Letters 4
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Title graphic: Music
1: The Edwardian Period

Bridge's Edwardian music is based on a conservative lingua franca flourishing in Europe around 1900 that was derived essentially from Brahms. In Bridge's case, this idiom is tempered to a certain extent by the teaching of Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London, and by Bridge's already considerable knowledge of, in particular, the chamber-music repertoire. The music unfolds in leisurely paragraphs, with different instruments conversing in luxuriant countermelodies, the part-writing highly professional and the music for each instrument emphasizing its particular strengths, thus guaranteeing that it is rewarding for the performers to play.

The Phantasy Piano Trio in C minor (1907), typical of this style, also exhibits the preferred shape that Bridge created in response to the requirements stipulated by Cobbett for his competition entries. The outer sections of a sonata form movement, the exposition and recapitulation, encompass a development section that is replaced by either slow or scherzo-like material or both. The arch structure is clarified in the Phantasy Piano Quartet in F sharp minor (1910) by reversing the first and second subjects in the recapulation, with the tension created by the onward momentum released in a slow coda in F sharp major.

Britten took part in a recording of this, his favourite among Bridge's earlier chamber works, and also drew on the second of Bridge's Idylls (1906) for string quartet for the theme of his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), the rich chromaticism and concise motivic structure proving a highly fruitful inspiration for Britten's breathtaking work, composed in his early twenties.

In contrast to Bridge's chamber works of this period, the orchestral works are poetic and programmatic in nature. The Dance Rhapsody (1908) exhibits an exuberance and vitality that approaches Straussian dimensions, and the four-movement suite, The Sea (1911), exemplifies both Bridge's sympathy for nature and two of the primary strengths of his compositional technique, his orchestration and his contrapuntal skill. The contrasting themes of the second movement, Sea Foam, are combined contrapuntally later during the movement.