Fans of Rita Dove’s 2009 poetry collection “Sonata Mulattica” can dive into the story behind the poems in a new podcast produced by the Akron Symphony Orchestra, Unorchestrated.
Hosted by music director Christopher Wilkins and marketing director Tom Moore, the podcast premiered this month with a 14-episode deep dive into Dove’s collection. It explores the little-known history of George Bridgetower, a 19th century African-European violinist and his turbulent friendship with Ludwig van Beethoven.
Dove, who grew up in Akron and serves as an Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards juror, plays the cello and viola da gamba. She drafted the poems after spotting Bridgewater in a background scene of “Immortal Beloved,” a 2003 Beethoven biopic. Dove paused the movie in her Virginia home, googled “black violinist Beethoven,” and let the brief paragraph of search results simmer in her mind.
“I couldn’t get rid of him,” Dove says in the first podcast episode. “I kept thinking of him. I kept doing as much research as I could. That curiosity led to me to write about him.”
In a 2009 New York Times interview, she mused on Bridgewater’s impact. “Here was the case of a man who made it into the history books, but barely,” she said. “And who would have been, if not a household word, a household word in the musical world. That flame was snuffed out.”
Dove recorded the episodes from her home in Charlottesville, where she is the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
The first two episodes — roughly 20 minutes each — are available now on most major podcast platforms.