The talented 9 year old African violin prodigy George Polgreen Bridgetower was born in 1778, and died in London on February 29 1860. His father was an African prince who married a white European woman, named in English documents as Mary Ann Bridgetower. They had two sons who both became fine musicians – George’s younger brother Fredrick was a cellist.
George played in the Prince’s band at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton for 14 years. He is best remembered today for his association with Ludwig van Beethoven, who met the 23 year old Bridgetower and the two got along famously. The composer praised him as “a very capable virtuoso who has a complete command of his instrument”. Beethoven wrote a new piece – the Kreutzer Sonata – for the Afro-European violinist. Beethoven’s autographed copy of the Sonata for violin and piano bears the inscription ‘Sonata mulattica composta per il mullato’.
Young George appeared at a concert in Bath in the presence of King George III and 550 guests. The Bath Morning Post of December 8, 1789 gave this report:
“The young African Prince, whose musical talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Sunday morning than has ever been known in this place. There were upwards of 550 persons present, and they were gratified by such skills on the violin as created general astonishment, as well as pleasure from the boy wonder. The father was in the gallery, and so affected by the applause bestowed on his son, that tears of pleasure and gratitude flowed in profusion”.
The Bath Chronicle of December 3, 1789 reported: “The amateurs of music in this city received on Saturday last at the New Rooms the highest treat imaginable from the exquisite performance of Master Bridgetower, whose taste and execution on the violin is equal, perhaps superior, to the best professor of the present or any former day. Those who had that happiness were enraptured with the astonishing abilities of this wonderful child – for he is but ten years old. He is a mulatto, the grandson, it is said, of in African Prince”.
A letter from Beethoven to Bridgetower and a miniature of Bridgetower fetched $3,600 at Christie’s, London 1973.