Monsieur de Saint-George
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The first full biography of one of the greatest figures of eighteenth-century Europe, known in his time as the "Black Mozart"
Virtually forgotten until now, his life is the stuff of legend. Born in 1739 in Guadeloupe to a slave mother and a French noble father, he became the finest swordsman of his age, an insider at the doomed court of Louis XVI, and, most of all, a virtuosic musician. A violinist, he directed the Olympic Society of Concerts, which was considered the finest in Europe in an age of great musicians, including Haydn, from whom he commissioned a symphony, and Mozart, to whom he was often compared. He also became the first Freemason of color, embracing the French Revolution with the belief that it would end the racism against which-despite his illustrious achievements-he struggled his whole life. This is the life of Joseph Bologne, known variously as Monsieur de Saint-George, the "Black Mozart," and, because of his origins, "the American." Alain Guédé offers a fascinating account of this extraordinary individual, whose musical compositions are at long last being revived and whose story will never again be forgotten.
9. Furet and Richet, op. cit. 10. Ibid. 11. Archives of the Ministry of Defense. Dossier Saint-George, number 2065, reads as follows: “At Château-Thierry, the 9th day of the 1st decade of the 2nd month of the year II of the French Republic.” XV. Singing to Victory 1. Gefen, op. cit. 2. Citation from de Place, op. cit. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Nicolas Ruault, Gazette d’un Parisien sous la Révolution (Paris, 1975). 6. Louis Garros, Rouget de Lisle et La Marseillaise (Paris:
of Louis XIV, commissioned by the duc de La Feuillade. Here the Boullongnes’ neighbor was the widow of Samuel Bernard, who had saved the kingdom from bankruptcy under Louis XIV. Poorly compensated, Bernard, who had once been one of the most powerful figures in France, and one of the few intimates of the Sun King, had died, ruined, nine years previously. Since then, his widow, a living witness to fortune’s fickleness, had been trying to withstand nearly constant harassment from creditors.
boy did indeed show promise. François-Joseph Fétis, a Belgian musician born late in the eighteenth century, declared that from the age of ten Joseph “was already surprising his teachers with his facility for learning.”5 Thus the precocious child became an object of both curiosity and affection. Relatives and servants were amused by the interest he took in everything around him: the enormous buildings going up on all sides, the elegant women, the horses with their magnificent trappings, and so
great personalities of the dying ancien régime. Soon the baron felt compelled to invite Joseph to his receptions, which were not known for wit and intellect. What the baron sought above all was pleasures. De Bézenval, recalled Madame de Genlis, “had a charming appearance and was a great success with the ladies. Extremely ignorant, and unable to write even a passable note, his mind was fit only for small talk, which he delivered lightly and with grace. He was accused of being malicious. He was
London gentry reveled in delights that were not only decadent but positively postmodern. Naturally, at sixty years of age, the chevalière was no longer exactly a slip of a girl. Nor did Saint-George have any overriding desire to humiliate her. He attacked sparingly, touched her chest an inch or so from the Croix de Saint-Louis that with coquettish vanity she insisted on wearing, even during fencing matches. Finally, Madame d’Eon was the first to mark her seven touches. She then displayed “enough