Virtuosity, Love and Loss: Sonata Mulattica

  • A cross-generational tale of two virtuosos Joshua Coyne at the keyboard. Image Credit: Spark Media

  • Virtuosity across the generations Two great violinists of African descent are key figures in "Sonata Mullatica." Image Credit: Spark Media

  • Virtuosity across the generations George Bridgetower Image Credit: Spark Media

Virtuosity, Love and Loss: Sonata Mulattica

Classical music’s power as a catalyst for love and forgiveness plays a starring role in the upcoming documentary Sonata Mulattica. The film weaves the stories and contrasting fortunes of two gifted musicians of African heritage, one contemporary and one historical.

Along with contemporary violinist Joshua Coyne, the film examines the obscure legacy of George Polgreen Bridgetower. Coyne, severely abused as a toddler and adopted by a loving mother, discovers his gift for classical music; Bridgetower, a virtuoso violinist, rose from obscurity to a brief run of European fame in the 18th century.

While Coyne’s development as a violinist and composer empowers him to overcome adversity and demonstrates the transformative power of both love and classical music, Bridgetower rocketed to European fame in the 18th century, inspiring Beethoven to compose a famously difficult violin sonata in his honor. Bridgetower, however, was later shunned by the famous composer and his fame declined after a dispute over a woman’s affections.

Coyne appears in the film, and Bridgetower’s story is told through the contemporary lyrical prose published in 2009 by former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove.

The two men’s stories are told in the film as a journey across centuries in which classical music inspires love and forgiveness. The Fetzer Institute supported inquiry and reflection activities around love and forgiveness during pre-production of the film. Insights from focus groups and conversations on these topics were used by producer Spark Media to inform the development of the film, which is directed by Andrea Kalin.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Humanities.