Thursday, December 22, 2011

George Bridgetower

George Bridgetower (George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower) was a Polish-African violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Biala, Poland) on February 29, 1780, though this date of birth is far from certain.  Some sources give this date as October 11, 1778 or simply 1779.  Though he was an accomplished concert violinist and teacher, he is best known for his brief association with Beethoven and his Kreutzer Sonata.  It appears that his father worked in the household of Prince Esterhazy, Joseph Haydn’s employer, which is where he probably received his early musical training.  His Polish mother might have been employed in another royal household nearby.  He gave his first public performance in Paris on April 13, 1789, playing a concerto by Giovanni Giornovichi, and caused a sensation.  Whether he was 9, 10, or 11 years old is anyone’s guess.  On February 19, 1790, he appeared in London, England, playing a solo between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.  On June 2 of that same year, he and Franz Clement (who was 9 years old at the time) played a concert sponsored by a member of the British nobility.  After a few more public performances in England, he became a member of the first violins in the orchestra of the Prince of Wales, where he remained employed for 14 years.  The Prince of Wales, an important patron of the arts, arranged for Bridgetower to receive private lessons from Francois Barthelemon, Giovanni Giornovichi, and Thomas Attwood, recognized eminent musicians of the time.  Bridgetower – as did other members of the orchestra - divided his time between Brighton and London.  In 1802, Bridgetower visited his mother in Dresden.  He played very successful concerts there in July of 1802 and March of 1803.  He obtained permission to extend his leave and was thus able to visit Vienna in April of 1803.  He played in Vienna and was soon ushered into the highest social circles, including that of Prince Lichnowsky, one of Beethoven’s royal patrons.  Bridgetower supposedly met Beethoven through an introduction by Lichnowsky – so the story goes.  Beethoven was then working on his Opus 47, the famous violin sonata number nine – the Kreutzer Sonata.  Some sources say Bridgetower actually asked Beethoven to write the sonata.  In any case, both of them premiered the sonata on the morning of May 24, 1803, reading from Beethoven’s manuscript.  It has been said that the violin part of the second movement had not been written out separately, compelling Bridgetower to read that movement from Beethoven’s piano score.  Another version has the premiere taking place on May 17, not May 24.  Still another version has Bridgetower receiving the manuscript fully copied out the day before the premiere.  The fact remains that both played the premiere of the work and the thing was soon afterward dedicated to Bridgetower.  However, there was a quick falling out between the two (very soon thereafter) over some remarks Bridgetower made (about a woman both of them knew) that Beethoven found offensive.  Some versions actually have Bridgetower and Beethoven competing for the affections of the woman.  Who knows?  Beethoven subsequently rescinded the dedication and re-assigned it to Rodolphe Kreutzer who actually never played the piece, finding it incomprehensible.  Bridgetower was about 24 years old.  In June of 1811, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Music from Cambridge.  He continued to teach violin and piano and play concerts in Europe, especially Italy and France, for many years.  A small piano piece of his was published in 1812.  George Bridgetower supposedly died in poverty in London on February 20, 1860, although he left an estate of about one thousand British Pounds Sterling, a very good sum in those days.  He was about 80 years old. 

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