Poet’s Muse: A Footnote to Beethoven

Posted in Articles, Arts, Book/Video Reviews, History, United Kingdom on 2015-09-07 00:54Z by Steven

Poet’s Muse: A Footnote to Beethoven

The New York Times
2009-04-02

Felicia R. Lee

Haydn almost certainly encountered him as a child in a Hungarian castle, where the boy’s father was a servant and Haydn was the director of music, and Thomas Jefferson saw him performing in Paris in 1789: a 9-year-old biracial violin prodigy with a cascade of dark curls. While the boy would go on to inspire Beethoven and help shape the development of classical music, he ended up relegated to a footnote in Beethoven’s life.

Rita Dove, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former United States poet laureate, has now breathed life into the story of that virtuoso, George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, in her new book, “Sonata Mulattica” (W. W. Norton). The narrative, a collection of poems subtitled “A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play,” intertwines fact and fiction to flesh out Bridgetower, the son of a Polish-German mother and an Afro-Caribbean father.

When he died in South London in 1860, his death certificate simply noted that he was a “gentleman.” Ms. Dove imagines, as she writes in her poem “The Bridgetower,” that “this bright-skinned papa’s boy/could have sailed his fifteen-minute fame/straight into the record books.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Black Beethoven and the Racial Politics of Music History

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive on 2013-10-22 03:47Z by Steven

Black Beethoven and the Racial Politics of Music History

Transition
Issue 112, 2013
pages 117-130
DOI: 10.1353/tra.2013.0056

Nicholas T. Rinehart
Harvard University

Nicholas T. Rinehart debunks theories of Beethoven’s blackness and calls for a reimagining of the classical canon.

The Question

Was Beethoven Black? He surely wasn’t, but some insist otherwise. The question is not a new one—it has been rehashed over the course of several decades, although it never seems to have caused much of a stir in any public intellectual debates. Indeed, what is perhaps most fascinating about this question is that is has remained somewhat under the radar despite its stubbornness. Nobody really thinks Beethoven was black. And only a few have even stumbled upon the possibility. That Beethoven may have been black is pure trivia—a did-you-know factoid for the classical music enthusiast. The composer ranks with Alexanders Pushkin and Dumas as one of history’s great ethnic surprises, with the obvious exception that Beethoven wasn’t ethnic. He was simply swarthy.

The logic goes something like this: Beethoven’s family, by way of his mother, traced its foots to Flanders, which was for sometime under Spanish monarchical rule, and because Spain maintained a longstanding historical connection to North Africa through the Moors, somehow a single germ of blackness trickled down to our beloved Ludwig. This very theory—that Beethoven was descended from the Moors—has reappeared in several works throughout the twentieth century. Jamaican historian Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) popularized this theory in several writings around midcentury, but the birth of the myth can be traced back further to approximately 1915 or even earlier according to music historian Dominique-René de Lerma, the world’s leading scholar on classical composers of color. Rogers assented in his provocative and controversial works such as the three-volume Sex and Race (1941-44), the two-volume World’s Great Men of Color (1946-47), 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro (1934), Five Negro Presidents (1965), and Nature Knows No Color Line (1952), that Beethoven—in addition to Thomas Jefferson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Robert Browning, and several popes, among others—was genealogically African and thus black. Musicologist Donald Macardle and de Lerma both refuted this possibility with several decades between them. De Lerma also authored a brief account…

Read or purchase the article here.

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The 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture & Humanities Awards: Featuring Rita Dove

Posted in Arts, History, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2011-11-26 23:08Z by Steven

The 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture & Humanities Awards: Featuring Rita Dove

Arizona Humanities Council
Tempe Mission Palms
60E. 5th Street
Tempe, Arizona 85281
2012-04-12

Free & Open to the Public

In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Arizona Humanities Council is proud to present Rita Dove as the keynote speaker for the 2012 Lorraine W. Frank Lecture. Rita Dove will share poems from her most recent book, Sonata Mulattica, about a young mulatto violinist’s encounters with Beethoven.

Discussing the research that went into the book, she will reveal how she came to be uniquely suited to the task of rescuing the mixed race violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower from the shadows of history, and how history comes alive through art.

Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 2006 Common Wealth Award. In 1996, President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the National Humanities Medal. From 1981 to 1989, Rita Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University. She currently is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.

For more information, click here.

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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, Poetry on 2009-09-07 04:29Z by Steven

Sonata Mulattica: Poems

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
2009
240 pages
6.3 × 9.3 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-07008-8

Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English
University of Virginia

In a book-length lyric narrative inspired by history and imagination, a much celebrated poet re-creates the life of a nineteenth-century virtuoso violinist.

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.

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