Are you bored with Black History Month because you know all you wanna know about Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and the same old short list of African-American luminaries?
I’m about to spice your shit up, friend, by casting my gaze across the pond. England has its own Black History Month – in October. But I shan’t wait till then to showcase a few intriguing cultural figures from Britain’s past.
We begin with George Bridgetower, a virtuoso violinist who rocked the stage with Beethoven two centuries ago.
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was born in Poland circa 1780. Black father, white mother. As a child prodigy on violin, Bridgetower was taken under wing by England’s future King George IV, and received an elite education in music.
In his twenties, he was introduced to Beethoven. They jammed in Vienna. Beethoven was so impressed, he dedicated his new Violin Sonata No. 9 to “the mulatto Brischdauer.”
Beethoven and Bridgetower debuted the sonata together on May 24, 1803. It was a triumphant performance.
But then, so goes the story, Bridgetower made an insulting remark about a woman Beethoven happened to know. Pissed off, Beethoven re-dedicated the piece to another violinist... named Kreutzer.
To this day, the composition is known as the “Kreutzer Sonata,” while Bridgetower is said to have died in obscurity.
(Click here to hear the sonata’s third movement, as performed by Itzhak Perlman.)
George Bridgetower’s name and story have been resuscitated in recent years. Afro-British pianist Julian Joseph has composed a “jazz opera” about Bridgetower’s life. And American poet Rita Dove last year published “Sonata Mulattica,” a poetry collection inspired by Bridgetower’s relationship with Beethoven.
Check the two vidclips below: