Joseph Bo


Joseph Bo(u)logne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (sometimes spelled Saint-George) (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799) was one of the most important figures in the Paris musical scene in the second half of the 18th century, he was also famous as a swordsman andequestrian. Known as the “black Mozart[1] he was one of the earliest musicians of the European classical type known to have African ancestry.

Youth

Joseph Bologne was born in Guadeloupe to Nanon, a Wolof former slave, and a white French plantation owner, Georges Bologne de Saint-Georges. The child was named Joseph. Although his father called himself ‘de Saint-Georges’, after one of his properties, he was not born into the nobility. Some biographers have mistaken him for Pierre Tavernier-Boulogne,controlleur général of finance, whose nobility dated back to the 15th century. The confusion surrounding the nobility of Saint-Georges’ father originated with Roger de Beauvoir’s novel of 1840 (“Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges”). However, Georges Bologne was not ennobled until 1757, when he acquired the title of Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi.

In 1747 George Bologne was accused unjustly of murder and fled to France with Nanon and her child to prevent their being sold. After two years he was granted a royal pardon and the family returned to Guadeloupe. In 1753, George took Joseph, who was then eight, to France permanently where he was enrolled in a private academy.

At the age of 13 Saint-Georges became a pupil of La Boëssière, a master of arms, and excelled in all physical exercises, especially fencing. When still a student Saint-Georges beat Alexandre Picard, a fencing-master of Rouen, who had mocked him as ‘La Boëssière’s upstart mulatto’, and was rewarded by his father with a horse and buggy. He also studied literature and horseback riding, and became an exceptional violinist. He grew to 1.8 m (5’11”) tall, which was exceptional[citation needed] for the time.

On graduating, at the age of 19, he was made a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi and dubbed chevalier. After the end of the Seven Years’ War, George Bologne returned to his Guadeloupe plantations, leaving his son with a handsome annuity. The young chevalier became the darling of fashionable society; all contemporary accounts speak of his romantic conquests. In 1766 the Italian fencer Giuseppe Faldoni came to Paris to challenge Saint-Georges. Faldoni won, but proclaimed Saint-Georges the finest swordsman in Europe.

Career

He studied music in Saint-Domingue with the black violinist Joseph Platon before emigrating to Paris in 1752. The teacher, Platon, played an unspecified Saint-Georges violin concerto at Port-au-Prince (Haiti) on April 25, 1780.

After 1764, works dedicated to him by Lolli and Gossec suggest that Gossec was his composition teacher and that Lolli taught him violin. Saint-Georges’ technical approach was similar to that of Gaviniés, who may also have taught him. In 1769 he became a member of Gossec’s new orchestra, the Concert des Amateurs, at the Hôtel de Soubise, and was soon named its leader.

While still a young man, he acquired multiple reputations; as the best swordsman in France, as a violin virtuoso, and as a composer in theclassical tradition. He composed and conducted for the private orchestra and theatre of the marquise de Montesson, the morganatic wife of the King’s cousin, Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. In 1771, he was appointed maestro of the Concert des Amateurs, and later director of the Concert de la Loge Olympique, the biggest orchestra of his time (65-70 musicians). This orchestra commissioned Joseph Haydn to compose six symphonies (the “Paris Symphonies” Nr. 82-87), which Saint-Georges conducted for their world premiere. Renowned both for his skill as a composer and musician, he was selected for appointment as the director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI. But this was prevented by three Parisian divas who petitioned the King in writing against the appointment, insisting that it would be beneath their dignity and injurious to their professional reputations for them to sing on stage under the direction of a “mulatto”.

Thwarted in his musical career, Saint-Georges earned fresh renown as a competitive fencer. He had already been dubbed “chevalier” by appreciative crowds at the Palais Royal. There is a famous portrait of him crossing swords in an exhibition match with the daring transvestite spy, the Chevalier d’Eon, in the presence of George of Hanover, the Prince of Wales and Britain’s future king.

Like many others associated with the aristocracy and the court at Versailles, Saint-Georges served in the army of the Revolution against France’s foreign enemies, although he is not known to have joined the domestic revolutionary struggle prior to the imprisonment of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. He was appointed the first black colonel of the French army, and commanded a regiment of a thousand free colored volunteers, largely consisting of former slaves from the region of his birth. Repeatedly denounced, however, because of his aristocratic parentage and past association with the royal court, he was later expelled from the army, arrested, and jailed for nearly a year. After the revolution, he was entrusted with the leadership of the orchestra of the Royal Palace. He died destitute in Paris in 1799.

Music

In 1787, Saint-Georges conducted the premières of Joseph Haydn‘s six “Paris symphonies.” Marie-Antoinette had them performed several nights in a row, such that one of these symphonies, No. 85, was subtitled “The Queen,” in her honor.

Mozart stayed in Paris in 1778 during the time of Saint-Georges’s triumph. Many conductors did all they could to prevent this black composer’s continued success.

Saint-Georges’s second opera, La Chasse (“The Hunt,” now lost), first performed on October 12, 1778 was enthusiastically received by the audience and the press alike.

Saint-Georges owed his fame as much to his virtuosity as for his compositions. His concertos attracted crowds to the Hôtel de Soubise (current headquarters of the National Archives), and to performances by the Concert des Amateurs (eighty musicians), lead by Saint-Georges. The composer’s operas (including one for which the libretto was written by Choderlos de Laclos) had undeniably popularity at the Italian Comedy. Saint-Georges’s qualities as a conductor were such that his orchestras were considered to be among the best in Europe.

Saint-Georges and Racism

During the 17th century, the increase in the black population in France became a political issue. In order to protect their trade, slave owners and traders demanded that the King maintain racial separation. The Code Noir, a book of laws pertaining to blacks, was issued in response to these concerns. The philosopher Voltaire was among those who argued that Africans and their descendants were genetically inferior to White Europeans.

On April 5, 1762, King Louis XV decreed that peoples of color (nègres and mullatos) must register with the clerk of the Admiralty within two months. Saint-Georges’s mother, Nanon, registered herself; she was 34 at the time of registration. On May 10, 1762, La Boissière registered Saint-Georges as Joseph de Boulogne.

Saint-Georges would pay dearly as the first black colonel of the French Army, in its fight for the Revolution. With his legion, he arrested General Miaczinski in Lille, thwarting the betrayal of Dumouriez. However, Saint-Georges was dismissed on September 25, 1793, accused of using public funds for personal gain. He was acquitted after spending 18 months in jail.

After the revolution, abandoned by his former protectors, Saint-Georges continued to lead orchestras, but his standard of living was considerably diminished compared to the extraordinary luxury in which he had lived under the monarchy.

Joseph de Boulogne – Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges died in 1799 at the age of 60. In the ensuing 200 years, he fell into obscurity. Critics accuse French cultural institutions of having deliberately ignored and minimized the importance of Saint-Georges, on the basis of his ethnic background.

Selected works

Saint-Georges wrote symphonies, roughly 25 concertos for violin and orchestra, string quartets, sonatas, and songs in the style of MozartHaydn and the composers of the “Mannheim school“. He also wrote at least five operas with a possible sixth opera, Le droit de seigneur, disputed among music scholars. Excerpts from his first opera, Ernestine, were also used in an opera pastiche, Recueil d’airs et duos, along with music by other composers.

G 2 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 1 in C major
G 3 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 2 in E flat major
G 4 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 3 in G minor
G 5 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 4 in C minor
G 6 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 5 in G minor
G 7 \ String Quartet Op. 1 No. 6 in D major
G 10 \ Violin Concerto Op. 1 No. 1 in D major
G 11 \ Violin Concerto Op. 1 No. 2 in C major
G 21 \ Violin Concerto Op. 1 No. 10 in D major
G 22 \ Violin Concerto Op. 1 No. 11 in G major
G 23 \ Symphony Concertante in E flat major
G 24 \ Symphony Concertante in G major
G 25 \ Violin Concerto Op. 2 No. 1 in G major
G 26 \ Violin Concerto Op. 2 No. 2 in D major
G 27 \ Violin Concerto Op. 3 No. 1 in D major
G 28 \ Violin Concerto Op. 3 No. 2 in A minor
G 29 \ Violin Concerto Op. 4 in D major
G 31 \ Violin Concerto Op. 5 No. 1 in C major
G 32 \ Violin Concerto Op. 5 No. 2 in A major
G 37 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 6 No. 1 in C major
G 38 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 6 No. 2 in B flat major
G 39 \ Violin Concerto Op. 7 No. 1 in A major
G 40 \ Violin Concerto Op. 7 No. 2 in B flat major
G 49 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 10 No. 2 in A major
G 50 \ Violin Concerto Op. 8 in G major
G 64 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 10 No. 1 in F major
G 65 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 9 No. 1 in C major
G 66 \ Symphony Concertante Op. 9 No. 2 in A major
G 67 \ String Quartet No. 7 in B flat major
G 68 \ String Quartet No. 8 in G minor
G 69 \ String Quartet No. 9 in C major
G 70 \ String Quartet No. 10 in F major
G 71 \ String Quartet No. 11 in G major
G 72 \ String Quartet No. 12 in B flat major
G 73 \ Symphony Op. 11 No. 1 in G major
G 74 \ Symphony Op. 11 No. 2 in D major
G 75 \ L’amant anonyme
G 76 \ Sonata for keyboard & violin in B flat major
G 77 \ Sonata for keyboard & violin in A major
G 78 \ Sonata for keyboard & violin in G minor
G 79 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 3 in D major
G 80 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 1 in C major
G 81 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 5 in B flat major
G 82 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 10 in F major
G 83 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 4 in D major
G 84 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 8 in D major
G 85 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 2 in G minor
G 86 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 6 in E flat major
G 87 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 9 in D major
G 88 \ Harpsichord Sonata No. 11 in C major
G 89 \ Variations for keyboard & violin in G major
G 191 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 1 in D major
G 192 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 2 in B flat major
G 193 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 3 in F minor
G 194 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 4 in G major
G 195 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 5 in E flat major
G 196 \ String Quartet Op. 14 No. 6 in G minor
G 209 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 1 in B flat major
G 210 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 2 in E flat major
G 211 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 3 in A major
G 212 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 4
G 213 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 5
G 214 \ Violin Sonata Op. posth. 1 No. 6
G 215 \ Violin Concerto Op. posth. 2 in D major

Operas

  • Ernestine (1777)
  • La partie de la chasse (1778)
  • La fille-garçon (1787)
  • Aline et Dupré (1788)
  • Guillaume tout coeur (1790)

Ballet

  • L’amant anonyme (1780)

Selected discography

  • AFKA 557 – Quartetto Concertans 1777

String Quartet No. 7 in B flat major – G 067
String Quartet No. 8 in G minor – G 068
String Quartet No. 9 in C major – G 069
String Quartet No.10 in F major – G 070
String Quartet No.11 in G major – G 071
String Quartet No.12 in B flat major – G 072
Coleridge String Quartet – String Quartet

  • Arion 55445 – Sonates pour violon

Sonata for keyboard & violin in A major – G 077
Variations for keyboard & violin in G major – G 089
Sonata for keyboard & violin in B flat major – G 076
Sonata for keyboard & violin in G minor – G 078
Kantorow, Jean-Jacques – Violin
Haudebourg, Brigitte – Harpsichord

  • Assai 222622 – Six quatuors à cordes Op. 14

String Quartet Op. 14 No.6 in G minor – G 196
String Quartet Op. 14 No.1 in D major – G 191
String Quartet Op. 14 No.3 in F minor – G 193
String Quartet Op. 14 No.4 in G major – G 194
String Quartet Op. 14 No.2 in B flat major – G 192
String Quartet Op. 14 No.5 in E flat major – G 195
Quatuor Atlantis – String Quartet

  • Avenira 9985 – Symphonies & Violin Concertos vol 1

Symphony Op. 11 No.2 in D major – G 074
Violin Concerto Op. 3 No.1 in D major – G 027
Violin Concerto Op. 1 No. 1 in D major – G 010
Violin Concerto Op. 2 No.2 in D major – G 026
Vilimec, Miroslav – Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen

  • Avenira 9986 – Symphonies & Violin Concertos vol 2

Violin Concerto Op. 8 in G major – G 050
Violin Concerto Op. 4 in D major – G 029
Violin Concerto Op. 2 No.1 in G major – G 025
Vilimec, Miroslav – Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen

  • Avenira 9987 – Symphonies & Violin Concertos vol 3

Symphony Concertante Op. 9 No.2 in A major – G 066
Violin Concerto Op. 5 No.1 in C major – G 031
Symphony Concertante in E flat major – G 023
Violin Concerto Op. 7 No.2 in B flat major – G 040
Vilimec, Miroslav – Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen

  • Avenira 9988 – Symphonies & Violin Concertos vol 4

Symphony Concertante Op. 10 No.1 in F major – G 064
Violin Concerto Op. 5 No.2 in A major – G 032
Symphony Concertante in G major – G 024
Violin Concerto Op. 1 No.10 in D major – G 021
Vilimec, Miroslav – Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen

  • Avenira 9989 – Symphonies & Violin Concertos vol 5

Symphony Concertante Op. 9 No.1 in C major – G 065
Violin Concerto Op. 3 No.2 in A minor – G 028
Symphony Concertante Op. 10 No.2 in A major – G 049
Violin Concerto Op. 1 No.11 in G major – G 022
Vilimec, Miroslav – Violin
Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen

  • BNL 112934 – Les 10 Sonates pour clavecin

Harpsichord Sonata No.11 in C major – G 088
Harpsichord Sonata No. 2 in G minor – G 085
Harpsichord Sonata No. 9 in D major – G 087
Harpsichord Sonata No. 3 in D major – G 079
Harpsichord Sonata No. 5 in B flat major – G 081
Harpsichord Sonata No. 1 in C major – G 080
Harpsichord Sonata No. 6 in E flat major – G 086
Harpsichord Sonata No. 4 in D major – G 083
Harpsichord Sonata No. 8 in D major – G 084
Harpsichord Sonata No.10 in F major – G 082
Robert, Anne – Harpsichord

  • CBC 5225 – Le Mozart Noir

Symphony Op. 11 No.1 in G major – G 073
L’amant anonyme – G 075
Violin Concerto Op. 3 No.1 in D major – G 027
with works by Leclair and Gossec
Tafelmusik
Lamon, Jeanne – Conductor

  • Naxos 8.555040 – SAINT-GEORGES: Violin Concertos Op. 5, Nos. 1-2 and Op. 8

Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Mueller-Bruehl; Takako Nishizaki, violin

  • Naxos 8.557322 – SAINT-GEORGES: Violin Concertos No. 1, Op. 3 and Nos. 2 and 10

Toronto Camerata, Kevin Mallon; Qian Zhou, violin