Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Ethel and Frank Bridge, 1923
Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge devoted to music a good portion of her fortune, which she inherited as a Chicago canned-pork heiress. In 1918 she founded the Berkshire Festival at her home near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a three-day event devoted to chamber music, and to this festival she invited her guests from all over the world at her own expense. For her festival in 1923, she decided that both the performers and the music should be predominantly English.
The Bridges had been introduced to Mrs Coolidge during May the year before, and she attended a private performance of the Sextet that had been arranged on her behalf. Friendship developed quickly, so much so that Mrs Coolidge invited them to join her on a motor tour of France during the summer. By the following November (1922) the invitation to the festival was proposed, the idea for the conducting tour suggested, and Mrs Coolidge promised that there would be plenty of time for sight-seeing. In the event the Bridges stayed for more than three months.
For the next decade, Mrs Coolidge and Bridge met each other each year, usually when she was involved in her annual pilgrimage to Europe. Another motor tour took place in 1925, visiting en route the Swiss and Italian Alps and the French Riviera, and then continuing down the east coast of Italy, finally turning inland to Sienna and Florence. Sometimes Mrs Coolidge's abundant energy provoked irritated outbursts from Ethel Bridge: 'You know, a fortnight of this Continental rush is enough for a horse ... I don't know when I've ever felt so tired out and even my hair is ever so much whiter and I feel an utter ragshop ... How she [Mrs Coolidge] can go on all day and night is more than I know, she recuperates so quickly, has only to rest for 15 minutes and then is ready for anything again'. (Letters to Marjorie Fass, 3 and 5 August, 1925)
Meetings in Europe were interspersed with Bridge undertaking visits to the USA - in 1926, 1930, 1934 and 1938. Mrs Coolidge arranged performances of Bridge's works each time, often American premieres. The climax of the final visit was the ceremony at the Library of Congress, Washington, where Bridge received Mrs Coolidge's Foundation Medal, a fitting tribute to a lifetime's devotion to chamber music and a friendship of over fifteen years.