Leslie Bridgewater

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Leslie Bridgewater, Pianist, Conductor and Composer by Philip L Scowcroft

Ernest Leslie (but usually known as Leslie) Bridgewater is a prime example of a light music man whose career was largely made by the BBC, for whom he worked for many years, and although he did work in other musical areas these were again, arguably and for the most part, light music.


He was born in Halesowen (Worcestershire, now West Midlands) and educated at the Birmingham School of Music where he studied with York Bowen and, interestingly, Roberto Gerhard. His Midland roots were strong, as later in life he was Music Adviser to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon (1948-59), in which capacity he composed incidental music to at least twenty of Shakespeare’s plays, though a few were for the London stage. Much of his other incidental music was for ‘old plays’, Restoration and Victorian, though one more modern play, Dodie Smith’s "Dear Octopus", popular as I remember during the 1940s, drew from his pen a lively overture. Many of his later essays in the incidental music genre were for broadcast transmissions; William Congreve’s "Love for Love", from which three songs (A Nymph and a Swan, Charmion and Cynthia) were published; George Farquhar’s "The Beaux’ Stratagem" (1950), which also yielded three songs (Highwayman’s Song, O Good Ale and ‘Tis True I Never Was in Love); Sir John Vanbrugh’s "The Relpase" for which, once again, he wrote three songs (A Heart and a Head, The Rake’s Repentance and Lord Foppington’s Ditty), plus the orchestral movements Foppington Gavotte, Hoyden Theme and a final Contredance, and Moliere’s "Tartuffe", for which he provided a score comprising arrangements from Moliere’s contemporaries Lully and Rameau.

After the Second War Bridgewater penned incidental scores for a number of films, including "Against the Wind" (1947) and, based on a railway disaster, "Train of Events" (1949). However it was the BBC, on whose music staff he worked for many years, which inspired his most notable work. He conducted the BBC Salon Orchestra 1939-42 and formed the Leslie Bridgewater Quintet (piano, played by him, and strings). Much Quintet repertoire was arranged by him from 18th Century music, most of it then rarely heard: Arne, Mozart’s opera singing friend Michael Kelly, Domenico Scarlatti, Robert Jones, Veracini and Henry Eccles. One fascinating item was a Hindoo Lullaby derived from an 18th Century collection of Hindoo melodies and published by him in a version for violin and piano. Maybe the revival work he – and others like Alfred Reynolds – did help to bring about the baroque revival of the 1950s and afterwards.

His most important compositions were a String Quartet and a Piano Concerto premiered on the radio in February 1947 and recorded by Paxton on 78s (is there any chance of a reissue?) Apart from those he produced a large number of light concert suites and single movement intermezzi and genre pieces for small orchestra, for which the BBC’s appetite then seemed insatiable (how different it is now, alas). His music never commanded quite the popularity of Coates or Haydn Wood but it was, I recall, regularly performed. His suites included Rustic Suite (Country Dance, Lover’s Lane and, perhaps recalling his Midlands youth, Bromsgrove Fair) and, from 1955, Ballet in Progress (Danse de le Poupee, The Enchanted Ballroom, Polka Grotesque). Single movements included a caprice for solo violin and small orchestra entitled PrunellaAlla Toceata for strings or violin and piano, the au de ballet Harlequin, the march grotesque Shadows, the intermezzo Spirit of Youth, Serenata Amorosa, Love’s Awakening, The Nightingale and Interlude for Sentiment. These were for orchestra but several were published in piano arrangements.

Bridgewater, who collected antique clocks and old books and was a keen golfer, died in 1975. His work, with the possible exception of Prunella, is more or less neglected and, perhaps disappointingly, he has not been given the Marco Polo treatment. Perhaps he should be.

Philip Scowcroft : 2004

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