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Bridgetower, George Augustus Polgreen (DNB00)


BRIDGETOWER, GEORGE AUGUSTUS POLGREEN (1779–1840?), violinist, was probably born at Biala in Poland in 1779. His father was a mysterious individual, who was known in London society as the 'Abyssinian Prince,' and according to some accounts was half-witted. The mother was a Pole, but nothing is known as to how the negro father (for such he seems to have been) came to be in Poland, and there is considerable doubt as to whether the name he bore was not an assumed one. Bridgetower and his father were in London before the year 1790. His principal master was Barthelemon, though he is said also to have studied the violin under Giornovichi and composition with Attwood. His first appearance took place at an oratorio concert at Drury Lane Theatre on 19 Feb. 1790, when he played a concerto between the parts of the 'Messiah,' attended by his father habited in the costume of his country.' It has been surmised that this performance attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, for on 2 June following, Bridgetower and Franz Clement, a clever Viennese violinist of about his own age, gave a concert at Hanover Square under the prince's patronage. At this concert the two boys played a duet by Deveaux, and (with Ware and F. Attwood) a quartet by Pleyel. The celebrated Abt Vogler was among the audience. In April 1791 Bridgetower played at one of Salomon's concerts, and at the Handel commemoration at Westminster Abbey in the same year (May-June) he and Hummel, dressed in scarlet coats, sat on each side of Joah Bates at the organ, pulling out the stops. In 1792 he played at the oratorios at the King's Theatre, under Linley's management (24 Feb.-30 March), and on 28 May he played a concerto by Viotti at a concert given by Barthelemon. His name also occurs amongst those of the performers at a concert given by the Prince of Wales for the benefit of the distressed Spitalfields weavers in 1794. Bridgetower was a member of the Prince of Wales's private band at Brighton, but in 1802 he obtained leave to visit his mother, who lived with another son (a violoncellist) at Dresden, and to go to the baths of Karlsbad and Teplitz. At Dresden he gave concerts on 24 July 1802 and 18 March 1803, which were so successful that, having obtained an extension of leave, he went to Vienna, where he arrived in April 1803. Here he was received with great cordiality, and was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven, who wrote for him the great Kreutzer Sonata. This work was first performed at a concert given by Bridgetower at the Augarten-Halle on either 17 or 24 May 1803, Beethoven himself playing the pianoforte part. The sonata was barely finished in time for the performance; indeed, the pianoforte part of the first movement was only sketched. Czerny said that Bridgetower's playing on this occasion was so extravagant that the audience laughed, but this is probably an exaggeration. There exists a copy of the sonata, formerly belonging to Bridgetower, on which he has made a memorandum of an alteration he introduced in the violin part, which so pleased Beethoven that he jumped up and embraced the violinist, exclaiming, 'Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!' In later years Bridgetower alleged that the Kreutzer Sonata was originally dedicated to him, but that before he left Vienna he had a quarrel with Beethoven about some love affair which caused the latter to alter the inscription. After his visit to Vienna, Bridgetower returned to England, and in June 1811 took the degree of Mus. Bac. at Cambridge, where his name was entered at Trinity Hall. The graduates' list gives his name as George Bridgtower, but a contemporary paragraph in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' leaves but little doubt that this was the mulatto violinist. His exercise on this occasion was an anthem, the words of which were written by F. A. Rawdon; it was performed with full orchestra and chorus at Great St. Mary's on 30 June 1811. In the following year was published a small work entitled 'Diatonica Armonica for the Pianoforte,' by 'Bridgtower, M.B.,' who was probably the subject of this article. After this, Bridgetower seems totally to disappear; he is believed to have lived in England for many years, and to have died there between the years 1840 and 1850, but no proof of this is forthcoming. It is also said that a married daughter of his is still living in Italy. He was an excellent musician, but his playing was spoilt by too great a striving after effect. In person he was remarkably handsome, but of a melancholy and discontented disposition.

[Grove's Dict. of Musicians, i. 275 b; Thayer's Beethoven's Leben, ii. 227, 385; Gent. Mag. for 1811, ii. 37, 158; Pohl's Haydn in London, pp. 18, 28, 38, 43, 128, 137, 199; Parke's Musical Memoirs, i. 129; Luard's Graduati Cantabrigienses.]

W. B. S.