Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: George Bridgetower, Louis van Beethoven, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and a Sonata for Violin!

Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman

We mark the premiere on May 24, 1803 – 218 years ago today – of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47. When published in 1805, it was dedicated to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, and has been known as the “Kreutzer Sonata” ever since. However, it was originally dedicated to the famed violinist George Bridgetower, who, along with Beethoven, premiered the work 218 years ago today. How and why George Bridgetower originally received and then lost the dedication of the sonata makes for quite a story!

General Jean Bernadotte
General Jean Bernadotte (1763-1844)

General Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (1763-1844) was an extraordinary character, the only of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals to achieve any post-Napoleonic success on his own: he reigned as King of Norway and Sweden from 1818-1844. (Not bad for the son of a tailor from the nowheresville city of Pau in southwestern France!) 

In February of 1798, long before he became King of Sweden and Norway (where he was known as “Charles/Carl XIV John”), the young and Hollywood good-looking Bernadotte was appointed the French minister to the Habsburg Emperor in Vienna. He didn’t last long in the job; Napoleon himself referred to Bernadotte as being “somewhere between hotheaded and crazy”, but he lasted long enough to become friends with one Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

Rodolphe Kreutzer
Rodolphe Kreutzer (1866-1831)

Bernadotte was a music fanatic, and among his entourage in Vienna was the famed French virtuoso violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831). Beethoven’s friend Prince Moritz Lichnowsky (the younger brother of his principal patron, Prince Karl Lichnowsky) introduced Beethoven to Bernadotte and Kreutzer, and the three got along famously. (In April of 1798, Beethoven and Kreutzer concertized together at Prince Lobkowitz’ palace in Vienna. We don’t know what Kreutzer thought about Beethoven’s pianism, but we do know that Beethoven was most impressed by Kreutzer and the “French violin school” of which he was the contemporary exemplar.) 

(Kreutzer’s impact on Beethoven went well beyond his violin playing. The French Revolutionary music Kreutzer introduced to Beethoven by such composers as François-Joseph Gossec, Étienne

Méhul, and Kreutzer himself was heroic and monumental in its expressive impact; epic music that was employed in revolutionary ritual and dedicated to the very remaking of humanity. It was music that would play a profound role in Beethoven’s compositional reinvention of 1802 and 1803.)… continue reading, only on Patreon!

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