for violin and pianoviolin and piano (2015)
|Commission||Co-commissioned by Music Bridge and San Francisco Performances|
|Premiere||April 22, 2015; Santa Barbara, CA, University of California Santa Barbara (USA); Jennifer Koh, violin; Shai Wosner, piano|
The "Kreutzer" Sonata was originally dedicated not to Rudolphe Kreutzer (who never performed it) but to George Bridgetower, a famed 18th-century Afro-European concert violinist. In an early draft, Beethoven jokingly labeled the piece in starkly racialized terms: "Sonata Mulattica composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer."
Beethoven and Bridgetower performed the premiere, which was by all accounts a success, and even featuring some improvised embellishment by the violinist. While celebrating afterwards, the two quarreled about what Beethoven construed as Bridgetower's insult of a female acquaintance; the composer then revoked the original dedication, adding Kreutzer's name instead. The work gained acclaim, while Bridgetower's career languished; he eventually died in poverty.
Bridgetower has been the subject of considerable research and speculation, most notably in poet Rita Dove's book, Sonata Mulattica. From our 21st-century vantage, considering Bridgetower's unique circumstance, we can only see him as an ambiguous figure who, in embodying difference, provoked inspiration, fantasy, desire, anger and, finally, erasure.
My piece is a collection of imaginings about George Bridgetower. It is not programmatic, but it takes on an episodic character, assembled from contrasting fragments. The dance rhythms, recurring figures and gestural contours are intended to feature the embodied expertise and expressivity of the performers, who at times must access liminal sounds and execute complex synchronies. I am grateful to Jenny Koh and Shai Wosner for involving me in their beautiful, virtuosic music-making.