Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10, is a work for string orchestra by Benjamin Britten. It was written in 1937 at the request of Boyd Neel, who conducted his orchestra at the premiere of the work at that year's Salzburg Festival. It was the work that brought Britten to international attention.
Benjamin Britten studied with Frank Bridge from 1927. In 1932 he began writing a set of variations on a theme from one of Bridge's works, as a tribute to his teacher, but he was distracted by other matters and the work went nowhere.
In May 1937,
He dedicated the work "to F.B. A tribute with affection and admiration".
The work was given its concert premiere, as planned, on 27 August 1937 in Salzburg. However, its broadcast premiere occurred two days earlier; it was played live on Radio Hilversum on 25 August.
The work is structured as follows:
- Introduction and Theme
- Variation 1: Adagio
- Variation 2: March
- Variation 3: Romance
- Variation 4: Aria Italiana
- Variation 5: Bourrée classique
- Variation 6: Wiener Waltzer
- Variation 7: Moto perpetuo
- Variation 8: Funeral March
- Variation 9: Chant
- Variation 10: Fugue and Finale
Each variation is a nod to a specific quality in Bridge's personality, but reflected through the prism of Britten's own personality.
Britten also imitated the styles of a number of composers such as Gioachino Rossini, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky.
Paul Kildea writes of the piece:
Though the theme is played in the opening section, it is done so rather whimsically, and it is only at the end of the piece that it is spelled out with weight and clarity. When it arrives it makes sense of everything that has gone before it, demanding that we start again from the beginning, hearing the work once more, this time with our ears alert.
In 1942 Colin McPhee, a close friend of Britten's, arranged the Variations for two pianos, to be used for Lew Christensen's ballet Jinx.
In 1949, Arthur Oldham, the only private pupil Britten ever had, arranged the work for full symphony orchestra, for Frederick Ashton's ballet Le Rêve de Léonor. This had its first performance on 26 April 1949 at the Prince's Theatre, London, by the Ballet de Paris de Roland Petit.
Twyla Tharp has also used the music for a ballet, How Near Heaven.