Monday, October 29, 2007

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860): Beethoven's Black Violinist

[George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860); Copyright The British Library]

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Introduction: Bridgetower Sonata Was Renamed for Kreutzer
The Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A Minor, Op. 47, now called the Kreutzer Sonata, was originally dedicated to the Black violin virtuoso George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. He is profiled at Beethoven accompanied him on piano at the work's premiere in Vienna in 1803. Before the sonata could be published, a personal disagreement with Bridgetower led Beethoven to substitute the name of another violinist, Rodolphe Kreutzer.

Bridgetower, George Augustus Polgreen, 1780-1860[1]
Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin
Bridgetower (dubbed “the Abyssinian Prince”) was born in Baiła,[2] Poland to John Frederick Bridgetower[3] (employed, like Haydn, in the Austro-Hungarian court of the Esterházy family), a polyglot valet (he is said to have spoken fluent English, French, German, Italian, and Polish) who is thought to have come from the Caribbean, possibly a slave who escaped from Barbados. His mother, Marie Ann [née Sovinki?], was from Eastern Europe, perhaps Poland. She died in 1807, then living in Dresden with her other child, Friedrich T. Bridgetower, according to Hare 1936 [p299] and a cellist. As a child prodigy, Bridgetower made his debut as soloist with the Concert Spirituel on 11 or 13 April 1789.[4] He was introduced to England,[5] performing at the Drury Lane Theatre on 19 February 1790, when he played between parts of the Messiah. This attracted the attention of the British royalty, resulting in performances at Windsor Castle,[6] Brighton Pavilion, the Pump Rooms at Bath in December (attended by about 550, including George III)[7] and in London. Bridgetower had already studied perhaps with Haydn (1732-1809) and now under the patronage of the Prince, he studied violin with Giovanni Mane Giornovichi or Ivan Jarnović (ca. 1735/1747-1804, resident in Paris from 1773 and London from 1791-1796) and with François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (1741-1808, concertmaster at the Royal Opera), and composition with a former Mozart student, keyboardist Thomas Attwood (1765-1838), who was in service to the Prince of Wales starting in 1787. Joining with his Austrian contemporary, Franz Clement (for whom Beethoven was to write his violin concerto), he presented a benefit concert at Hanover Square Rooms on 2 June 1790, with the patronage of the Prince of Wales[8] (the future George IV), for which the father was paid £25. The concert included a performance of a string quartet by Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831) in which the two young violinists were joined by Ware and F. Attwood (relative of Thomas?). It is possible Pleyel was in the audience, as he was in London for the next season. Present however was the composer Abbé Georg Johann Vogler (1749-1814), who commented that the quartet’s aggregate age was not even 40. In 1791, Bridgetower joined another former Mozart student, Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), both attired in scarlet clothing, pulling stops as they sat alongside the organist Joah Bates at the Handel Commemoration in Westminster Abbey.[9] It was also that year when he joined with Clement in a string quartet performance (2 June) at Hanover Square, and entered the Prince’s service at Brighton, playing violin in the orchestra until 1809. He also served at least once in the first violin section in his pre-teen years of London’s Solomon concerts (starting 15 April 1791), thereby involved in the premières of the Haydn symphonies, commissioned by Johann Peter Solomon (1745-1815), and conducted from the keyboard by the composer.[10] During the remainder of this season, Bridgetower appeared as concerto soloist in each of the remaining five programs at the Hanover Square Rooms. It is estimated that in the last decade of the century, about 50 performances were presented in London.

Before his departure for the continent, he gave performances from 24 February 1792 and 30 March within oratorio performances at the King’s Theatre, managed by Thomas Linley (1733-1795), father of yet another Mozart student, also named Thomas Linley (born in 1756 and died by drowning in 1778). He played at a concert in 1794 in benefit for the Spitalfields weavers,[11] and one in Salisbury, 6 November 1794, with a concerto said to be in the style of Viotti. He appeared with Haydn at a concert held by Barthélémon, at which time a Viotti[12] concerto was programmed. When he played at the King’s Arm in Cornhill on 31 October 1793 – his work for the Prince still allowed him to be engaged for non-court engagements – he might have been upstaged by the presence of Charles Claggett and his Aiuton, or Ever Tuned Organ. In 1788 the Irishman mounted a series of tuning forks in a row and placed them in a narrow hollow wooden box, where they were struck by hammers. Depending of course on the tuning forks, the range might be Six octaves. The volume of sound was very small and nothing evolved from the concept until 1886, when the Parisian harmonium maker unveiled the celesta, first employed by Ernest Chausson in.
La tempête (1888) and Chaikovskĭi The nutcracker (1892).

Up to this time, John Frederick had regaled himself in extravagant Turkish-style robes[13] (Turkish exoticisms were very popular at the time, as exemplified by Mozart’s
Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Beethoven’s ecumenical Turkish variation in the last movement of the ninth symphony) but about 1791 he was sent into exile by the Prince of Wales for immoral behavior. Thereafter his son resided at Carlton House under the Prince’s protection,[14] dressed as an English gentleman. In later years, Bridgetower lived at 20 Eaton Street (1797), John Street (1807-1809), Chancery Cross (1810), Little Ryder Street (1812), and Chapel Street (1814-1815). At the time of his death, he lived at 8 Victory Cottages (and/or Norfolk Street) on a small road in Peckham.

He was granted a leave from the Prince’s service and went to Europe in 1802 to visit his mother and brother in Dresden. He gave two concerts while there (24 July 1802 and 18 March 1803). On the first was performed the first symphony by Beethoven, the violinist’s own concerto (not extant?) and a cello concerto by his brother (also not located). The second concert included a concerto by Mozart and one by Viotti, directed by [Johann Philipp?] Schulz. He also performed in Tepliz and Carlsbad during this time.

He went to Vienna in the spring of 1803, already celebrated, where he met Beethoven. At the Augarten Theater on 24 May 1803, in a concert series managed by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the two gave the première of Beethoven’s penultimate violin sonata (opus 47), much to Beethoven’s delight.[15] Despite the fact that the concert took place at 8 in the morning, it was well attended,[16] including the presence of Prince Karl Lichnowsky (who had introduced the two at his home), Prince Josef Johann Schwarzenberg, the British Ambassador, and Prince Josef Marx Lobkowitz. When “Brischdauer” inserted an improvised flourish, Beethoven left the piano and said to Bridgetower, “Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!” There had been no time for a rehearsal, even though Beethoven had awakened Ferdinand Ries at 4:30 that morning to make a copy for the violinist. The second movement, which Bridgetower had to read from the piano part, looking over Beethoven’s shoulder, so pleased the audience that it was immediately repeated.

Beethoven wrote a letter of introduction (18 May 1803) on behalf of Bridgetower to Baron Alexander Wetzlar (1769-1810).

He made friends in Vienna, including the physician, Prof. Johann Th. Helm of Prague and Count Prichnowsky. He and Dr. Helm met Beethoven on the street and the pair was taken to the home of Schuppanzigh for the rehearsal of a Beethoven quartet. Present were violinists Ignaz Krumbholz, Christian Schrieber Karl Moser of Berlin, and cellist Anton Kraft. He also met Alexander Wetzler (to whom Beethoven had recommended Bridgetower), Count Moritz Fries (a banker), and Theresa Schonfeld.

Warm relationships with Beethoven were however ephemeral. They parted ways over an argument,[17] and Beethoven withdrew the sonata, dedicating it to Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831),[18] never a Beethoven enthusiast, who refused to perform it since the première had already been given, but also saying the work was “outrageously unintelligible” (according to Berlioz in his
Voyage musical en Allemagne et en Italie). The work, originally titled by Beethoven as Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer, gran pazzo e conpositore mulattico, and in his 1803 sketchbook, as a Sonata per il Pianoforte ed uno violino obligato in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto, is nonetheless now known as the Kreutzer sonata.

Full essay

George+Bridgetower" rel="tag">George Bridgetower
Black+Violinist" rel="tag">Black Violinist
Beethoven+Sonata" rel="tag">Beethoven Sonata
Kreutzer+Sonata" rel="tag">Kreutzer Sonata
African+descent" rel="tag">African descent
Beethoven's+Violinist" rel="tag">Beethoven's Violinist

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