Friends 2
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3: Benjamin Britten
Audrey Alston

Audrey Alston

Audrey Alston was the founder of the music club, 'The Beloved Vagabonds' at the Royal College of Music, and had continued to keep in touch with the Bridges when she became the wife of a Norfolk rector. Britten began taking viola lessons with her probably in 1923. When Bridge visited Norwich in 1927 to conduct the premiere of Enter Spring, he agreed, albeit reluctantly, to be introduced to the 13-year old boy. However, following an inspection of Britten's music, Bridge accepted him as one of his very few composition pupils.

Lessons began on 10 January 1928, but Bridge's influence extended far beyond these. There were frequent outings to concerts - they sat together to hear Furtwängler and Koussevitzky conduct, and also the first performance in England of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. They attended the Berg memorial concert in 1936 - Bridge regarded Berg's music highly, particularly Wozzeck - and two Schoenberg performances, Pierrot Lunaire and the Orchestral Variations, Bridge introducing Britten to Schoenberg during the interval at the latter concert. Bridge also gave Britten presents of scores of his own works and those of others and could provide shrewd first-hand advice on what it was to be a composer.

Britten and Bridge playing tennis at 'Friston Field' in 1930

Britten and Bridge playing tennis at 'Friston Field' in 1930.

Indeed, in time, Britten gained admittance to the circle of friends surrounding Bridge, and a room was set by for his many visits to 'Friston Field'. Bridge would drive Britten around the Sussex downland countryside opening his eyes to its great beauty; they often played tennis together; they could talk and talk, each sympathetic to each other's views, socialist and pacifist. The only bone of contention was Mahler's music, which Bridge found not to his taste. Nonetheless, that did not prevent him from buying Britten the score of Mahler's Fifth Symphony as a Christmas present in 1936. Britten became Bridge's 'quasi-adopted son', and when Britten reached America in 1939, Bridge was very anxious that Mrs Coolidge should meet Britten through him, 'because he is a part of me'. (Letter to Mrs Coolidge, dated 4 July, 1939.) Sadly, Bridge died before Britten's return to England in 1942.