Beethoven and Bridgetower

In reading Alexander Thayer’s “Life of Beethoven” on the years 1802-3, the time of the “Eroica” Symphony, I was stopped short by reference to a young violinist selected to take part in performances some of the composer’s compositions.

Thayer writes:

“…..we have sight of Beethoven again in private life
Dr Joh. Th. Held, the famous physician and professor in Prague, then a young man of just the composer’s age (he was born on 11 December 1770) accompanied Count Prichowski on a visit to Vienna. On the evening of 16 April these two gentlemen met Beethoven in the street. He, knowing the Count, invited them to Schuppanzigh’s. ‘where some of his pianoforte sonatas which had been transcribed as string quartets were to be rehearsed’. In his manuscript autobiography Held writes:

‘We met a number of the best musicians gathered together, such as the violinists Krumbholz, Moser (of Berlin), the mulatto Bridgethauer, who in London had been in the service of the then Prince of Wales, also a Herr Schreiber and the 12 year-old Kraft who played second…..’

The ‘Bridgethauer’ mentioned by Held – whose incorrect writing of the name conveys to the German its correct pronunciation – was the American ship captain qho associated much with Beethoven’ mentioned by Schindler.
George August Polgreen Bridgetower – a bright mulatto then twenty-four years old, son of an African father and a German or Polish mother, an applauded public violinist in London at the age of ten years, and long in the service, as musician, of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV – was never in America and knew as much probably about a ship and the science of navigation as ordinary shipmasters do of the violin. In 1802 he obtained leave of absence to visit his mother in Dresden and to use the waters of Teplitz and Carlsbad, which leave was prolonged that he might spend a few months in Vienna. His playing in public and private at Dresden had secured him such favourable letters of introduction as gained him a most brilliant reception in the highest musical circles of the Austrian capital, where he arrived a few days before Held met him at Schuppenzigh’s. Beethoven, to whom he was introduced by Prince Lichnowski, readily gave him aid in a public concert. It has an interest on account of Beethoven’s connection with it; for the day of the concert was the date of the completion and performance of the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata. Ries writes:

‘The famous sonata in A minor, Op. 47. with concertante violin, dedicated to Rudolph Kreutzer in Paris, was originally composed by Beethoven for Bridgetower, an English artist. Here things did not go much better [Ries had referred to the tardiness of the composition of the horn sonata which Beethoven wrote for Punto], although a large part of the first Allegro was ready at an early date. Bridgetower pressed him greatly because the date of of his concert had been set and he wanted to study his part. One morning Beethoven summoned me at half after 4 o’clock and said “Copy the violin part of the first Allegro quickly.” The pianoforte part was noted down only here and there in parts. Bridgetower had to play the marvellously beautiful theme and variations in F from Beethoven’s manuscript at the concert because there was no time to copy it. The final Allegro, however was beautifully written, since it originally belonged to the Sonata in A major (Op. 30)which is dedicated to Czar Alexander. In its place Beethoven, thinking it was too brilliant for the A major Sonata, put the variations which now form the finale’

Bridgetower, when advanced in years, taking with Mr Thirwell about Beethoven, told him that at the time of the Sonata, Op. 47. was composed, he and the composer were constant companions, and that the first copy bore a dedication to him; but before he departed from Vienna they had a quarrel about a girl, and Beethoven then dedicated the work to Rudolph Kreutzer.”

The story of Bridgetower and Beethoven is related elsewhere telling how his playing impressed the composer resulting in the dedication. Because of the quarrel over a woman to whom Beethoven was fond at the time it was re-dedicated to Kreutzer by whose name it became famous. We are told that Kreutzer, himself a famed violinist, had said it was too difficult for him to play and had no liking for Beethoven’s music.

It is thought that Bridgetower’s father may have come from Barbados, the capital of which is Bridgetown. We know that he performed in Paris in the late eighteenth century at a time when another musician whose mother was African and who came to Paris from Guadaloup was well known and active at the time. Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de St Georges, had influenced Mozart as the initiator of the Sinfonia Concertante form. He was also the intermediary in the commissioning of Haydn’s 6 Paris Symphonies (nos. 82-7) and conducted their first performance. The first the three of these evidently prompted Mozart to give the keys of E flat major, G minor and C major to his last three great symphonies.

Further information
AfriClassical.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.