George Bridgetower, a violin virtuoso and one of the biggest names in classical music during the 1800s, has been honoured with a Blue Plaque on what would have been his 244th birthday.
George Bridgetower is widely regarded as the greatest classical violin soloist of his time, and whose talent attracted the attention of royalty throughout his life. Born on 11 October 1778 to German mother and a father from Barbados, who met while working in Poland for the Hungarian Prince Esterházy. The prince was a great supporter of the arts, and patron of composer of Joseph Haydn.
A move to Austria soon followed where George’s younger brothers Friedrich (who became a noted Cellist) and Johannes were born. Recognised as a child prodigy from a young age, George toured Europe with his father and soon gained an international reputation as a gifted violist.
“By age 10, he was living in London where he was performing as a soloist at the Drury Lane Theatre.”
By age 10, he was living in London where he was performing as a soloist at the Drury Lane Theatre. His talent was such that the then British Prince Regent, the future King George IV took him under his wing, even paying for his musical education, placing him with François-Hippolyte Barthélémon, the leader of the Royal Opera, and the Croatian-Italian composer Giovanni Giornovichi, as well as with Thomas Attwood, St Paul’s Cathedral organist and professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
During the following 10 years George Bridgetower continued to travel abroad, honing his skills and stepping into his reputation as the greatest violinist in the world. One of his admirers was the renowned Beethoven who he performed with in 1803 in Vienna. Beethoven famously dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Minor to him, and also gave Bridgetower his tuning fork, which is now held by the British Library. However, the two later were rumoured to fall out over a woman, causing Beethoven to renege on Sonato No. 9. Instead, he rededicated the composition to the violinist Rudolphe Kreutzer, even though the latter never played the piece commenting that he thought it too complicated. Ironically, the composition is known as the Kreutzer Sonata.
“One of his admirers was the renowned Beethoven who he performed with in 1803 in Vienna.”
The fallout with Beethoven undoubtedly affected George’s career. He is known to have been elected to the Royal Society of Musicians, earned a Bachelor of Music degree, and married Mary Leeke. The couple settled, and bought a house in South London, at 8 Victory cottages in Peckham. There they lived comfortably until Mary died.
George spent his later years travelling between London and Italy, where his daughter lived until his death in 1860. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
The Nubian Jak Community Trust, in partnership with Southwark Council and Sony Music UK has honoured the memory of George Bridgetower with a Blue Heritage Plaque 244 years to the very day he was born and baptised.
In a small ceremony on 11 October 2022, the Blue Plaque was installed on the building where he lived; now named Jack Jones House, 12 Reedham Street, London, SE15 4PH.
“George Bridgetower, quite simply, is the greatest violin virtuoso this country has ever seen.”
This Blue Plaque honour is just the latest in a long line of African and Caribbean personalities who have made huge contributions to Britain, but have been overlooked in the story of Britain. The Nubian Jak team continues to carry forward the work to increase awareness of Black people’s contributions to British society.
Speaking about this latest achievement of bringing recognition to the name of George Bridgetown, Dr Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: “George Bridgetower, quite simply, is the greatest violin virtuoso this country has ever seen. His plaque will be music to the ears of those who have been calling for him to recognised and re-celebrated.”
Charlotte Edgeworth, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact at Sony Music UK, who partnered with Nubian Jak to realise the Blue Plaque in George’s name, said: “He had a profound influence on classical music. We’re delighted he is getting appropriate recognition and hope to introduce him to a new audience with this Blue Heritage Plaque at the house where he once lived.”