A master swordsman,
A darling of the French court:
That’s Joseph Bologne.
Of troops and musicians:
That’s Joseph Bologne.
A fine composer
Of concerti and operas,
Adept technique, well showcased
That’s Joseph Bologne,
Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges:
Up until yesterday, I did not know Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. And as of yesterday, I knew I had to write about him immediately. What a cool guy!
Saint-Georges was born on the island of Guadeloupe to a plantation owner, George Bologne de Saint-Georges, and an African slave, Nanon. He was educated in France, where he studied fencing and horsemanship, excelling at both. He could frequently be found in the midst of many high-society events in Paris.
The people of Paris knew Saint-Georges as a swordsman long before they found out that he was a superb violinist and composer. Composers Antonio Lolli, François Gossec, and Carl Stamitz wrote violin music dedicated to him. He played violin in Gossec’s Le Concert des Amateurs orchestra, rapidly rising to concertmaster before taking over as conductor. And when the well-known swordsman performed as soloist of his own violin concerto in 1772, it left the audience in awe.
In addition, Saint-Georges wrote a number of operas, the music of which was met with great acclaim. He is also the composer of several symphonies, chamber music, vocal music, and string quartets.
Here is the lovely Adagio in F Minor. Here is the first movement to his Symphony in D Major, which is also the overture to his opera L’amant anonyme. And here is an excerpt from a Saint-Georges violin concerto featuring a delightful violin solo. You can find music scores here.
I have given you a little information about Saint-Georges in this post, a man whom US president John Adams called “the most accomplished man in Europe,”1 but there is so much more. I encourage you to check out the references below for more on this larger-than-life figure.
- Banat, Gabriel, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow. Pendragon Press, 2006, p 232.
- Davis, Wade, “Seeing Ourselves in Early Music,” https://www.earlymusicamerica.org/web-articles/seeing-ourselves-in-early-music/
- Williford, James, “Black Mozart,” Humanities (the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities) May/June 2010. http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2010/mayjune/statement/black-mozart
Image attribution: Portrait of Saint-Georges by Mather Brown, 1787, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChevalier_de_Saint-Georges.JPG