Known as the “Black Mozart”, was famous not only for his music, but also for his skill at fencing and for maintaining and defending his fervent revolutionary ideals.

Joseph Boulogne, the “Chevalier of Saint-George,” was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on December 25, 1745, and was considered one of the most important and fascinating figures in Paris during the tumultuous 18th century. Saint-George was an outstanding soldier, violinist and composer. As an orchestra director, he directed numerous performances and works and was known for conducting some of Franz Joseph Haydn’s best symphonies.

Joseph Boulogne was the product of an interracial relationship between George de Bologne Saint-George, owner of a sugar plantation on the island of Guadeloupe, and Anne “Nanon,” a black slave born in the colony. Despite the prejudices and legal disadvantages faced by mixed-race people in that era, the young Saint-George received an education fit for French nobility. It included literature, sciences, the sport of fencing and, of course, music. Jean-Marie Leclair was one of his main violin instructors and Saint-George became a virtuoso violinist. He received his first lessons in composition from François-Joseph Gossec, one of the most prominent directors and composers on the Parisian musical scene and made his debut as a violinist under Gossec’s direction in the 1772 Concert des Amateurs.

Known as the Black Mozart, in 1787 the Chevalier de Saint-George had the honor of directing the Symphonies of Paris by Franz Joseph Haydn, performed by the Le Concert de la Loge Olympique orchestra, founded in 1781. He wrote beautiful compositions, including an opera for children, titled Aline et Dupré ou le Marchand des marrons, and La fille-garçon.

Boulogne was an outstanding figure not only in music but also for his faithful beliefs in the ideals of freedom, brotherhood and equality promoted by the French Revolution and he commanded more than a thousand former slaves committed to the revolution’s defense. Chevalier de Saint-George was also a founding member of the Societé des Amis des Noirs, a group whose objective was the search for equality for all people. Despite his successes and his commitment, his lineage and his connections to the former regime worked against him. Chevalier de Saint-George was dismissed and imprisoned unjustly for nearly two years.

Joseph Boulogne returned to his artistic career despite his great financial problems. On June 10, 1799, he died from health complications at the early age of 53 years.

Author: Grupo Editorial
Published: June 11, 2012.

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