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George Bridgetower: Henry, A Ballad (c. 1812)

George Bridgetower (1778-1860)

soprano Zyda Culpepper

fortepianist Sylvia Berry

This emotional and energetic song is one of only two confirmed extant works by George Bridgetower, the other being a set of piano exercises. It consists of three melodically strophic verses, and a through-composed keyboard accompaniment, filled with colorfully ambitious flourishes. This was published shortly after earning his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Cambridge. It was dedicated to “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales,” who was 16 year old Charlotte Augusta at the time. This appears to be the first recording of the piece, as well as the first recording of any Bridgetower composition, at least that is digitally documented and available.

George Bridgetower, originally baptised Hieronimo Hyppolito de Augusto in Poland, was a composer, pianist, polyglot and acclaimed violinist of Afro-Caribbean heritage. He moved to London as a child, where he spent most of his life and career – by the age of ten he appears in documents as a violinist employed at the Drury Lane Theatre. He concertized on violin all around Europe and was a favorite of the upper-class and royalty. Visiting Vienna at the age of 25 he was introduced to and became friendly with Beethoven, who wrote what is now known as the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata for him, and the two premiered the work together in 1803. They fell out, however, and Beethoven changed the dedication for publication. Though he led a distinguished career, by the end of his long life, Bridgetower faced obscurity and poverty. The journal Le Mercure de France wrote of him: “His talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and color of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts.”


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