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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  203 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travels to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto, but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poet ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 27th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published April 6th 2009)
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Robin Friedman
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This long narrative poem by the former United States Poet Laureate Rita Dove tells the story of the brief relationship between George Bridgetower a virtuoso violinist and Ludwig van Beethoven. Bridgetower (1780 -- 1860) was the son of an African/Carribean father known as the "African Prince" and a German/Polish mother. Bridgetower thus was a mulatto. He was a child prodigy on the violin and gave his first concert in Paris, just before the French Revolution, at the age of nine.

In 1803 while in Vi
Roger Brunyate
How Does a Shadow Shine?

Having read so many novels recently written with the sensibility of a poet, I was curious to see what former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove would make of this cycle of 85 poems that together take the form of a novel. A biographical novel about a footnote to musical history: the mulatto violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower. Beethoven (who ought to know) called him a crazy genius (gran pazzo) and was inspired to write him his most difficult violin sonata. But the two quarreled
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: music lovers and poetry lovers
Recommended to Bob by: book club selection
Shelves: poetry
A book of poetry that attempts to tell a story but not in ballad or epic form can be challenging at best and impossible to comprehend at worst. To her credit, Rita Dove has done an exceptional job of describing an incident in the life of one George Augustus Polgreen Bridgewater whose fifteen minutes of fame came in the early nineteenth century when, as a child prodigy violinist, he played and improvised with Beethoven himself on piano, what became the Sonata No. 9 for Violin and Piano, known tod ...more
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I enjoyed this book in more ways than I can say. It's poetry, beauty, history, biography, theatre, character study, art, ars poetica, philosophy, wit, charm, pageant and social study in one. It's a book-length set of poems about someone nearly lost to history, and yet every piece stands on its own even while building the story and the plot. The concept is brilliant, the delivery nearly flawless, the range of ideas, observations and illuminations breathtaking. It's that rare book, let alone that ...more
Jun 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of poems about George Bridgetower, Beethoven’s one-time protégé and a biracial man living in Europe (over a century before the term ‘biracial’ was even coined), are a mixed bag. They’re more good than not – and the poems have a lyricism that does justice to the importance of music in Mr. Bridgetower’s story – but I do feel like they miss some of the tension and conflict in the relationship between the two men. All the same, a lovely collection about a fascinating bit of history. ...more
Grady Ormsby
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poetry and music lovers
Sonata Mulattica: A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play (2009) by former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove has a rather unusual format. Fundamentally it is a collection of poems, but at the same time it is a sort of biographic novel. The poems are a lyric narrative of the life of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1778 –1860). Bridgetower was a biracial (Afro-Caribbean, Polish, German) virtuoso violinist. There is not an abundance of information available about Bridgetower so the events are la ...more
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So I am no poetry buff but I loved this lyrical narrative. First it was about one of my favorite periods in history and it was broken up into short poems so if I didn't understand something it did not have a domino effect on my understanding of the overall piece. Rita Dove's writing is so clever. She uses all different kinds of different poetic styles to communicate the story. I found the variety refreshing. I wish I had discovered the notes and chronology at the beginning so if you do decide to ...more
Marjorie Hakala
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is quite good--thought-provoking and lovely and ever so musical. Criticisms: The central incident is a *little* lightweight to support the book, and for some reason it's portrayed in this kind of Viennese-farce-drama which I didn't really understand. And I do wish I had known ahead of time that there were explanatory notes and a chronology in the back of the book, because some of the poems were quite opaque without them. Perhaps I should have read the table of contents--but who does that? S ...more
Aug 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having become familiar with Rita Dove via HBO's Def Poetry series, I did not know what to expect from this book from the multifaceted former poet laureate- These poems are a series of beautiful dreams, starting with a message in bottle and ending with a solitary mapquest driven drive through european rain.

Dove bites William Carlos Williams' so sweet and so cold, but times it so neatly (if indiscreetly) that it is a plummy pleasure to find. lush, lovely images tie and tell the story of George Br
Jun 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Beethoven time, apparently there was a virtuous pianist whom Beethoven mentored. He was of African descent and a prince. I am glad I have learned that there may have been some one who was just as brilliant as Beethoven. Rita Dove poetry in this collection ranges in styles from narrative to lyrical to satire...I find it to be not here most rigorous work such the the sonnets of Mother Love. Yet to be able to tell a story through all those characters during that time and so elegantly is impressi ...more
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-class
This is one of my favorite books of poetry in a long, long while. I can't even imagine the amount of work and research it must have taken to complete it, and the poetry itself was absolutely beautiful. Because of the great variety, there were definitely poems I loved more than others, but the book never dragged. It was fantastic.

The only negative thing I have to say about it is that, because it was written via poetry, Bridgetower's life didn't exactly get explained all that well. But that honest
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of short poems written from multiple points of view, recounting the true story of a black prodigy violinist who vastly impressed Beethoven, with whom he premiered what was later titled the Kreuzer Sonata. The book is a truly impressive feat of imagination and execution. My only complaint is that occasionally I was unable to figure out from context exactly who was supposed to have authored a given poem. Even so, the period, the characters, and the music were vividly evoked.
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub-books
Very interesting and distinctly different approach to story-telling. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this one. Fairly slim in size, but this takes time to read, as I re-read many sections to both savor the language and to figure out what was happening. Although there are some beautiful images and lovely turns of phrase, the poetry itself didn't really bowl me over most of the time. Ambitious, but not always effective, for me.
Oct 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
George Bridgetower was an interesting footnote when I read The Hemingses of Monticello earlier this year. So when I happened to come across this book in the library, I was compelled enough to pick it up. I don't normally read poetry, I like to listen to it and I prefer small doses to full books, but there are some very beautiful pieces here, as Dove reimagines a somewhat lost piece of history.
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I heard her speak this summer & was quite impressed...I have always been somewhat intimidated by poetry, & had started this book before I heard her...she changed my world...I was trying too hard...this book speaks to you, even if you don't understand every line...and the notes in the back were a big help...wish I'd seen them while I was reading! LOL
May 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I'd heard the author on the Diane Rehm show and was excited to get this book. It was better than I expected. I had not read poetry since my college days and was a bit intimidated to pick up something entitled "poems" but I dove in. These poems are wonderful. A great story. Beautiful imagery, even tantalizing in places. Funny too. I highly recommend this.
Find it at JMRL:

Dove was the Poet Laureate of VA from 2004-2006, and is now the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English at UVA in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, writer Fred Viebahn.
Michael Robertson
I'm looking forward to this poem sequence about a violon virtuoso who was the original dedicatee of Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata." The New Yorker calls it "accessible" and compares it to a historical novel.
Megan Geissler
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a delight. Interesting approach.
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
beautiful, fragmented. Sometimes knotty. Definitely the polished product of a finely tuned imagination.
Oct 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful book, with topnotch elements of both poetry and fiction.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't read much poetry -- this is the first book of poetry I've ever read -- so I know there was a lot that I missed in this book, but I really enjoyed it. The topic was fascinating to me, as a musician primarily, but also as a person who is interested in racial equality in my country and in my career field. Some of the poems were really beautiful, some I didn't get, but I think that's more my inexperience with poetry than the author's skill with it.
Oct 23, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping to like this book better, since I myself am a violinist and love Beethoven. I recently found out the backstory of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, and found it fascinating that it was originally dedicated to a person of color, who himself was a very talented musician. It might be because I've never gotten into poetry, or that, as others say here, that the supposed climactic part of the story doesn't come alive in the book, but overall I wasn't overwhelmed. I agree with other reviewers t ...more
Diann Blakely
Rita Dove, former poet laureate and longtime professor at the University of Virginia, mastered the formal narrative with her third verse collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Thomas and Beulah. She continues in that vein in SONATA MULATTICA, the tragic, fact-based story of a virtuosic violinist. Son of a white woman and “an African prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower is possessed of fingers “agile as the monkeys from his father’s land” as they play the strings of his instrument. He travels to ...more
I bought this book-length lyric narrative after I heard Rita Dove speak at a cultural lecture on NIH's campus. She made a compelling case for George Augustus Bridgetower, and I had to give it a chance. Some poems left me, mouth open, reading and re-reading, and others were trying too hard. It's difficult to tell historical fiction in poetry without an epic style, etc. and the climax of the story is a bit weak to carry an entire book. In the end, I enjoyed the work and I'm happy I read it, but it ...more
Agree with other commenters that the central incident (used to describe and promote the book) is weak insufficient to support the entire work, but as a whole, the book is creative and helped me think differently about poetry. Lovers of classical music and Vienna are likely to have fun with this one.
Jan 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being out of the poetry loop for some time now, I was enthusiastic to delve back into the form with Dove's newest (2009) work. I took my time, reading aloud each lyric and meeting the acquaintance of Bridgetower. The approach was enjoyable.
May 05, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: npr, history
As heard on the Diane Rehm Show on WYPR.
Oct 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I wish that I could be more into the style of poetry in this because the narrative and attention to history and detail is truly fantastic.
I was so interested in the subject matter of this book, but it never quite grabbed me in all the billion times I picked it up.
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Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and musician, lives in Charlottesville, where she is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
More about Rita Dove...