Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Violin Shop: 'Beethoven, Kreutzer and Bridgetower. Oh, What a Sonata!'

[George Bridgetower]

A blog post on the birthday of Rodolphe Kreutzer suggests that the reader “Read more about him in a great article.” The reference is to a detailed historical essay on the George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower page at Its author is our principal advisor, Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,

The Violin Shop
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
“If you're a violinist or a Beethoven fan, you probably know of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Today, November 16 marks the birthday in 1766 of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Probably the finest violinist of his time, Beethoven's 'Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major' is dedicated to Kreutzer and is known as the 'Kreutzer Sonata'. If you're a string player, you have probably worked your way through Kreutzer's 'Etudes' at some point in your playing career.

“How about George Bridgetower? Know about him? Ever heard of him? Probably not. But you should! George Bridgetower was one of the first African-European violinists of prominence. Born in 1778, Bridgetower grew up in the households of Hungarian Prince Esterhazy, Haydn's patron. George Bridgetower learned violin at an early age and showed considerable talent. By the late 1780's, Bridgetower was concertizing in some of Europe's largest cities.

“In 1803, Bridgetower was in Vienna. He met and played music with Beethoven. Beethoven was so impressed that he dedicated his 'Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major' to Bridgetower.” “While the dedication doesn't seem to read well in terms of twenty-first century sensibilities, the dedication implies we might have known the Sonata No. 9 as the 'Bridgetower Sonata.'

“George Bridgetower was also the first performer of Sonata No. 9, performing it at 8 AM on May 24, 1803 at the Augarten Theater in Vienna with Beethoven on pianoforte. How good a violinist was George Bridgetower? He sight read the piece as it was performed! No rehearsal, no nothing! And it went mah-vell-luhsleeee! Performing at 8 AM left time for Ludwig and George to go out drinking after the performance. Probably not such a good idea. In the course of this drinkathon, Bridgetower said something that Beethoven took as an insult to a woman that was his (Beethoven's) friend. Out comes the eraser! The dedication to George Bridgetower is taken off and a new dedication to Rodolphe Kreutzer is written in.”

“George Bridgetower is a fascinating violinist. Read more about him in a great article. There was also a New York Times article on April 2009 by Felicia R. Lee, 'Poet's Muse: A Footnote to Beethoven'. The City of London Festival has an online reading and listening resource about George Bridgetower. Oh, and remember, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It might cost you a sonata dedication.”

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