© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

The Appassionata of Francesca Bridgerton

Francesca Bridgerton escorted to her debut by her mother Violet
Netflix
Francesca Bridgerton escorted to her debut by her mother Violet

Note: This essay contains spoilers for the newest season of Bridgerton.

The Netflix series Bridgerton has famously had a way with classical music since its first season. The combination of pop covers for string quartet with original music by Kris Bowers has always given it a bubbly flair - historic fiction with an emphasis on the fiction. And occasionally the set time period is indeed represented - Queen Charlotte does not pay particular attention to young Mozart, but he does appear in her own series.

But the show’s newest debutante Francesca has a particular appreciation for music, and a special interest in the piano. In fact, it’s her private performance of one particular piece that leaves her sparkling as the queen’s “Diamond of the Season.”

Francesca Bridgerton at the pianoforte
Netflix
Francesca Bridgerton at the pianoforte

The work she is found playing is well chosen, and says a great deal about the character. It’s Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23, known as the Appassionata.

The Bridgerton family matriarch, the dowager viscountess Violet, frequently says that she wants each of her children to find a marriage match that brings passion. So it’s a fitting choice to show that Francesca, who is far more reserved than her boisterous siblings, does indeed have passion inside of her - it just appears differently than expected.

Francesca and Violet Bridgerton in drawing room
Netflix
Francesca and Violet Bridgerton in drawing room

The Appassionata is widely considered to be Beethoven’s own favorite of his sonatas. Like Francesca, the piece is somewhat a middle child. Among his works for the solo keyboard it is firmly within the “middle period,” alongside Waldstein and Les Adieux. While the composer did not name the work, and indeed the Appassionata title did not come until well after the show’s time setting, he did actually write the words “La Passionata” on the original.

The support that Francesca receives from Queen Charlotte as a result of playing this piece even parallels Beethoven’s experience writing the work.

Beethoven was then working in the palace of Prince Lichnowsky, a member of the Austrian court who had also supported Mozart. While Prince Lichnowsky’s patronage was initially welcome and helpful, it eventually proved to be misplaced. The prince demanded Beethoven perform for a French general, which he adamantly refused due to France’s status as an enemy. The composer then fled the castle in a storm, and the original manuscript of the Appassionata still bears water stains today.

water-stained page of Beethoven sonata
Paris Conservatory
water-stained page of Beethoven sonata manuscript

Likewise, Francesca is meeting with misguided royal support - a less than ideal marital match from the queen in Lord Samadani. She will surely have a difficult time untangling the social situation. Of course, readers of the books know things that the characters and viewers do not.

scene from Bridgerton Season 3
Netflix
scene from Bridgerton Season 3

Spoilers are ahead for Francesca’s upcoming season.

Francesca’s musical tastes and introversion are better indulged by the rather quiet Earl of Kilmartin, who we can already see (and know from her book When He Was Wicked) is her actual future husband. For the time being.

Francesca Bridgerton and John Stirling
Netflix
Francesca Bridgerton and John Stirling

The Appassionata has frequently been compared to dramatic tragedies - historians have likened it to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear. And performing it is sadly a bit of a harbinger for Francesca as well.

She is bound for very young widowhood, albeit not right away. This season’s time on the London marriage-mart is not Francesca’s full story, and her final happily ever after is much farther down the line. While all of the Bridgerton siblings' love stories are touched by the tragic loss of their father, Francesca’s novel is by far the most crushing in its heartbreak and grief that comes before the rediscovery of her passion.

Beethoven was facing the loss of his hearing when he composed the Appassionata and Francesca has no idea of the loss to come in her own life as she plays the work in that alone time at the palace. But unlike Beethoven, her great love and her happily ever after are on the way. And readers know, it will have no shortage of “la passionata.”

The first half of Bridgerton, season 3, is currently streaming on Netflix.

Colleen is the Music Director and host for LPM Classical. Email Colleen at colleen@lpm.org.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.