Sonata Mulattica

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Sonata Mulattica : A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play is a collection of poems by U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, published in 2009 (W. W. Norton, ISBN 978-0393338935), about the life of George Bridgetower.[1] Bridgetower was a biracial (Afro-Caribbean, Polish, German) musician who was friends with Beethoven.[2][3][4][5][6] Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata was originally dedicated to Bridgetower, and was originally entitled "Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [Bridgetower], gran pazzo e compositore mulattico" (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer)[7]

Dove said that she relied on documents such as the diary of Charlotte Papendiek who was a servant of George III, and whose husband Christopher Papendiek helped to arrange concerts for Bridgetower.[8] However, as not much information is available about Bridgetower's life, or details regarding the incident regarding the Sonata, Dove's work is mostly her own imagined version of events.[9]

The book consists of five "movements", each a group of poems about a particular theme,[10] as well as a short play.

Critical reception[edit]

Publishers Weekly reviewed Sonata Mulattica as "a heterogeneous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique" and "...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."

The New York Times quotes creator William Zwick who says "Dove does a wonderful job of humanizing the story"[11]

The New Yorker said, "[...] 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." The New Yorker also listed the work as part of their 2009 "A Year's Reading" list.[12][13]

The Los Angeles Times said it was a "masterful collection"[14]

The American Library Association listed the work as part of their "Booklist Editor's Choice" for 2009, and described the work as "a mischievous and sensuous cycle of linked poems that explores genius and power, class and race."[15]


Sonata Mulattica is being produced as a documentary film by Spark Media,[16] Stone Soup Productions, and the Fetzer Institute. It will incorporate elements from the book and Rita Dove's life, and parallel Bridgetower's life with that of contemporary black musician Joshua Coyne.[17] The project was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.[18] John Williams and Joshua Coyne will provide additional music for the film.[19][20]


ISBN 0393070085

  1. ^
  2. ^ Lucas, Demetria L. (2009-04-29). "Rita Dove's 'Sonata Mulattica'". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  3. ^ <%= data.time %> <%= data.meridian %> (2009-11-20). "The Leonard Lopate Show: Sonata Mulattica". WNYC. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  4. ^ "Renowned poet tells UD audience story behind her recent book 'Sonata Mulattica'". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  5. ^ "Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove". 2009-03-23. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  6. ^ Dove, Rita (2009-04-13). "Poet Rita Dove Tells Of Beethoven's Return". NPR. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
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  13. ^ "Sonata Mulattica". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  14. ^ Woods, Paula L. (2009-05-17). "'Sonata Mulattica: Poems' by Rita Dove". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Sonata Mulattica". Spark Media. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  17. ^ "Virtuosity, Love and Loss: Sonata Mulattica | The Fetzer Institute". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Sonata Mulattica | Stone Soup Productions". Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
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External links[edit]