The Black Violinist Who Inspired Beethoven

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive on 2020-09-11 02:13Z by Steven

The Black Violinist Who Inspired Beethoven

The New York Times

Patricia Morrisroe

The violinist George Bridgetower has, like so many other Black artists, been largely forgotten by a history that belongs to those who control the narrative. The Trustees of the British Museum, via Art Resource, NY

George Bridgetower, the original dedicatee of the “Kreutzer” Sonata, was a charismatic prodigy but faded into history.

Six months after Beethoven contemplated suicide, confessing his despair over his increasing deafness in the 1802 document known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, he was carousing in taverns with a charismatic new comrade, George Polgreen Bridgetower. This biracial violinist had recently arrived in Vienna, and inspired one of Beethoven’s most famous and passionate pieces, the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

Beethoven even dedicated the sonata to Bridgetower. But the irritable composer — who would later remove the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony — eventually took it back.

While Napoleon didn’t need Beethoven to secure his place in history, this snub reduced Bridgetower to near obscurity. Though his name was included in Anton Schindler’s 1840 biography of Beethoven, he was described inaccurately as “an American sea captain.” Like so many Black artists prominent in their lifetimes, he has been largely forgotten by a history that belongs to those who control the narrative.

Bridgetower was born on Aug. 13, 1778, in eastern Poland, and christened Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus. His father, Joanis Fredericus de Augustus, was of African descent; his mother, Maria Schmid, was German-Polish, making Bridgetower what was then known as a mulatto, a person of mixed race. (The poet Rita Dove’s 2008 book “Sonata Mulattica,” an imagined chronicle of Bridgetower’s life, has helped raise his profile a bit in recent years.)…

Read the entire article here.

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Poet’s Muse: A Footnote to Beethoven

Posted in Articles, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, History, United Kingdom on 2015-09-07 00:54Z by Steven

Poet’s Muse: A Footnote to Beethoven

The New York Times

Felicia R. Lee

Haydn almost certainly encountered him as a child in a Hungarian castle, where the boy’s father was a servant and Haydn was the director of music, and Thomas Jefferson saw him performing in Paris in 1789: a 9-year-old biracial violin prodigy with a cascade of dark curls. While the boy would go on to inspire Beethoven and help shape the development of classical music, he ended up relegated to a footnote in Beethoven’s life.

Rita Dove, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former United States poet laureate, has now breathed life into the story of that virtuoso, George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, in her new book, “Sonata Mulattica” (W. W. Norton). The narrative, a collection of poems subtitled “A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play,” intertwines fact and fiction to flesh out Bridgetower, the son of a Polish-German mother and an Afro-Caribbean father.

When he died in South London in 1860, his death certificate simply noted that he was a “gentleman.” Ms. Dove imagines, as she writes in her poem “The Bridgetower,” that “this bright-skinned papa’s boy/could have sailed his fifteen-minute fame/straight into the record books.”…

Read the entire review here.

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U.Va. Poetry Professor Rita Dove’s ‘Sonata Mulattica’ to be Adapted for Film

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, Media Archive on 2015-01-25 02:44Z by Steven

U.Va. Poetry Professor Rita Dove’s ‘Sonata Mulattica’ to be Adapted for Film

UVA Today
Charlottesville, Virginia

Anne E. Bromley, Associate

Little did poet Rita Dove know when she published her book, “Sonata Mulattica,” that it would go beyond rescuing from obscurity a 19th-century, Afro-European violin virtuoso named George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower.

Now that book of poems and a play-in-verse penned by Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English in the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, is becoming the subject of a documentary not only about Dove writing about Bridgetower, but also featuring the contemporary story of African-American violin virtuoso and composer Joshua Coyne.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded nonprofit Stone Soup Productions an Art Works grant to help the film company, Spark Media, produce the feature-length documentary, also to be named “Sonata Mulattica.”…

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Pulitzer-Winning Poet Dove Gives Rall Cultural Lecture

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2013-09-07 22:02Z by Steven

Pulitzer-Winning Poet Dove Gives Rall Cultural Lecture

nih record
Volume LVX, Number 8 (2013-04-12)

Carla Garnett

Any ‘Discovery…a Little Bit of Poetry’

A mixed-race violin prodigy, a self-proclaimed “African prince” and Beethoven (yes, the Beethoven). That unlikely trio provides much of the fascinating storyline in poet Rita Dove’s latest book, Sonata Mulattica. The Pulitzer-winning former U.S. poet laureate offered NIH’ers tantalizing tidbits from her work on Mar. 13 at the 2013 J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture.

“We need—all of us—to be pushed out of our comfort zones every once in a while,” said Dove, beginning her talk after having lunch with postdocs and touring the Children’s Inn and a pediatric unit of the Clinical Center. “That’s why I send my poetry students to science and math—kicking and screaming—and they come back enriched. I think we’re all perpetual students. It’s when our minds are open to something new—and sometimes a little frightening—that the old-and-familiar gets refreshed and energized.”

If was at the beginning…’

Dove’s Sonata Mulattica, which tells the “story of someone who has been forgotten,” is not easily pigeonholed in the literary world. Reviewers, she said, have alternately called the work a poetic sequence (although it has a play in the middle), a verse novel (although all the people and facts in it are true) or a long poem (although the book contains 84 separate poems).

The main character, George Augustus Bridgetower, was born in 1780 to a white Polish mom and a black African dad, a lothario who claimed to have royal blood. In early childhood, young Bridgetower’s extraordinary talent as a violinist was discovered (by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, no less), leading his father to take him on the road for performances.

“‘If was at the beginning,’” said Dove, reading from The Bridgetower, the book’s first poem. In that one word, “if,” she seemed to impart all the possibilities of the young phenom’s improbable life. In that one poem she offered all the facts of his life while still leaving the audience hungry for more. Masur Auditorium was silent, spellbound…

Read the entire article here.

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The 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture & Humanities Awards: Featuring Rita Dove

Posted in Arts, History, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2011-11-26 23:08Z by Steven

The 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture & Humanities Awards: Featuring Rita Dove

Arizona Humanities Council
Tempe Mission Palms
60E. 5th Street
Tempe, Arizona 85281

Free & Open to the Public

In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Arizona Humanities Council is proud to present Rita Dove as the keynote speaker for the 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture. Rita Dove will share poems from her most recent book, Sonata Mulattica, about a young mulatto violinist’s encounters with Beethoven.

Discussing the research that went into the book, she will reveal how she came to be uniquely suited to the task of rescuing the mixed race violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower from the shadows of history, and how history comes alive through art.

Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 2006 Common Wealth Award. In 1996, President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the National Humanities Medal. From 1981 to 1989, Rita Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University. She currently is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.

For more information, click here.

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An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-08-10 04:14Z by Steven

An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New

New York University Press
675 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780814781432
Paperback ISBN: 9780814781449

Edited by

Werner Sollors, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies
Harvard University

A white knight meets his half-black half-brother in battle. A black hero marries a white woman. A slave mother kills her child by a rapist-master. A white-looking person of partly African ancestry passes for white. A master and a slave change places for a single night. An interracial marriage turns sour. The birth of a child brings a crisis. Such are some of the story lines to be found within the pages of An Anthology of Interracial Literature.

This is the first anthology to explore the literary theme of black-white encounters, of love and family stories that cross—or are crossed by—what came to be considered racial boundaries. The anthology extends from Cleobolus’ ancient Greek riddle to tormented encounters in the modern United States, visiting along the way a German medieval chivalric romance, excerpts from Arabian Nights and Italian Renaissance novellas, scenes and plays from Spain, Denmark, England, and the United States, as well as essays, autobiographical sketches, and numerous poems. The authors of the selections include some of the great names of world literature interspersed with lesser-known writers. Themes of interracial love and family relations, passing, and the figure of the Mulatto are threaded through the volume.

An Anthology of Interracial Literature allows scholars, students, and general readers to grapple with the extraordinary diversity in world literature. As multi-racial identification becomes more widespread the ethnic and cultural roots of world literature takes on new meaning.

Contributors include: Hans Christian Andersen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles W. Chesnutt, Lydia Maria Child, Kate Chopin, Countee Cullen, Caroline Bond Day, Rita Dove, Alexandre Dumas, Olaudah Equiano, Langston Hughes, Victor Hugo, Charles Johnson, Adrienne Kennedy, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Guy de Maupassant, Claude McKay, Eugene O’Neill, Alexander Pushkin, and Jean Toomer.

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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, Poetry on 2009-09-07 04:29Z by Steven

Sonata Mulattica: Poems

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
240 pages
6.3 × 9.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-07008-8

Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English
University of Virginia

In a book-length lyric narrative inspired by history and imagination, a much celebrated poet re-creates the life of a nineteenth-century virtuoso violinist.

The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travels to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven.  The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poetic tale.

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