Sonata Mulattica

Sonata Mulattica

by Rita Dove

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Detailing the volatile relationship between the black violinist George Bridgetower and Beethoven, this is a "masterful collection" (Los Angeles Times).


The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travels to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto, but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poetic tale. A New Yorker's A Year's Reading; Booklist Editors Choice Award.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393338935
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/27/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 584,230
Product dimensions: 6.96(w) x 11.30(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

Rita Dove is the recipient of many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is a Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville.

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Sonata Mulattica 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
emily-dickinson-fan More than 1 year ago
Dove, already known as one of our greatest contemporary poets, has surpassed herself with this amazing feat. In a series of carefully crafted poems, she recreates the life of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, son of a black father and a white German-Polish mother, who grew up in the late 18th century on the Esterhazy estate in Hungary, where the estate's resident composer and "bandleader", Franz Joseph Haydn, recognized the child's talent on the violin; Bridgetower was just 5 years old at the time. At the age of 9 his father took him to Paris (mere months before the Revolution), where he became an instant sensation; even Thomas Jefferson attended one of his concerts (fact), and Dove, in her moving poem "What Doesn't Happen", imagines Jefferson being accompanied by the teenage Sally Hemings (fiction, most likely). Bridgetower Sr., who bills himself as an "African prince" (he descended probably from black Caribbean slaves), then tries his and his son's luck in England, where little George comes under the tutelage of the fun- and arts-loving Prince of Wales (later King George IV.). In Dove's poems London (and Bath and the seaside resort town of Brighton) of the late 18th century really come alive, and I bet many of the poems, like the villanelle (kind of) "Black Billy Waters at His Pitch", would also be appreciated by readers who are not terribly versed in reading verse (excuse the pun). In 1802/1803, George Bridgetower -- now by all accounts an extremely good-looking young adult of mixed race -- takes leave from the English court to first visit his mother and brother in Dresden (!), and then to continue his travels on the Continent by looking up Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna. Beethoven, who is about to go deaf, is taken with Bridgetower's talent on the violin. He interrupts his work on the "Eroica" and, in red-hot inspiration, writes one of his greatest shorter masterpieces for his new friend: the Sonata No. 9 in A major, op. 47. Bridgetower premieres it in a morning outdoor concert, with Beethoven at the piano, to great acclaim on May 24, 1803; Beethoven, at one point, even jumps up from the piano to embrace his "lunatic mulatto". What happens then -- the falling out between the two -- has only been recorded as a "saucy remark" George, apparently a success with the ladies, makes over a girl. Ludwig, infamously unlucky in love, takes offense, severs his friendship with the young man he had just called his "dear fellow", tears up the sonata's original dedication and rededicates it to the violinist Rudolphe Kreutzer, who actually despises and never plays it. Dove, in an ingenious stroke, treats the end of the relationship with a verse play in the middle of the book, which gives the tragic moment a farcical twist that works remarkably well. Bridgetower, his "tail tucked", returns to England, where gets a degree in music from Cambridge and plays the violin in the royal orchestra while living to the ripe age of 80. (He dies in poverty, though.) Amazingly, even after her hero's great moment in Vienna, Dove manages to tell the rest of his life and times in gripping, beautiful poems, followed by 7 (seven!) stunning epilogues, the last one ("The End, with MapQuest") her own contemporary reflection, in which she addresses both Bridgetower and Beethoven and asks the latter: "Ah, Master B, little great man, tell me: How does a shadow shine?&
janeajones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this narrative series of poems, Rita Dove chronicles the life of violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860). The son of a self-styled African Prince and a Polish mother, Bridgetower was a child prodigy, taught by Haydn and taken on tour by his father at the age of nine. He created a sensation in Paris and London, and was eventually made the ward of the Prince Regent ("Prinny") when it became obvious that his womanizing father was neglecting him. As a young man, he returned to Saxony to visit his mother and made his way to Vienna, where he met Beethoven. The centerpiece of his story is the brief collaboration of Beethoven and Bridgetower in the first performance of Sonata No. 9. Beethoven was inspired by Bridgetower's playing to compose the Sonata, dedicated it to him, and they performed it together. But in a drunken spree after the concert, Bridgetower insulted a woman (in the poem a barmaid) Beethoven had idealized, and in a fit of rage, Beethoven tore up the dedication. He later dedicated the Sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer -- who considered the piece unplayable and never performed it. Bridgetower returned to London, having missed his chance at immortality, served as the principal violinist in the Prince's orchestra, toured Europe, and died in London in relative obscurity.If was at the Beginning. Ifhe had been older, if he hadn't beendark, brown eyes ablazein that remarkable face;if he had not been so gifted, so young a genius with no time to grow up;if he hadn't grown up, undistinguished, to an obscure old age.So begins Dove's collection of varied and evocative poems. Each has a lyrical musicality presenting a moment in time. Some of the poems evoke the familiar music of the time --Little monkey, little cowCan you hear me listening? NowTicking clock, piano plink --Watch me hear you, feel me think.Others describe the playing of the music --This is what it is liketo be a flame; furiousbut without weight, breezesharpening into wind, a bright gustthat will blind, flatten all of you --yet tender,somewhere inside tender.The reader is brought into the life of the courts of the Esterhazy in Vienna, the Hanovers in London; salons and taverns and theatres and streets. Sonata Mulattica is a tour de force.