Today in Music History
A Daily Look at Music History For Violin Students
A Look at What Happened on Today's Date
Long, Long Ago . . . Or Maybe Just Last Year
May 17
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Ludwig van Beethoven's famous Kreutzer Sonata was first performed May 17, 1803.

George Bridgetower, an English violin virtuoso, met Beethoven in Vienna in 1803. They played together and Beethoven was so impressed that when Bridgetower asked Beethoven  to compose a new Violin Sonata for them to perform at one of Ignaz Schuppanzigh's morning concerts in the Augarten pavilion, Beethoven agreed.

Bridgetower had exceptional talent. He had performed for King George III at Windsor Castle, the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion, the Pump Rooms at Bath and across southern England.

Bridgetower was a tall, good-looking ladies' man. He was a mulatto - his mother Polish, his father West Indian.

Beethoven took the new sonata's final movement from an earlier sonata (which he replaced) and composed the piece's first and second movement. He delivered the new movements to Bridgetower only the day before the performance!

The audience assembled for the premiere of the new piece  included the British ambassador, Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lichnowsky, Prince Lobkowitz, and other patrons of the arts.

The performance began. The first movement opened with the violinist double-stopping across all four strings. In bar 35 of the first movement Beethoven had written a huge run just for piano, spanning several octaves. The passage was marked 'to be repeated'. In the repeat, after Beethoven executed the run, and Bridgetower imitated it on the violin.

Beethoven was astonished. He ran across the stage, embraced Bridgetower, ran back to the piano and continued playing.

At celebrations following the performance, Beethoven said he was dedicating the new Violin Sonata to Bridgetower. He wrote on the top of the title page of the manuscript: "Sonata per uno mulaticco lunattico."

Later, the two men were drinking, when Bridgetower made a remark about a lady Beethoven knew. Beethoven was outraged, demanding that Bridgetower return the manuscript of the sonata, and informed him he was withdrawing the dedication, now dedicating it to Rudolphe Kreutzer, Europe's greatest violin virtuoso.

Bridgetower begged Beethoven to change his mind, but Beethoven would not.

Beethoven and Bridgetower never met again. Long after Beethoven's death, Bridgetower - an old man - was living in poverty in a home for the destitute in Peckham, south London. A Beethoven researcher went to see him and asked him if it was true he had once met Beethoven.   Bridgetower related the story.

Bridgetower died in poverty.

One final point. When Kreutzer received the manuscript in Paris, he examined it and declared it impossible to play. "Beethoven does not understand the violin," he said.  Kreutzer never performed the sonata named for him in public.
1846 - Antoine Joseph Sax patented the "saxophone" in Belgium.

1904 - Premiere of Maurice Ravel's Schéhérazade.

1923 - Peter Mennin, US composer and president of the Juilliard School, was born.

1939 - Premiere of Serge Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky in Moscow.

1969 - Leonard Bernstein conducted his last concert as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. He conducted 939 performances with the orchestra (831 as Music Director - 36 world premieres).

1969 - In The Ghetto, by Elvis Presley, was released.

2001 - Premiere of Rouse's Clarinet Concerto.  Soloist Larry Combs and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.
Ludwig van Beethoven
monica huggett baroque violin
monica huggett baroque violin
Paul Dukas, the French composer, died May 17, 1935.  Almost everyone has heard his music in a movie which, features, among other things, dancing mushrooms; centaurs; ostrich, hippo, elephant and alligator ballets; and a huge number of water buckets.  Can You Guess what film features a Dukas composition?

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Hint and extra credit question.  A wizard appears in the film.  What is the wizard's name?
Fantasia. Dukas wrote L'Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice). This music plays as Mickey Mouse tries to fill a vat with water using a spell instead of his muscles.  The wizard is named Yen Sid.  (Read the wizard's name backwards to figure out why.)
George Bridgetower
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