It is well-known that Frank Bridge (1879-1941) had been minded to compose a symphony since the 1920s. Various other commitments got in the way, including commissions from his patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and a loss of confidence in his stylistic development. It was not until 1940 that he began work on this project. Unfortunately, before his death, Bridge had completed only the first movement (a few bars had to be added by the editor) and three sketches which may represent his thoughts for subsequent movements. This implies that the present ‘Allegro moderato’ is likely to have been a first movement, rather than a single movement symphony.
After completion of the Violin Sonata, H.183 in 1932 there had been relatively few new works. The Overture: Rebus for orchestra, H.191 was completed in August 1940. The previous year had seen the Three Pieces for organ, H.190. The most significant work of this period was the expressionist and demanding Fourth String Quartet, H.188 (1937). The only other piece of importance was the Bergian Three Divertimenti, H.189 (1938). There had been a number of false starts including fragments of a concerto, H.184 (1934), a short seasonal piece, A Merry, Merry Xmas for oboe, clarinet, trombone piano, H.185 (1934), sketches for a Viola sonata, H.186 (1935-6) and a String Quartet movement, H.187 (c.1936).
Jürgen Schaarwächter (2015) writes that Bridge had affixed a visiting card on the score stating ‘Unfinished Symphony for Strings, Nov/Dec 1940 – Jan (10) 1941.’ A footnote suggests that the ‘(10)’ was probably added by another hand: it has ‘been written over an earlier erasure.’ It was not the composer’s usual compositional practice to begin the full score of a work until the ‘rough draft’ was complete. Paul Hindmarsh (1983) has suggested that Bridge may have felt that he would not finish the entire symphony so began orchestration immediately. Frank Bridge died on 10 January 1941, a few days after this card had been affixed. He was staying at Friston in Sussex at this time.
It is well-known that Marjorie Fass, the composer’s friend and companion, asked Benjamin Britten to complete the symphony. He declined or ignored the request. She had written to him:
What a sad, sad grief our telegram must have been to you. I am so deeply sorry for what you have lost in our lovely old Franco, with all his sweetness, his greatness and his gentleness. Thank heaven he was spared suffering – for his heart just stopped in his sleep. He had been out in the snow and bitter wind for a day or so and must have caught a chill on his tummy… By the time… [the] doctor came it was too late… His arteries were hardened and his heart too weak to stand the vomiting… Lovely that during this war he could turn his mind with his beautiful world of sound, and write the Overture Rebus… and he was making a fair copy of a string symphony he liked very much – and told Eth[el]. that we should like. Alas the score isn’t finished – and how we long for our Benji to look over the sketches and see what he meant to do. Perhaps you will some day… Friston 23.1.41 (Hindmarsh, 1983)
In the late 1970s Dr Anthony Pople produced his performing edition of the ‘Allegro moderato’ from the surviving score and sketches. The last twenty-one bars of the movement were orchestrated from a ‘complete and fairly explicit sketch’. The details of the methodology behind the movement’s completion are included in Paul Hindmarsh’s Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (1983).
The full score and parts were published by Faber in 1979. A study score of the work is also available.
Hindmarsh (1983) has suggested that this fragment ‘offers a gritty and a powerful foretaste of what might have been.’ It is clear that Frank Bridge was ensuring that his music was once again becoming more accessible to the concert-goer than some of his recent ‘modernist’ experiments.
Fabian Huss (2015) writes that the ‘Allegro moderato’ is ‘classical in tone’. It uses ‘modest forces’ and has a ‘more restrained idiom’ than is usual for Bridge’s orchestral music. Huss adumbrates some reasons for this: ‘concentrated expression, economy of means and forces and emphasis on contrast between strongly characterised sections’ of the work. He presents a detailed analysis of the music.
The ‘Allegro moderato’ has some 379 bars. The music develops almost imperceptibly, but works up to a considerable climax. The movement ends on the same chord with which it opened. Hindmarsh (Liner Notes, Chandos CHAN 10188) explains that this ‘elaborate sonata form’ does not have the ‘internal range or contrast that his single movement ‘Phantasies’ possess.
Interestingly much of the harmonic material of this movement utilises ‘quartal chords’ – that is chords built up on the interval of a fourth (C-F) rather than thirds (C-E), although use is also made of triadic harmonies in this movement.
On Wednesday 20 June 1979 the first performance of Frank Bridge’s ‘Allegro moderato’ was given at the Aldeburgh Festival.
Other works at this concert at the Maltings, Snape included Benjamin Britten’s Nocturne for tenor voice, seven obligato instruments and string orchestra, op.60, (1958) and Young Apollo: Fanfare for pianoforte solo, string quartet and string orchestra (1939). Bridge was also represented by with his tragic ‘Lament’, H.117 (1915) for string orchestra (1914) and his Suite for string orchestra, H.93 (1910). The English Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Steuart Bedford and the soloists were Peter Pears (tenor) and Michael Roll (piano).
The report on concert given by Kenneth Loveland in the Musical Times (August 1979), proclaimed that this was ‘a real Aldeburgh occasion…[which] brought together music previously unheard at the festival from teacher and pupil: a pleasantly contrapuntal ‘Allegro moderato’ intended by Frank Bridge for a symphony for strings that never materialized…and Britten's Young Apollo written for the Canadian Broadcasting Service in 1939 for the unusual forces of piano (Michael Roll making much of the virtuoso writing), string quartet and strings, a piece fairly bursting with exuberant invention.’
Richard D. C. Noble (Music & Musicians, December 1979) reviewing concert and recording insists that the ‘Allegro moderato’s’ ending is too ‘inconclusive’ to imply that the work was ‘complete in itself’. He notes the expansive sonata form underlying the work’s construction, but devoid of a ‘development section as such.’ Noble concludes his review by suggesting that it ‘clearly serves as a prelude for unknown things to come, troubled things we may be sure, for the music is dark hued and disturbed, yet expertly written.’ The remaining sketches of the subsequent movements would bear this contention out.
To be continued...