Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Baillif, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, December 25, 1745; Paris, France, June 10, 1799

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was born in 1745 on a plantation in the French Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe. Bologne’s was the son of Anne Nanon, a Black enslaved woman, and George de Bologne de Saint Georges, the French nobleman who owned her. Joseph Bologne was educated in France, where he learned fencing, riding, and other sports. His grace and discipline shone through in both disciplines. Among experts, he was considered to be the finest swordsmen in all of Europe, only suffering one defeat in a serious fencing match throughout his career. The Chevalier Dugast, principal of the Tuileries Riding School, also considered Joseph to be one of his best pupils. This success led to his formal title of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges as well as his membership in the Gendarmes de la Garde du Roi, France’s Royal Guard. 

Bologne was also among the most important musicians in Paris during the pre-revolutionary period. His talent and skill on the harpsichord and violin earned him dedications from important composers such as Antonio Lolli. He studied with the French composers François-Joseph Gossec and Jean-Marie Leclair, and later became concertmaster of Le Concert des Amateurs, a company known for organizing concert series around France. He also found success in the realm of composition. In fact, his string quartets were among the first performed and published in France. He later went on to lead Le Concert des Amateurs as their conductor.  

When an opportunity to manage the Paris Opera arose, Bologne threw his hat in the ring. This bid failed when three women objected to working for him because they were racist. The organization followed suit. Instead, he went on to direct the prestigious musical theater of the Marquise de Montesson. During this time, he became a prolific composer, publishing two symphony concertantes in 1776 and two more in 1778, as well as three violin concertos and six string quartets in 1777. He also wrote three operas between 1777 and 1780, including The Anonymous Lover. Many of his other compositions, including at least three more operas, have been lost throughout the years. 

Bologne’s life was exceptional. He was a leader, a war hero, a “god of arms,” a virtuosic instrumentalist, and a prolific composer whose work was popular during his time. He dueled the best of the best and won, trained under the greatest composers of his time, and even played for, performed with, and taught Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Despite his talents, his legacy was still overshadowed by the color of his skin. Although he is sometimes referred to as Le Mozart Noir or the Black Mozart, his accomplishments and music should stand on their own. 

 Join us in celebrating this groundbreaking Black composer and his delightful romantic comedy, The Anonymous Lover, February 5-13, 2022. 

 

Image of: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

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