History Hunt: George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

We’re back in Europe for this week’s History Hunt, visiting someone who had a lot of friends in high places!

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was born in Poland on February 29, 1780. Or possibly October 11, 1778. Or maybe sometime in 1779. Similar to the confusion surrounding John Blanke, historians aren’t completely sure, though they do think the February 29 birthday is the most likely. It doesn’t help that Bridgetower’s father, who worked in the Hungarian castle Esterháza, enjoyed telling stories. He gave quite a few different backgrounds for himself over the years. His favourite was that he was an African prince, and some of his friends thought he might be the son of an Indian princess.

Poland

Birthplace of George Bridgetower

What is true, though, is Bridgetower’s genius with the violin. Like Nannerl Mozart and Joseph Boulogne, Bridgetower was a child prodigy. He was a student of famous composer Joseph Haydn, who was the Kappellmeister (or master of music) at Esterháza, and he performed to high praise in France and England when he was either nine or ten years old. He soon caught the attention of the Prince of Wales, who began sponsoring him so he could give more concerts and continue his violin studies. But Bridgetower didn’t want to coast on the Prince’s goodwill, and he made sure to give himself a lot of opportunities to perform. Soon, he had built himself a very successful career.

In 1803, another prince, Prince Lichnowsky of Poland, introduced Bridgetower to one of his own sponsored composers: Ludwig van Beethoven! The two became great friends, and Beethoven was very enthusiastic about Bridgetower’s incredible skill with the violin. He dedicated his Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin in A, Op. 47 to Bridgetower, who played the extremely difficult violin part during its debut. Sadly, Bridgetower and Beethoven had a falling-out when Bridgetower–usually known for being friendly and a good person to work with–insulted someone Beethoven cared about. Beethoven was so upset that re-dedicated his sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a famous violinist that Beethoven had met exactly once.

Bridgetower continued to perform throughout his life. He earned a Bachelor of Music at the University of Cambridge in 1811 and married sometime before 1817. Like John Blanke, almost nothing is known about his wife, except that her maiden name was “probably” Drake.

In addition to being a performer, George Bridgetower was also a composer of several works, including a book called Diatonica armonica for his students. Unfortunately, his works aren’t easily available. If anyone has any recordings of his compositions, I would greatly appreciate it if you could share them!

In the meantime, you can listen to the first part of the sonata Beethoven had once dedicated to Bridgetower below, with the rest being on Youtube:

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (sources):
George Polgreen Bridgetower at the British Library
Bridgetower, George (1780-1860) at BlackPast.org
George Bridgetower at Wikipedia
Rodolphe Kreutzer at Wikipedia

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