Chamber Artists to play black composers’ music

The Capital Chamber Artists play music of popular in the time of George Bridgetower, a virtuoso viol
Capital Chamber Artists, from left, Mary Lou Saetta, Alfred Fedak and Andre O'Neill, will perform music popular in the time of George Bridgewater on Saturday at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Capital Chamber Artists, from left, Mary Lou Saetta, Alfred Fedak and Andre O'Neill, will perform music popular in the time of George Bridgewater on Saturday at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany.

Mary Lou Saetta, the violinist and artistic director of Capitol Chamber Artists, wanted to do something special for Black History Month. A little research gave her the answer: 18th century virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower, who was popular during Beethoven’s time.

Saturday’s CCA program includes pieces that Bridgetower might have performed, along with works by 20th century black composers.

Bridgetower was born in 1778 in Poland to a European mother and a West Indian father, who was part of Hungarian Prince Esterhazy’s household. When he made his Paris debut at age 10, critics called him the “son of the African prince,” Saetta said. His concerts around England attracted the attention of the future King George IV, who subsequently paid for the young violinist’s musical education.

When Haydn visited London in the early 1790s, Bridgetower was said to study with him. By the time he was 21, he was playing first violin in the king’s orchestra, Saetta said. He toured over the next decade with great success.

Capitol Chamber Artists

WHEN: 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State St., Albany

HOW MUCH: $16, $8

MORE INFO: 458-9231, www.capitolchamberartists.com

Then, during a series of concerts in the early 1800s in Germany, contacts gave him introductions to play for the Viennese aristocracy, which included Beethoven’s patron, Prince Lichnowsky, who introduced the two.

It was a lucky happenstance: The composer was writing a violin sonata and the prince was willing to finance a concert that would feature the work, in May 1803.

“Beethoven had already sketched out two movements, but it was still in manuscript,” Saetta said. “Bridgetower was supposed to be a terrific player but he had to sight read the part over Beethoven’s shoulder at the concert. It baffles my mind that he could do this.”

The sonata is still considered extremely difficult, and Bridgetower’s abilities must have been formidable. Initially, Beethoven was going to dedicate the work to Bridgetower, calling the work “Sonata Mulattica Composta.” But they had a falling out, presumably over a woman, Saetta said, and Beethoven dedicated the sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer, considered the finest violinist of the day, who never performed it.

Bridgetower eventually retired in London, where he died in 1860.

Saetta will perform the Giovanni Viotti (1755-1824) Concerto in G Major, a work that would have been a staple in Bridgetower’s time, and two short sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Joseph Boulogne (1745-1799), a star in 1770s Paris known as the Black Mozart.

“He was born on the French-ruled Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to the son of a white plantation owner and a slave mother,” Saetta said. “He was considered the first composer of African descent.”

Andre O’Neil will accompany on piano and Al Fedak will play harpsichord.

Saetta will also perform William Grant Still’s (1895-1978) Suite, which has movements suggested by a painting or sculpture: Richmond Barthe’s “African Dancer,” Sargent Johnson’s “Mother and Child,” and August Savage’s “Gamin.”

O’Neil also discovered an unaccompanied “Baroque Suite” (1965) by Dorothy Rudd Moore (born 1940). Moore was married to famed cellist/conductor Kermit Moore, who died last year at 84. O’Neil will also perform Lawrence Brown’s arrangement of “Five Negro Folk Songs” with Fedak at the organ.

“It’s exciting to play these works because it’s music you don’t hear and they are very interesting,” Saetta said.

To hear all the works, attend CCA’s pre-concert recital at 7 p.m. as well as the 8 p.m. concert.

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