Solo Piano Works (1996) ‘its peaceful and bucolic spirit seems warm enough t melt the cold and frosty winter season.’  He suggest that he spacious texture and colorisitic harmonic sonorities create a quiet winter scene with occasional snow dropping from white trees stirred by a gentle wind.’
Jed Adie Galant in his thesis The Solo Piano works of Frank Bridge  (1987) has written that this work is, in fact, a melancholy recollection of the earlier Miniature Pastorals (1917, 1921) and of the English pastoral[e] in general.’
The reviewer in the Musical Times (Septeber 1928) states that Winter Pastoral is a ‘vivid little work giving exactly the right note of bleakness and solemnity’. He concludes by suggesting that ‘it is not over fanciful to say that one can sense in Bridge’s music that the landscape has character apart from its winter bareness or its summer luxuriance. The music seems to touch something not merely superficial, but essential.’
Finally, Calum Macdonald gives a pleasing account of this work in his liner notes for Peter Jacobs recording of this work. He notes that ‘it shows Bridge approaching his latest manner in terms of refinement and economy of gesture.’ He points out the ‘single  dolce tune wending its way through a bare and frosty landscape [with] open fifth hanging in the air like puffs of condensing breaths.’

Frank Bridge added the date 4 December 1928 at the end of the holograph. However, the composer produced a ‘final autography copy’ of the work which incorporated a number of changes. Winter Pastoral (H168) was published by Augener in 1928. 

Peter Jacobs, Frank Bridge: Complete Music for Piano Volume 1:  Continuum CCD1016
Mark Bebbington, Frank Bridge Piano Music Volume III: SOMM CD0107

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