Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Some biographers have mistaken him for Pierre Tavernier-Boulogne, Controller-General of Finances, whose nobility dated back to the 15th century. The confusion surrounding the nobility of Saint-George's father originated with Roger de Beauvoir’s novel of 1840 ("Le Chevalier de Saint-George"). However, Georges Bologne was not ennobled until 1757, when he acquired the title of Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi, and noble rank was hereditary only for children born in wedlock. In 1747 George Bologne was falsely accused 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-George became a pupil of La Boëssière, a master of arms, and excelled in all physical exercises, especially fencing. When still a student, Saint-George 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. On 5 April 1762, King Louis XV decreed that people of color (blacks (nègres) and mulattos) must register with the clerk of the Admiralty within two months. Saint-George's mother, Nanon, registered herself as age 34 at that time.
On 10 May 1762, La Bossière registered Saint-George as "Joseph de Boulogne". On graduating at the age of 19, he was made a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi (member of the royal guard). After the end of the Seven Years' War, George Bologne returned to his Guadeloupe plantations, leaving his son in France with a handsome annuity. The young chevalier became the darling of fashionable society; contemporary accounts speak of his romantic conquests. In 1766 the Italian fencer Giuseppe Faldoni came to Paris to challenge Saint-George.
Faldoni won, but proclaimed Saint-George the finest swordsman in Europe. Career: He studied music in Saint-Domingue with the black violinist Joseph Platon before emigrating to Paris in 1752. Platon would later play an unspecified Saint-George 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-George’s 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. The Chevalier de Saint-George in a 1787 painting probably commissioned by the future George IV of the United Kingdom. While still a young man, he acquired multiple reputations; as the best swordsman in France, as a violin virtuoso, and as a composer in the classical tradition.
He composed and conducted for the private orchestra and theatre of the Marquise de Montesson, 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-George conducted for their world premiere.
In respect of his skill as both 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 Queen 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". To spare St. George public humiliation, the King decreed that henceforth the position of director could only be filled by promotion from within the ranks of the orchestra. Thwarted in his musical career, Saint-George 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 French transvestite spy-in-exile, the Chevalier d'Eon, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, Britain's future king George IV. Like many others associated with the aristocracy and the royal court at Versailles, Saint-George 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. Nonetheless, Saint-George would pay dearly for consenting to become the first black colonel of the French army, in its fight for the Revolution. He took command of a regiment of a thousand free colored volunteers, largely consisting of former slaves from the region of his birth.
With these troops, he arrested General Miaczinski at Lille, thwarting the betrayal of General Dumouriez. Repeatedly denounced, however, because of his aristocratic parentage and past association with the royal court, Saint-George was dismissed from the army on September 25, 1793, accused of using public funds for personal gain. He was acquitted after spending 18 months in jail. After the revolution, Saint-George continued to lead orchestras but, abandoned by his former patrons, his circumstances became straitened and his lifestyle bore little resemblance to that he enjoyed under the monarchy. Joseph de Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George died in 1799 at the age of 54.
In the ensuing 200 years, he fell largely into obscurity. Music: In 1787, Saint-George 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-George's triumph. Saint-George'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-George owed his fame as much to his virtuosity as to his compositions. His concertos attracted crowds to the Hôtel de Soubise (now the National Archives), and to performances by the Concert des Amateurs (eighty musicians), led by Saint-George. The composer's operas (including one for which the libretto was written by Choderlos de Laclos) enjoyed undeniable popularity at the Italian Comedy.
Saint-George's qualities as a conductor were such that his orchestras were considered to be among the best in Europe. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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|Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major, Op. 8: II. Largo|
|Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. posth., No. 2: Adagio|