Category Archives: Teaching material for equality

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

Cohesion. Opportunities?

The Power of Nightmares
Politicians have needed to find new ways to develop cohesion, but who benefits. Is this the cohesion we want to see in a diverse society?
Cameron says multiculturalism damages the UK. Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy have made similar statements – as has has Trevor Phillips chair of the Equalities Commission!

Ken Livingston’s response (as Mayor of London)
Schools were given a duty to work for social cohesion in 2006. Teachernet was a substantial resource for schools, teachers and governors but this has been decommissioned by the present government. Nevertheless the duties of the 2006 Act remain in force and are restated in the Government’s website.

Two French women who were talented composers

The names of Louise Heritte-Viardot (1841-1918) and Mel Bonis were unknown to me until I listened to a programme “Hidden Composers” on Radio 3. Its presenter gives more away on her blog.
Camille Saint-Saens thought women as composers was a non-starter, yet he was forced into admitting that these two had considerable talent. While much of Heritte-Viardot’s music is lost there is much more of Bonis still in existence.

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Thomas Wiggins: The Battle of Manassas

Thomas Wiggins was born blind, but at an early age his ability as a pianist to reproduce sounds he heard meant that he was taken on tour and put on show. Thomas was from and African family taken into slavery in the USA.
One of his compositions was “The Battle of Manassas” with the pounding bass sounding like gun fire. He uses tunes to represent the opposing sides as Beethoven had done in “Wellington’s Victory” and Tchaikovsky was to do in his 1812 Overture.

Black soldier picture emerges from the Spanish Civil War

A picture has come to light of a black American soldier who was involved in the Spanish Civil War. The invisibility of black people in history continues in so many areas, that is until evidence like this emerges. Sometimes their absence from films depicting events is deliberate, as was the case of a fairly recent account of Iwo Jima.
The matter of awareness has been raised a notch higher by the fact of Barack Obama as President of the United States. A portrait of the soldier will be presented to him when he visits Spain shortly.
No one knows who the so;dier is: ” ‘All we know is that he arrived with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers and that he died in the battle at Brunete [in July 1937],’ said Sergi Centelles, whose father, Agustí, took the picture.” (Source Guardian).

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More about the Qustul Incense Burner

In a teaching article about Nile Valley Civilisations the discovery by Chicago University’s School of Oriental Studies of an incense burner with its pharaonic image we discuss its significance. We believe it revives powerfully the view that Egypt civilisation was essentially of African origin at the start. Clearly its success brought in many others to make it a vibrant multicultural society, but to continue to put across the idea that Africa intervened only as late as the 25th Dynasty, as the National Geographic Magazine did in their February edition, is very far wide of the mark.
Further discussion on this artefact.
The reverse of the incense burner.

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African wisdom: Ghana

A primary school teacher requested information about art from different cultures. I first responded with the story of Juan de Pareja, but I had misunderstood her request. She wanted to look at patterns and designs.
Ghanaian traditional patterns on kente cloth and adinkra prints leads to an understanding of traditional beliefs and wisdom from the Akan.
Kente cloth is woven in narrow strips and has associations with people, events or happenings. It may be a political commentary and express a particular idea or virtue. Kente cloth was presented to the United Nation as an expression of a wish to bring about peace:
“The largest known kente cloth, measuring about 12X20 feet, is the piece Ghana presented to the United Nations when Ghana joined this world organization. This cloth is called tikoro nko agyina – one head does constitute a council. By this gift, Ghana expressed to the U. N. that world peace and stability should be deliberated on by both the super-powers and non-super-powers.”
“The warp threads are laid in such fashion to give a name and meaning to the cloth. At the same time, the weft designs or motifs are each given a name and meaning. These names and meanings reflect Akan beliefs, historical events, social and political organization in the Akan society, or may be named after all manner of people.”

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The Story of Sir Francis Drake by Mrs Oliver Elton

The Story of Sir Francis Drake was written for children by Mr Francis Elton early in the twentieth century. Drake’s story is very familiar in many respects and he has been described as “a privateer”, “a slave trader”, “a pirate” and so on, but we know Queen Elizabeth 1st was pleased with what he did on behalf of herself and her country.
What comes out in this story which has not had much of an airing is Drake’s relationship with the Maroons and a black African, Diego, a former slave of the Spaniards. Such individuals were invaluable since they had an inside knowledge of the enemy and had good reason to want to pay back the treatment that they had had. It seems Diego became very important to Drake and is mentioned in his journals second only to John Drake, his brother. Diego travelled with Drake on his round the world voyages until he was killed in battle. Drake was greatly distressed by this.

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