The Late Works: 82
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Title graphic: Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief
The Late Works: 83

Here Bridge is referring to his only opera, The Christmas Rose. As suggested in the letter, the bulk of the music had been written in 1919, but the opera was then abandoned. However, even while working on the slow movement of the Piano Sonata, he insisted that after completing the whole work he would return to the opera and finish it, 'by hook or by crook',15 which indeed he did, but only as late as 1929. Why was there such a delay?

There were in fact at least three good reasons for abandoning the opera. Firstly, the music exhibits a multifaceted idiom typical of the middle period of Bridge's stylistic development, with diatonic, modal and chromatic sections juxtaposed. However, as Bridge came to realise that he needed to create a more integrated language, which he achieved in the Piano Sonata, the stylistic diversity of the music in The Christmas Rose must have appeared less and less satisfactory.

Secondly, the libretto is weak. It was taken from a children's play by Margaret Kemp-Welch and Constance Cotterell, the plot based on the story of the shepherds at the nativity, the appearance of the angel before them, the journey to Bethlehem following the star and the worship at the manger. Contrary to the traditional interpretation of this story, it is not the shepherds who are the main protagonists, but two of their children, Miriam and Reuben. It is the children's faith and their determination to join in the mystery of the nativity that inspire the miracle that acts as the plot's climax - Miriam's tears of frustration and bitterness are transformed into a white rose bush, a present for the baby Jesus. Although a theatrical, staged setting of this plot is hardly inconceivable (witness the many similar school nativity plays), the Kemp-Welch/Cotterell libtretto makes little dramatic impact - one critic branded it as 'the most lame, uncharacterized libretto conceivable'.16 Even Britten, having received a copy of the vocal score as a present from Bridge in December 1931, could dismiss the libretto while marvelling at the music.17

15 Letter, Frank Bridge to Marjorie Fass, 12 May 1922.
16 Opera, February 1966, p 164.
17 That Britten also composed an opera, The Turn of the Screw (1954), with two of the main characters as children can hardly be a coincidence.