George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, Violin Virtuoso and Composer of Color in Late 18th Century Europe

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This study is a chronology of the life of the mulatto violin prodigy George Bridgetower from the late eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. We know of Bridgetower through his association with Beethoven and their first performance of the Kreutzer sonata, originally dedicated to Bridgetower in Vienna, 1803. Bridgetower was born 1778 when slavery was on the rampage. The deteriorating image of people of color is examined through art and philosophy beginning with fifteenth century images. In spite of the very negative images present during Bridgetower’s life, he was able to rise to unusual heights in the music world of his day. This study shows how the reality of people of color during the eighteenth century might have helped propel Bridgetower’s career. From his beginning as the “African Prince” to his patronage by the Regent prince of England (later King George IV) and his decline after the death of George IV. His interaction with noted musicians of his day, programs, performance schedules, reviews, and letters relevant to Bridgetower are presented.


“This powerful biography brings to light for the first time the fascinating life of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a virtuoso and composer of color in late 18th century Europe. This first major book on George Bridgetower is based on solid, scholarly research and documentation. The brilliant life of this violin virtuoso is presented in clear, articulate language. The documented biography leads the astonished reader through Bridgetower’s life, [previously unknown to present-day readers], from child prodigy to adult virtuoso performing in the Royal Courts of Europe. Importantly, the biography also presents Bridgetower’s ancestral heritage—African and Caribbean—with documentation from sociologists, historians and musicologists. The chronology of Bridgetower’s life [1778-1860] unfolds with careful attention to detail and as in-depth as possible based on the material researched to the present by the author, Dr. Clifford Panton. This major original work places Dr. Panton as the leading authority on the life of the violinist composer George Bridge tower and opens the door for further Bridgetower research … This masterful biography should be in every library. It is a solid, groundbreaking, major first book on the life of the violin virtuoso George Bridgetower, 18th-19th century mulatto prodigy. The scholarly research and the documentation together with Bridgetower’s fascinating life immediately rivet the reader’s attention. Dr. Panton, a superb violinist in his own right, has written an outstanding powerful book.” – (from Foreword) Dr. María Luisa Rodríguez Lee, Professor of Spanish, University of Minnesota Morris

“I have read with great interest Dr. Clifford Panton’s manuscript. It narrates the life of a black African violinist and composer of the late eighteen and early nineteen century who lived and performed in major European cities such as London, Paris, and Vienna. It also documents the interactions that Bridgetower had with renowned musicians such as Hayden and Beethoven. Dr. Panton’s manuscript is clearly written and nicely documented. With the increasing interest for historical works that provide new knowledge of the contributions to Western culture of under-represented groups, Dr. Panton’s study of Bridgetower’s life will undoubtedly find an audience interested in his work. This biography is well focused and rather tersely written. The story speaks for itself. Dr. Panton does not let any political or ideological agenda get in the way of his narrative of a truly remarkable life. Thus, this book’s message is even more powerful; black Africans who emigrated to Europe had to be extraordinary musicians to obtain the support that white musicians of perhaps less extraordinary talent could more easily attain. It is a story that is worth telling.” – Dr. Pieranna Garavaso, Professor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota

“It would be extremely valuable to have a published monograph on George Bridgetower insofar as, to the best of my knowledge, none presently exists. Bridgetower was an important figure in his time, but must also be an important figure for us, given that, as a well-known and highly accomplished black violinist of two centuries ago, he stands as a crucial example against still-existing racist nonsense about people of color and musical talent. Clifford Panton has assembled the materials for such a monograph. These materials include accounts of the most important events and circumstances of Bridgetower’s life, especially his associations with Beethoven and Hayden; Bridgetower’s contributions to the emerging role of the professional solo violinist; and the varying and changing attitudes toward race at the time. There is very little material on the later years of Bridgetower’s life but, as Panton himself notes, little is presently available. (He expresses the hope that more will become known as time goes on.) Also among the materials Panton has included are such things as copies of concert programs that featured Bridgetower, Bridgetower’s death certificate, and other interesting documents. I do believe that this is a valuable and important project.”– Dr. Laird Addis, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, The University of Iowa, and author Of Mind and Music

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Foreword by Dr. María Luisa Rodríguez Lee, Ph.D.
1. George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower
2. Racial Image in 18th Century Europe
3. European Art and the Changing Images of Blacks
4. London Musical Life
5. London Late Eighteenth Century
6. Bridgetower in London
7. Vienna
8. London
9. Bridgetower and Samuel Wesley

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