Isolation: 63
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Title graphic: Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief
Isolation: 64

Year by year the strong position of the nationalists became even more entrenched, and the dislike for the music of the central European avant-garde that often accompanied an admiration for the nationalists reached excessive proportions. One of Britten's experiences when he was a student at the Royal College in the early 1930s provides evidence for this. Britten explains:

I'd finished at College with a small travelling scholarship and wanted to go to Vienna [to study with Berg] ... But when the College was told, coolness arose. I think, but can't be sure, that the Director, Sir Hugh Allen, put a spoke in the wheel. At any rate when I said at home during the holidays, 'I am going to study with Berg, aren't I?', the answer was a firm, 'No dear'. Pressed, my mother said, 'He's not a good influence', which I suspect came from Allen.2 3

Bridge's attitude towards nationalism was clear:

You really cannot speak of nationality in music, since art is world-wide. If there is to be any expression of national spirit, it must be the expression of the composer's own thoughts and feelings, and must come from the promptings of his own inspiration; he cannot seek it, and any effort on his part to aim at it as a national expression must end in failure.4 5

Hence, faced with a choice between a nationalist or internationalist approach, Bridge adopted the latter,6 a decision that brought him isolation and to a large extent the disapproval of the critics. They simply could not accept the fact that Bridge's stylistic development was an organic one rather than a deliberate attempt to up-date his music with some nasty noises. Herbert Hughes, in a review of the first performance of the Second Piano Trio, took this view:

Mr Bridge's trio was a proposition of a different order. This was patently 1929 - owing a good deal to Scriabin and more to Schoenberg. As it proceeded one wondered whether Mr Bridge had not somewhat forced upon himself this style of writing, whether the greater part of this trio had any real meaning, even superficial, to the composer himself. We are, or so it seems to me, faced today, in this present international vogue of atonalism, with a new species of Kapellmeistermusik. Mr Bridge is not the only instance of a composer on this side of the Channel having suddenly adopted a manner (as he did in the recent piano sonata) that bears no recognizable relationship to his own natural development.7

2 D Mitchell and P Read, in the first volume of their Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, Faber, 1991, p.395, discuss the possibility that Britten's suggestion of Allen might have been mistaken. However, whether it was specifically Allen or not, the substantive point remains.
3 Quotation taken from B Britten, 'Britten Looking Back', Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 1963, p 9. The idea of studying with Berg was almost undoubtedly Bridge's. In a letter to Mrs Coolidge, 8 May 1936, Bridge wrote of Berg: 'What a shock we all felt can hardly be described when we heard that Alban Berg had died. A great loss to music such as can hardly be appraised. He was to my mind the outstanding composer of recent years. "Wozzeck" is a work of genius and in spite of an apparent complexity has such human and emotional touches that it is far above the general output of most modern composers. That he did not say "Away with sentiment" made me more than ordinarily sympathetic. How I remember - with you in Vienna - the meetings at the Kolisch Quartet rehearsals 1927'.
4 Quoted in P J Nolan, Musical America, 17 November 1923, p 3.
5 Folk-song too was anathema. Writing to Britten, Bridge commented: 'Certainly the fundamental Moeran is a nice sensitive musician, but I am more than ever right off PHOKE ZONG'. Letter, 9 August 1934.
6 This is, of course, despite the fact that Bridge's music is hardly devoid of nationalist features, his pastoralism, for instance, in such works as Summer, the first of the Two Poems and the central section of Enter Spring.
7 Daily Telegraph, 6 November 1929.