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.)
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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.
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