How does a shadow shine? asks Rita Dove in her Annual Lecture during the Poetry Society tour which made a stop at Newcastle University's Centre for Literary Arts yesterday.
Rita Dove at NCLA, Oct 2015. Photo my own.
The talk opened and closed to Beethoven's Ninth Violin Sonata, composed in honour of George Bridgetower, a young talented musician who has since fallen through the gaps of musical history. As Beethoven's original title 'Sonata Mullatica' suggests, this lost prodigy was of mixed parentage, the son of a German mother and Afro-Caribbean father.
Listening again, it is hard to shift the powerful image of Beethoven and Bridgetower dueting. Yet alone for a regal audience, as they did. Bridgetower improvised so beautifully that Beethoven stopped playing piano in order to run across stage and embrace him. It is harder still to forget that later the same night these two men, bound so harmoniously on stage, then fell out over a drunken quip and never spoke again. His dedication was dropped and after a successful career, Bridgetower died in poverty.
In her lyric narrative collection Sonata Mullatica (2009) Dove explores the fascinating story of the man who once inspired and was then rejected by a world famous classical master. Hearing the poems aloud at Culture Lab, one can only say that these are writings worthy of our deepest attention. Dove shines her torch upon the historical shadows, which sparkle back with possibility.