“His talent, as genuine as it is precocious, is one of the best replies one can give to the philosophers who wish to deprive those of his nation and his color the faculty of distinguishing themselves in the arts,” said a review in Le Mercure de France.
After several more concerts in Paris, including one attended by Thomas Jefferson, the Bridgetowers — as they then called themselves — left for England, where the family created a sensation.
With Oriental-inspired clothing in vogue, Frederick played up his presumed exoticism by wearing flowing Turkish robes. Everyone wanted to meet this “African prince” and his prodigy — whose name had now become George. By the fall of 1789, Frederick had arranged for his son to play before King George III and Queen Charlotte, as well as the Prince of Wales, later George IV.
George induced “general astonishment” playing in Bath, according to the Bath Morning Post. At 11, he made his London debut with a Giornovichi concerto between the first two parts of Handel’s “Messiah.” He and his father were often at Carlton House, the town residence of the Prince of Wales, who organized regular chamber concerts. On June 2, 1790, the prince sponsored a benefit concert for Bridgetower and another young artist at the Hanover Square Rooms, the premier concert venue for fashionable society.
Until then, Frederick had skillfully managed his son’s career. But his behavior turned increasingly self-destructive. At a masquerade attended by the prince, Frederick dressed as a caricature of a Black slave, advocating for abolition; this was certainly a worthy cause, but the stunt served to alienate the elites whose favor he had taken pains to cultivate. During a performance of “Messiah,” he shouted for a repeat of the “Hallelujah” chorus, and, after a struggle, was thrown out of the theater. There were reports of excessive drinking and womanizing.
Charlotte Papendiek, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte and a prolific journal keeper, wrote that Frederick gambled away his son’s money and treated him so brutally that George sought refuge with the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. Frederick was committed to an asylum before being sent back to Germany by the prince, who took 12-year old George under his protection.