A Golden Coyne
Originally posted on AFRICLASSICAL.COM, a website on African Heritage in classical music. See the original post here.
by Dominique-René de Lerma
One might not need wait much longer before a documentary film on George Bridgetower may be shown on Public Television and subsequently available for viewing on university campuses, libraries, and at other venues — not just in the United States, but certainly in England and Austria. As we know, Bridgetower was that Afro-Polish prodigy-violinist from the end of the nineteenth-century who gave the first performance of Beethoven’s ninth violin sonata with the composer at the piano. But we know that Beethoven was notoriously mercurial in his friendships and, had he not taken offence at a comment Bridgetower later made, the sonata would still bear its dedication to the violinist and be known today as the Bridgetower Sonata, not by its subsequent dedication to Rodolphe Kreutzer. What becomes more ironic is that Kreutzer did not like Beethoven’s music and never considered playing the work.
The documentary came about because of the attention Rita Dove gave to Bridgetower and the “Sonata Mulattica,” which is what she titled her expansive treatment on Bridgetower in a collection published by W. W. Norton in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-393-07008-8). United States Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995, she has been on the faculty of the University of Virginia since 1989, where she is now Commonwealth Professor of English. But she is not just one of the leading contemporary poets — her treatment of Bridgetower, though it may be filled with evocative imagery, does not permit poetic license to modify a single historical fact. Her references are as accurate and specific as the work of any musicologist who has researched the topic.
The documentary was undertaken by the assemblage of professionals at Spark Media in Washington DC, dedicated since its founding in 1989 to social and institutional change through the documentation of its subjects, with more than 40 major awards for its work thus far. An excellent forecast of the Bridgetower project appears at www.sonatamulattica.com and includes a splendid a nine-and-a-half minute video that suggests what we may anticipate. Therein we meet Prof. Dove, President Obama, and Joshua Coyne.
At the last moment before summer began in Appleton, Wisconsin, I had four visitors, knowing in advance they wished to film a conclusion to the post-production elements of the Bridgetower story. With professional acumen and warm-hearted spirits, photographer Oliver Lukas and producer Lloyd “Raki” Jones set up the locations for the discussions that followed. Raki posed provocative questions that immediately exhibited his firm grasp of the subject, but also his faculty position with the University of the District of Columbia. I had already met Jane Coyne and her son, Joshua, when they visited me two years earlier, and previously had become aware Josh through web sites of his earlier ventures as violinist and composer. And I knew of Jane’s work, not only as a musician, but as an activist-administrator in the more significant music organizations, originally in Iowa, and then in “the District” where she later moved.
Coyne and DeLerma in Appleton, Wisconsin, June 2014
When I had met with the Coynes previously, I had good reason to think Josh might emerge from the Wunderkind status in which so many in the past have been stuck (and I suspect that Bridgetower suffered from a fickle audience that was charmed only as long as he was an exotic youngster, same as Mozart). But Josh had now finished his third year on scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music, where he had so impressively benefited from his composition studies with Richard Danielpour, but had so penetratingly immersed himself in score study, concert going, aesthetics, and philosophy that I knew I was conversing with an important intellect, quickly emerging from the embryonic stage. If he elects to continue his formal studies, he will endow the graduate school of his choice and his classmates with enriched dimensions. Although confident in conclusions he has reached thus far, he is not arrogantly rooted in dogma and has overtly left room for any modification of his stances. Nor is he an egotist. Somewhat with humbleness, he has attracted the attention with justification of seniors who seem ready to serve as mentors and, at the same time, develop a genuine devotion for this young man.
We need have no reservation. Let us keep alert to what is becoming a brilliant future for one who will be a major figure in music, a golden voice.
Dominique-René de Lerma