Commonwealth Professor of English, University of Virginia
History tells us what happened. Poetry tells us why we should care. In 1803 violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860), Wunderkind progeny of a white European woman and a self-styled “African Prince,” rose to his fifteen minutes of fame. He traveled from London to Vienna to meet the Continent’s “bad boy” musical genius, Ludwig van Beethoven, who recognized his talent and originally dedicated what’s known today as the Kreutzer Sonata to his new “mulatto” friend. By all rights, the sonata should have borne Bridgetower’s name -- had not young George, still exuberant from having premiered the difficult piece to great acclaim, been fresh with a girl Ludwig also fancied. Sonata Mulattica, a cautionary tale woven from historical events subjected to literary imagination, builds around this crucial moment to present an eccentric pageant of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century life -- from Haydn’s discovery of the child genius in the servants’ quarters of a Hungarian castle to Paris mere months before the French Revolution -- to create a grandiose yet melancholic tale. This webinar will discuss several poems with varying points of view to illustrate how poetry can “reconstruct” and enliven an era, looking specifically at classical music and lost history.
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