Isolation: 70
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Title graphic: Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief
Isolation: 71

The first composition lessons proper began on 10 January the following year, and of necessity took place during Britten's holidays from his preparatory school. However, as Britten explained, they were very long and completely in earnest:

Even though I was barely in my teens, this was immensely serious and professional study; and the lessons were mammoth. I remember one that started at half past 10, and at tea-time Mrs Bridge came in and said, 'Really, you must give the boy a break.' Often I used to end these marathons in tears; not that he was beastly to me, but the concentrated strain was too much for me ... This strictness was the product of nothing but professionalism. Bridge insisted on the absolutely clear relationship of what was in my mind to what was on the paper ... His loathing of all sloppiness and amateurishness set me standards to aim for that I've never forgotten. 22

The immediate results of these early lessons were the remarkably precocious Quatre Chansons Françaises for soprano and orchestra, completed during August 1928.

Three months later and most probably on Bridge's advice, Britten began taking piano lessons with Harold Samuel, but this led to a touchy problem concerning who should teach Britten composition when he entered the Royal College of Music in 1930. Unbeknown to Bridge, Samuel had suggested R O Morris, and furthermore had arranged for Britten to study under him. Bridge on the other hand favoured Ireland, and the contents of a letter in which Bridge argues his case (in the event successfully) are indicative of the great care and wisdom that he bestowed on his relationship with Britten:

Personally I think an institution only helps one to find one's feet, but as the teacher you spoke of and John Ireland are almost two different schools of thought, that is if one can make any comparison when the first is not a composer and the other is, it does appear necessary to get into touch with the right influence in order to get the best out of your R.C.M. days ... But, if you would ask yourself whether you want to be in touch with one whose understanding must be, obviously, more firmly and mostly entrenched in the past (all very sound, of course) than with one whose foundation of musical technique is, let me say, equally classical, but who has been a creator of music for many years and furthermore, has the instinct of a fine musical mind, (no-one can make the reputation such as John Ireland has, without being an outstanding personality, whether all musicians agree about his work or not) then I should say you would know almost at once which course to take.

Your difficulty, at the moment, is that you have asked two people for advice. If I were a young man I should plump for a live composer whose activities are part of the present-day outlook with a heavy leaning towards tomorrow's!23

22 B Britten, 'Britten Looking Back', Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 1963, p 9. The influence of Bridge's composition lessons with Stanford cannot be overlooked here.
23 Letter, Frank Bridge to Benjamin Britten, 13 August 1930. See D Mitchell and P Reed, Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, Faber, 1991, Vol 1, p 133.