Sonata Mulattica (in development)


Recovering the story of classical music's forgotten Black virtuoso

From poet laureates... to slam poets...
From the Prince of Wales... to Thomas Jefferson...
From Ludwig van Beethoven to John Williams...
A bold cast of characters from three centuries
Link contemporary poetry with classical virtuosity
And reveal how a quarrel over a woman
Erased a man from history
Until now.

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower did not go down in history. But he was rescued from obscurity by Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate, Rita Dove, and he now takes center stage in a new documentary based on her acclaimed book, SONATA MULATTICA.

Born to a Polish-German woman and an Afro-Caribbean man who claimed to be an African prince, George Bridgetower was a child prodigy violinist. He electrified late 18th century Europe, riveting royal audiences, enthralling kings and queens, his innate gift transcending boundaries of class, race and culture. His debut in Paris garnered this review: "His talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and his colour of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts." He was 9 years old.

In 1803, Bridgetower met classical music's newest luminary, Ludwig van Beethoven, and struck up a fast friendship. Beethoven was so inspired by the young master he composed one of his greatest works, "Violin Sonata #9" and titled it, "sonata per uno mulaticco lunattico." When they played it together before an audience that included Austrian royalty, Bridgetower's performance was so astonishing that Beethoven abruptly stopped playing and dashed across the stage to embrace the violinist, then, returned to the piano to finish the recital.

Regrettably, their bond would rupture over a woman, and an enraged Beethoven changed the title of his work to "The Kreutzer Sonata," naming it after French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who ironically never performed the piece and thought it was unplayable when he saw the sheet music.

Bridgetower left Vienna for England. Despite his mixed heritage and a thriving trans-Atlantic slave trade, he got his degree at Cambridge and continued to perform, compose and teach. But unlike Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, this consummate artist would die in 1860, a pauper, his virtuosity unknown.

Now, a century and a half later, his time has come. His dramatic biography will provide a springboard to explore issues of class and race in classical music, shedding light on how a minority can embrace a cultural heritage and defy expectations to thrive. To capture the spirit of Rita Dove's lyrical narrative, the film will adopt an innovative structure, weaving history with contemporary artistic performances. The film will be informed and enriched by commentary from an eclectic group of authorities including Mike Phillips, OBE, author, curator and historian, Robbie Q. Telfer, Production Manager for Young Chicago Authors and one of the country's leading slam poets, and renowned composer John Williams, both a collaborator and an admirer of Rita Dove. SONATA MULATTICA is a journey to reclaim a lost virtuoso, and a celebration of the enduring power of art.

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