Chevalier de Saint-Georges

French classical composer, fencer, and violinist / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George(s) (25 December 1745  9 June 1799) was a French violinist, conductor, composer and soldier. Moreover he demonstrated excellence as a fencer, an athlete and an accomplished dancer. His historical significance lies partly in his distinctive background as a biracial free man of color.[lower-alpha 1] Bologne was the first classical composer of African descent to attain widespread acclaim in European music. He composed an array of violin concertos, string quartets, sinfonia concertantes, violin duets, sonatas, two symphonies and an assortment of stage works, notably opéra comique.[1]

Quick facts: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, B...
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Mather_Brown%2C_William_Ward_-_Monsieur_de_St_George%2C_1788%2C_NPG_D4132%2C_London.png
Mather Brown's portrait of Saint-Georges (1788), National Portrait Gallery, London
Born(1745-12-25)25 December 1745
Died9 June 1799(1799-06-09) (aged 53)
NationalityFrench
Alma materAcadémie de l'équitation
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Born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, his father, Georges Bologne de Saint-Georges, was a wealthy, white plantation owner, while his mother was one of the Creole people Georges kept enslaved.[lower-alpha 2] At the age of seven, he was taken to France where he began his formal education. As a young man he won a fencing contest leading to his appointment as a "gendarme de la garde du roi" by king Louis XVI.[3] Having received music and musical composition lessons, he joined the orchestra Le Concert des Amateurs; culminating in his appointment as its conductor in 1773.[4]

In 1776, Saint-Georges began conducting the Paris Opera. However, this prospect was thwarted by opposition from certain performers who resisted the idea of being led by an individual of color.[5] Around this time, he shifted his focus to composing operas. In 1781, he joined a new orchestra Le Concert de la Loge Olympique.[6] By 1785, he had stopped composing instrumental works altogether.[7] Following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Saint-Georges left for England. Upon his return to France, he joined the National Guard in Lille and then served as a colonel in the Légion St.-Georges,[8] which comprised "citizens of color". His social and professional ties to prominent figures such as Marie Antoinette and the Duke of Orléans made him a target of the Reign of Terror, culminating in a period of imprisonment spanning at least eleven months.[9]

Saint-Georges, a contemporary of Mozart, has at times been called the "Black Mozart", an attempt to praise him through association with an acknowledged genius that nevertheless reflects the racism that long obscured his accomplishments.[10][11] Saint-Georges's life and career are the subject of the 2022 romantized biographical film Chevalier, with Kelvin Harrison Jr. portraying the composer.[12]

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