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George Bridgtower

Renowned violinist and close friend of Beethoven

George Bridgtower was a musical prodigy; a soloist and principal violinist in professional orchestras at the age of twelve. He was born in Poland in 1779; his father was from Barbados, and had been living in Europe where he had been the personal servant to a prince. From his earliest childhood, George showed extraordinary musical talent. His first performance was at the age of nine in Paris, where he played a violin concerto. A courtier described his playing as 'perfect, with a clear good tone spirit pathos and good taste'.

There followed a series of successful concerts in London, Bath and Bristol. In 1789, the Bath Journal wrote of 'the astonishing abilities of this child', and of the 'exquisite performance of Master Bridgtower, whose taste and execution on the violin is equal, perhaps superior, to the best professor of the present or any former day'.

In 1791, George came under the protection of the Prince of Wales who appointed tutors for him, and engaged famous musicians to teach him musical theory. By the age of 12 he was a respected member of London's artistic community. Between 1789 and 1799 he performed in about 50 concerts in theatres such as Covent Garden and the Haymarket. Bridgtower held the post of the Prince's first violinist in his private band for 14 years. In 1802 he made a concert tour of Germany, and made friends with Beethoven, who described Bridgtower as 'a very able virtuoso and an absolute master of his instrument'. At the first performance of the 'Kreutzer' sonata Bridgtower was brave enough to alter a brief passage of Beethoven's manuscript, which was warmly received by Beethoven. He dedicated the sonata to him.

George Bridgtower took the degree of Bachelor of Music in 1811 at Cambridge, and the anthem he composed was an examination exercise was performed there. In later life he travelled abroad, particularly in Italy. He died on 29 February 1860 in Peckham, south London, in poverty and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

As a child prodigy, George Bridgtower was comparable to Mozart, and in his time he was a very famous and successful musician.

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