Sonata Mulattica

Rita Dove, Author . Norton $24.95 (231p) ISBN 978-0-393-07008-8

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.)

Reviewed on: 03/16/2009
Release date: 04/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-0-393-33893-5
Open Ebook - 231 pages - 978-0-393-24935-4
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