Celebrate Bridgetower and rename his sonata

This was originally written as a thread on Twitter

Here’s a thought: there’s been a lot of talk about promoting black artists in classical music recently. It’s also the Beethoven 250th anniversary year. There’s a great way that we can mark both of these: let’s finally rename the “Kreutzer Sonata”, the “Bridgetower Sonata”.

I’m sure there are actual Beethoven scholars who can tell this story better than I can, but the way I understand it, George Bridgetower was a mixed race violinist with a father from the West Indies. He was born in Poland and lived much of his life in England.

He travelled to Vienna, where his skills on the violin motivated Beethoven to compose a fiendishly difficult sonata for him, still a landmark in the repertoire. One of his showpieces was performing quadruple-stop chords, which is why Beethoven opened the piece with them.

Now, this piece is ridiculously difficult, and Beethoven was terrible with deadlines, so he was still writing it up until the morning of the first performance. Bridgetower had plenty of time look at the 3rd mvt, but the 1st mvt only just had enough time to go to the copyist before the performance. And the 2nd mvt wasn’t ready in time even for the copyist to write out the violin part, meaning Bridgetower had to sight-read the violin part over Beethoven’s shoulder from the manuscript in LvB’s terrible hand-writing **during the live perfomance**

The 2nd mvt was so popular with the audience that they demanded it was repeated twice before they allowed Bridgetower and Beethoven to move on to the 3rd mvt.

Some time after this, Bridgetower made some remark which led Beethoven to turn against him, and instead of dedicating the sonata to Bridgetower, he instead dedicated it to the French violinist Rudolphe Kreutzer.

Kreutzer took one look at the sonata in private and declared it unplayable. He never performed it. Now, Beethoven obviously had a reason to retract Bridgetower’s dedication, but LvB wasn’t exactly known for his cool temper.

And given that Bridgetower’s technical brilliance is what inspired the sonata in the first place, and that he gave the 1st performance, while Kreutzer didn’t like it and never performed it, I suggest we should overrule LvB (he wouldn’t mind, he’s been dead for a long time).

We should finally name the piece for the black musician it was written for. All it takes is for us to change the name. We’ve done it before: LvB never called his sonata “Moonlight” & it was his publisher who named the String Quartet “the Harp”. We have the power to do this.

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