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Sonata Mulattica: Poems Paperback – September 27, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This 12th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize recipient is her third book-length narrative poem: it follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson/ of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius: Music played for the soul is sheer pleasure;/ to play merely for pleasure is nothing/ but work. Dove does not always achieve such subtleties—those who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Dove’s verse sequence re-creates the life of the biracial violinist George Bridgetower, best remembered for being the first performer, and the initial dedicatee, of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. (Beethoven replaced his humorous dedication to the “lunatic and mulatto” after quarrelling with him, apparently over a woman.) A virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life, the poems use all registers—nursery rhymes, diary entries, drama—and are stuffed with historical and musical arcana. Yet the book remains highly accessible, reading much like a historical novel. Dove is fascinated by Bridgetower’s life as a black musician and occasionally implies parallels with the world of jazz and rap, but the issue of race does not predominate. She is concerned equally with the status of musicians in a world of precarious patronage—even Haydn, at the Esterhazy estate, has “no more leave / to step outside the gates / than a prize egg-laying hen”—and with “the radiant web” of music itself.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393338932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393338935
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan), in 2007 she became a Chubb Fellow at Yale University, in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she received the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Premio Capri (the international prize of the Italian "island of poetry").

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany. She has published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium," the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed -- in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music -- a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of The Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice," for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in the spring of 2009. Most recently she edited "The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry" (2011).

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, the German writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.

More biographical information is available at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

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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 over a girl and, in a fit of pique, Beethoven rededicated the work now known as the KREUTZER SONATA.

So we have a real-life story, or at least some outlines for the writer to fill in. George's father was a self-styled African Prince brought to the Austro-Hungarian court as part, frankly, of a human menagerie; gifted in many languages, he seems to have had an instinctive nose for that touch of exotic wildness that would secure his place in European society. George's mother was a German woman of Polish descent. George himself, as a boy on the Esterhazy estate, comes to the notice of Joseph Haydn, who develops his musical talents to the point where he creates a sensation at his Paris debut at the age of 9, and thereafter gets adopted by the English court. He is 23 when he visits Vienna, enthralls Beethoven then maddens him, and returns in defeat to England; there, he will serve for 20 years as leader of the Prince Regent's orchestra, wander abroad, and return to die in a London suburb at the end of his eighth decade.

It is a rocket of a story with a long dying fall.
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Format: Paperback
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 Vienna, Bridgetower was introduced to Beethoven (1770- 1827) who at the age of 33 was ten years Bridgetower's senior and already possessed of a large reputation as a composer. Beethoven was taken with the young man's virtuosity and passion on the violin. He briefly interrupted work on his monumental third symphony to compose a sonata for violin and piano in which Bridgetower would play the violin and Beethoven the piano. The sonata in A major, opus. 47 Beethoven's ninth for violin and piano, was performed to great acclaim on May 24, 1803. Beethoven intended to dedicate the sonata to Bridgetower, for whom he had written the work. But the two men had a falling-out over a woman, the precise details of which remain obscure. In a fit of anger, Beethoven withdrew the dedication to Bridgetower and dedicated his sonata instead to Rudolphe Kreutzer. Kreutzer was probably the most famous violinist of his day, and Beethoven knew him slightly. Kreutzer disliked the sonata Beethoven dedicated to him and never played it. But the work is one of Beethoven's grandest, and the dedication made Kreutzer's name immortal. George Bridgetower, although he would live a long life, became relegated to obscurity, known only passingly to those who study Beethoven and his music, when Beethoven withdrew his dedication.
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Having seen Rita Dove recently at the Downtown library in Los Angeles, I was determined to purchase her latest volume, Sonata Mulattica. This is a most unusual set of poems, including a small play! There is nothing forbidding about Dove's poems. She reaches her reader with every word.It is not surprising that she has been a Poet Laureate This is a most appealing work, even for those not familiar with poetry. I appreciated receiving a used copy through Amazon. It was in "as new" condition, pristine - and about half the price of buying it at the bookstore. As a writer, myself, I sometimes feel a bit guilty about buying at such a discount. The writer gets so little from books, anyway, and when books are sold at deep discounts, the writer often gets nothing at all.

Still, for those of us who love books, Amazon offers additions to our personal libraries that we could not otherwise afford, would not otherwise buy.

Monica B. Morris
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Format: Hardcover
I love this book. I played symphony violin for 9 years and I truly appreciate the extensive research Rita Dove has done to make the book musically oriented. The book also employs preics terminiology to paint the picture of that time period. While some parts are a bit dense, the overall flow from poem to poem is beautiful music, plain and simple.
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After hearing Rita Dove read some of these poems in person, in Williamsburg, Virginia, I could not wait to read the whole book! however, each poem is so intriguing--by turns beautiful, thought-provoking, and funny--that you need to take time; read one or two, then re-read, then go away & listen to music, then come back & enjoy!
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