- Introducing Equiano
- Establishing Context
- Travels of Vassa
- Associates of Vassa
- Alexander Blair
- Queen Charlotte
- Ottobah Cugoano
- Edward Despard
- Charles Irving
- Constantine Phipps
- Granville Sharp
- Guerin Sisters
- Horatio Nelson
- James Ramsey
- Johanna Vassa Bromley
- Mattias MacNamara
- Michael Henry Pascal
- Robert King
- Suzannah Cullen
- Thomas Clarkson
- Thomas Hardy
- William Wilberforce
- Le Chevalier St.-George
- Questionning Equiano
- Studying Equiano
Le Chavelier St.-George
Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)
Afro-French Composer, Violinist & Conductor
France's Best Fencer & Colonel of Black Legion
Un contemporain atypique de Mozart (An Atypical Contemporary of Mozart): Le Chevalier de Saint-George is a scholarly book by Prof. Michelle Garnier-Panafieu, who formally presented her book in public for the first time at The International Saint-Georges Festival in Guadeloupe on April 27, 2011. Prof. Garnier-Panafieu has graciously provided AfriClassical.com with a summary of the book for the Saint-Georges Biography page. (See No. 51 in the Table of Contents.)
1 AFKA SK-557 (2003); Chevalier de Saint-
Georges: String Quartets; Coleridge String
String Quartet No. 3 in C Major (Sample Time
2 Cedille 90000 035 (1997); Violin Concertos By
Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries;
Rachel Barton, violin; Encore
Chamber Orchestra; Daniel Hege, Conductor
Violin Concerto in A Major, Op. 5, No. 2
For additional samples, see the Audio page or the pages on Saint-George's Violin Concertos, Symphonies and String Quartets.
Joseph de Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was one of the most remarkable figures of the 18th century. Incredibly, this son of a slave rose to the top of French society through his mastery of fencing and his genius for classical music! His dual career is illustrated in the above portrait. He is dressed for a concert but holds a sword in place of a conductor's baton. The painting was done in London in 1787 by the American artist Mather Brown.
Links at upper left lead to selected CD titles, liner notes and audio samples in four categories: Violin Concertos, Symphonies, String Quartets and Harpsichord Sonatas. The Violin Concertos include Monsieur de Saint-George: 4 Concertos pour violon (4 Concertos for Violin), Calliope 9373 (2007) by Les Archets de Paris. Among the Symphonies is the sound track to the DVD Le Mozart Noir. CDs by the Antarès, Apollon, Coleridge and Jean-Noel Molard String Quartets are featured. Anne Robert's recent CD Les 10 sonates pour clavecin (10 Sonatas for Harpsichord) is among the discs for her instrument.
This essay relies mainly on four biographies: (1) Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1996) by Emil F. Smidak in English and French; (2) The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (2006) by Gabriel Banat; (3) Le chevalier de Saint-George (2004) by Claude Ribbe in French; and (4) Joseph de Saint-George, le Chevalier Noir (The Black Chevalier) (2006) by Pierre Bardin.
4 Annals of History
The authoritative source on birth records is Luc Nemeth, Professor of Contemporary History, writing in the Annales Historiques de la Révolution Francaise [Historic Annals of the French Revolution], No. 339, January, 2005, pp. 79-97. Here is an excerpt:
The gaps in the old records of the parish archives of Bailliff (Guadeloupe), and the illegitimate birth of Saint-George, the natural child of a slave, partially explain the confusion which was able to envelop his public records: three different dates of birth have been able to be attributed to him, not without some basis for each.
The author notes that the identity of Saint-Georges' father was proven in 1972 by Odet Denys.
Joseph de Bologne's father was George de Bologne de Saint-Georges, a member of a wealthy family which had lived in the French West Indies colony of Guadeloupe since 1645. He married Élisabeth Merican on September 8, 1739. By January, 1740 he had moved to a 250-acre plantation with 60 slaves. One of the slaves was an attractive young woman about 17 who was named Anne but was called Nanon. She was of African descent and was born on the island. George and Nanon began an intimate relationship shortly after his arrival. Their son Joseph de Bologne came into the world on Christmas Day, 1745. His African heritage made him ineligible for the nobility and its titles under French law.
George de Bologne soon found himself a fugitive. On December 17, 1747 he fatally wounded a man in a fencing duel caused by a drunken quarrel. He fled Guadeloupe secretly the following month to avoid a charge of homicide. In spite of his absence he was sentenced to death on March 31, 1748 and his goods were ordered confiscated. Surprisingly, his wife Élisabeth was given permission on September 1, 1748 to leave the island with Joseph and Nanon. Joseph turned 3 at sea and arrived in France on January 4, 1749. The Bologne family used its influence with the royal court to secure a pardon for George from King Louis XV. Joseph and his parents sailed from Bordeaux, France on September 2, 1749. The ship's manifest said George was 38, Nanon was 26 and Joseph was 3 years old.
Young Joseph lived a privileged life on the plantation. He had ample time to play, and his father gave him lessons in music and fencing. When he was 8 years old, Joseph sailed for Bordeaux with Élisabeth to start school, arriving on August 12, 1753. Nanon landed at the same port on September 10, 1754 and visited Joseph for several weeks. Nanon and George arrived back in France on September 10, 1755. They took Joseph to live with them in the fashionable Saint-Germain quarter of Paris. On April 1, 1757, Pierre Bardin tells us, George obtained the position of Gentleman of the King's Chamber, which meant he was a personal assistant to King Louis XV.
8 Fencing Academy
Joseph's life changed radically the following year. In October, 1756 the 13-year-old entered the fencing academy of Nicolas Texier de La Böessière, an elite boarding school for the sons of the aristocracy. Mornings at the academy consisted of classes in mathematics, history, foreign languages, music, drawing and dance. Afternoons were devoted to the most important subject, fencing. Joseph trained alongside the son of La Böessière and became a friend of the family. The younger La Böessière later wrote that Saint-Georges was the most extraordinary man of arms ever seen. Training in horsemanship took place at the Tuileries under expert guidance.
Pierre Bardin writes that on May 10, 1763, Joseph de Bologne purchased “L'Office d'Écuyer, Conseiller du Roy, controlleur ordinaire des guerres” or “The Office of Cavalier, Adviser to the King, Controller Ordinary of Wars”. It made him an Officer of the public ministry to carry the orders of the King to the War Tribunal. The author continues:
Joseph de Saint-George is thus "Controller Ordinary of Wars", with the title of "Écuyer". He would remain in the position for 11 years and could take the title of chevalier, as he had the right. This was not a title of fantasy. This office allows one to understand why, come the Revolution, one would entrust to him the command of a regiment of light cavalry, and not only for his skill as a swordsman, but because in the field of management of this type of organization, he had acquired the necessary skills...
The minimum age for the office was 25, and Joseph was only 17, but a waiver was granted, we learn from Bardin. We learn from Prof. Luc Nemeth that Joseph officially obtained the position of Officer of the King's Guard on June 15, 1764 and not in 1761 as stated by several biographers of Saint-Georges. He served only 3 months per year, so his education continued without interruption.
10 Registration of Blacks
The increasing presence of people of color in France resulted in the rise of government efforts to limit and regulate their immigration. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire was among those who argued that Africans and their descendants were genetically inferior to White Europeans. More influential on the King were the demands of slave owners and traders to maintain racial separation in order to protect their businesses. A Code Noir [Law of Blacks] had been on the books since the 17th century. On April 5, 1762 King Louis XV decreed that Nègres et gens de couleur [Blacks and people of color] must register with the clerk of the Admiralty within two months. Nanon registered herself; La Böessière registered Joseph. We learn from Pierre Bardin that « Anne Nanon » was 34 at the time of registration on May 10, 1762. Gabriel Banat reports that the total number of persons registered in Paris under the decree was 159.
11 Black Parisians
Pierre Bardin describes how Saint-Georges and a small number of other people of color overcame the barrier of racism and entered the middle class:
It is undeniable that he was gifted, but his inborn talents were magnified by relentless effort, permitting him not only to be better, but above all to overcome the racial barrier which put him in the disdained social class of "Mûlatres" ("Mulattos") because his father was White and his mother was Black.
Bardin finds historical evidence of a diverse population of people of color in Paris during the era. He says few people of African descent were in the city's middle class:
Rare are those who are described as members of "the middle class of Paris" such as André Lucidor, a former slave who became a master of arms and had a fencing hall on rue de Ménilmontant.
The author reports Lucidor declared himself to be an African who was a slave in Martinique before arriving in France, where he was emancipated in 1750. Interracial marriage was officially prohibited, but Bardin says Lucidor was just one of a number of people who married in defiance of the ban.
12 Father's Will
George de Bologne de Saint-Georges made a Last Will and Testament on December 9, 1765, we learn from Pierre Bardin. His biography includes the complete text, including this excerpt:
I give and bequeath to Mademoiselle Anne Nanon, a free Negro woman who has been in my service for 30 years, a sum of three thousand pounds. I also give and bequeath to Monsieur de Saint-George, Écuyer, Adviser to the King and Controller Ordinary of Wars, a sum of fifty thousand pounds.
Joseph studied at the fencing academy for 6 years, until he was 19. By that time everyone called him Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Several excerpts from Claude Ribbe's book have been translated from French by the Webmaster. This is the first:
Whether or not his use of the title was legal, this Chevalier was in any case inimitable. He excelled at everything he did. His budding reputation led him, in spite of himself, to link his exploits. At age 17 Joseph was not only an accomplished athlete but already a public figure. Known and recognized, he practiced, with a disconcerting superiority, all of the artistic and athletic disciplines in which the young aristocrats chose to do no more than they had to.
Was Joseph's body astonishing? It was more surprising when the American showed he knew how to use it.
With a consummate sense of provocation, the young man made of this problematic body, which the readers of Voltaire were supposed to regard as a degenerate product, the instrument of his glory. He transformed it into an admirable object to which, however, he refused to reduce himself. Because it was not the body of Joseph which was in command, it was Joseph himself. He subjugated his own flesh as easily as he knew how to control the most skittish horses.
The sword being reserved to the nobility, the apprenticeship of arms, heavily regulated to exclude undesirable students and masters, belonged to the elite. To figure among this aristocracy, and in first place yet, was no small thing. By his preeminence in fencing, Saint-George acquired a position of invulnerability which was both physical and social.
Saint-Georges had become known in the world of fencing as "the god of arms".
Emil F. Smidak is the author of Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges. He writes of Saint-Georges:
He could often be seen swimming across the Seine with only one arm, and in skating his skill exceeded everyone else's. As to the pistol, he rarely missed the target. In running he was reputed to be one of the leading exponents in the whole of Europe.
In addition to his skills as an athlete, Saint-Georges was also an excellent dancer.
15 Picard & Faldoni
When Saint-Georges was 19 his father offered him a fine English horse and a fashionable 2-wheel cart if he could defeat Picard, a skilled fencing master at Rouen. Saint-Georges won the match and was soon riding in style on the streets of Paris. In the following year Gian Faldoni, a famous Italian, came to Paris to challenge Saint-Georges. He refused at first, but after Faldoni defeated every other prominent fencer in the city he finally agreed. The match was a public spectacle attended by the royal court. The opponents were of comparable skill; they fought long and hard. Each took a turn in the lead but ultimately Faldoni won, 4 touchés to 2. It was the first defeat in his remarkable career, and Saint-Georges took it hard.
16 Le Concert des amateurs
Saint-Georges had mastered both the harpsichord and the violin. Successful composers who dedicated works to him included Antonio Lolli (1764), François-Joseph Gossec (1766) and Carl Stamitz (1770). The latter addressed him in Italian by his full official title. It is believed that he had been tutored in violin by Jean-Marie Leclair, another important composer of the time, and had studied composition with Gossec. He is believed to have become the first violin, or concertmaster, of the ensemble by 1771, Gabriel Banat writes. Gossec was the orchestra's founder and Conductor. Professor Ribbe gives this description of the orchestra:
The ensemble, in which amateurs sat beside professionals from the King's Royal Academy and from the King's Music, consisted of more than 70 performers, with 40 violins and violas, 12 cellos, and 8 double basses, to which were to be added the winds: flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, horns and bassoon.
17 Violinist & Composer
Saint-Georges composed a Sonata for Flute and Harp. Subsequently, he and Gossec were among the earliest French composers of string quartets, symphonies concertantes, and quartets concertantes. His first string quartets were performed in the salons of Paris in 1772. They were published in the spring of 1773. Claude Ribbe recounts:
During the 1772-1773 concert season, Joseph directed and played his first two violin concertos at the Amateurs. Le Mercure [The Mercury] reported that they 'received the greatest applause as much for the quality of playing as for that of the composition'.
In the liner notes for the Arion CD 55445 (1999) violinist Joel Marie Fauquet writes:
...Saint-Georges acquired the mastery over his technique and sonority early on, to an extent that 'his velvety talent on the violin sometimes gave him preference over the cleverest artists of his day'.
Saint-Georges became Conductor of Le Concert des amateurs in 1773, combining his duties with composing. From 1773-1775, he produced 8 violin concertos and 2 symphonies concertantes, according to the Works List compiled by Gabriel Banat. In 1775, only two years after Saint-Georges became Conductor, L'Almanach Musical [The Musical Almanac] wrote that the ensemble was "the best orchestra for symphonies in Paris and perhaps in Europe".
19 Paris Opera
Biographer Gabriel Banat explains that bids to manage the Paris Opera were solicited, and one was submitted by a company headed by Saint-Georges. He quotes the January 1776 issue of Baron Grimm's review of Parisian life, the Correspondance, on the point, and adds this excerpt:
No sooner were Mesdemoiselles Arnould, Guimard, Rosalie, and others informed about the news [that Saint-Georges had
been proposed as music director of the Opéra], they presented a placet [petition] to the Queen, assuring her Majesty that “their honor and their delicate conscience could never allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto.” Such an important consideration makes all the impression it is expected to make, but, after many projects and discussions regarding the matter, the question has been decided by the king, who in the end took it upon himself to have the Opéra managed on his behalf by the Intendants and Treasurers of the Menus Plaisirs [the king's light entertainments].
Gabriel Banat asks if race was the true motive of the protesters who submitted the petition to the Queen:
That so-called placet put an end to any aspirations Saint-Georges may have had of becoming music director of that great institution, the most prestigious musical post in France. This was, as far as we know, the most serious setback yet he had suffered because of his color.
But was it really about that?
Banat writes that Saint-Georges had proposed a reorganization, causing Arnauld and Rosalie to fear dismissal. He adds that the victorious Intendant of light entertainment, Papillon de La Ferté, was the lover of Guimard:
Indeed, each member of the cabal would benefit from the intrigue. The singers, fearing dismissal, were reassured that the status quo would prevail; La Guimard, through her lover, would have virtually a free hand at the Opéra; and Papillon would wield greater power than he had ever dreamed of in the good old days before Louis, the frugal, mounted the throne.
21 Don Juan Noir
Much has been made of Saint-Georges' reputation as a Don Juan Noir [Black Don Juan]. Professor Ribbe traces such talk to a jealous remark of Bachaumont:
In attributing seduction by Saint-George to neither his handsomeness nor his personal qualities but to his 'marvelous talents', in other words to his sexual performance, Bachaumont embellished upon a recurrent racist fantasy which attributes to Africans and their descendants an anatomy in proportion to their temperament; that is to say their supposed bestial sexuality.
Saint-Georges did have at least one serious romantic relationship, but racial attitudes made it impossible for him to marry anyone at his level of society.
22 Musical Theater
Although rejected for the post at the Paris Opera, Saint-Georges was later appointed music director of the private theater of the Marquise de Montesson. He directed 2 to 3 performances each week. He also served as Lieutenant of the Hunt for her husband, Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans. The composer's first musical comedy was a 3-act work, Ernestine, for which he wrote only the music. It was performed at the Comédie-Italienne on July 19, 1777. The music was given generally good reviews, but the press panned the work for its lyrics.
23 Professional Peak
Professor Ribbe writes that by 1778 Saint-Georges had reached his professional peak as a composer. He published 2 symphony concertantes in 1776 and 2 more in 1778. In 1777 he wrote 3 violin concertos and 6 string quartets. Some people call Saint-Georges the Black Mozart, but that nickname is not accurate, according to Dominique-René de Lerma, a specialist in the works of Saint-Georges and a Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Saint-Georges was always much more than a figure in classical music. He was one of the best fencers in Europe and a heroic Colonel in the French Revolution. Saint-Georges wrote the music for a second musical comedy, La Chasse [The Hunt], first performed on October 12, 1778. It was a big hit with the audience and was unanimously praised by the press.
24 Music of the Queen
Gabriel Banat reports that music was an important part of Marie-Antoniette's childhood at the Vienna Hofburg:
There, along with her brothers and sisters, Marie Antoniette had daily instruction in voice, harp, and forte-piano, the last provided by the renowned Bavarian composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck. With a fine singing voice and the ability to read notes at first sight, she acquired an understanding of and genuine enthusiasm for serious music. As a result, she became the first royal hostess at Versailles since Marie de Medici, who not only appreciated music but was also able to participate in its performance.
Early in 1779, Saint-Georges began performing music with Queen Marie-Antoniette at Versailles, at her request. Professor Ribbe notes that some people in the palace were unhappy about the arrangement.
25 Midnight Ambush
One night that spring, Pierre Bardin writes, Saint-Georges and Baron Gillier were walking alone in Paris on the Boulevard du Temple at 12:30 A.M. when they were attacked. He describes the incident on the basis of the files of the Police Chief in Châtelet:
...they are attacked, and him in particular, by eight or ten individuals obeying the orders of Sieur Des Brugnières. One of them strikes him a violent blow of the stick on the arm, causing a strong contusion. Saint-Georges then seizes his sword, knocks the attacker's stick away and grabs him by the collar. A general brawl follows...
Pierre Bardin says Saint-Georges receives the assistance of a friend, Louis de Lespinasse Langeac, who lives in the vicinity.
26 Police Inspector
The author's account continues with the arrival on the scene of a Police Inspector:
At this point there appears a uniformed Police Inspector of the Gendarmerie of France. Saint-George, respectful and without mistrust, gives up his sword, but at this time, Des Brugnières puts a gun to him on the throat while saying to his men "de le ganter", i.e. to "tie his hands".
Saint-George asks to be led to the commander of the watch, which is done, but the latter sends him to the Police Chief.
Des Brugnières was able to clear himself with the aid of the Police Inspector, Bardin explains, by claiming he had not held the pistol to the neck of Saint-Georges, but had merely displayed it after being insulted and menaced with a sword. The matter went no further, we are told.
27 Mistaken Identity
Pierre Bardin says it is likely the attack was revenge by a husband who wrongly suspected Saint-Georges of fathering his wife's child. He writes:
...there was undoubtedly an error in identification of the person.
The author notes that in 1781, Louis de Lespinasse Langeac signed an agreement to make annual support payments to the woman and her child. It was obvious that someone in power had ordered his murder, so Saint-Georges began taking precautions to avoid further incidents. For example, he chose Mme. Montesson's private theater for the premiere of L'Amant anonyme [The Anonymous Lover] in March, 1780. He had also published 2 more symphonies by then.
28 Olympic Lodge Orchestra
The Chevalier was one of the first Black Masons in France. He was initiated into a Parisian lodge of the Grand Orient of France called Les 9 Soeurs [The Nine Sisters]. The Concert des amateurs closed in early 1781, and Masons quickly founded a new orchestra, Le Concert de la Loge Olympique [The Olympic Lodge Orchestra]. It was sponsored by a lodge known as l'Olympique de la Parfait Union [The Olympic of the Perfect Union]. The musicians were all Masons and were as skilled as those of the Amateurs. They performed in elegant quarters in the Palais-Royal [Royal Palace] under the direction of Saint-Georges. In 1784 he was authorized to commission Franz Joseph Haydn to write 6 symphonies for publication in Paris.
29 Clarinet Concerto
According to The Musical Almanac, Pierre Bardin writes, Saint-Georges composed a clarinet concerto which was premiered by the renowned clarinetist Antonio Soler and the Concert Spirituel at the Château Tuileries on March 25, 1782. Bardin continues:
Thus the concerto precedes that of Mozart. A rather exceptional fact for the period, where a work was often played only one time, this concerto was registered in the repertoire of the Spirituel and was played four times between March and April, then reprised February 2 and April 15, 1783, with the same Soler, the soloist let us recall it, of the Olympic Lodge.
30 La chevalière d'Éon
The Prince of Wales arranged a friendly fencing demonstration in London between Saint-Georges, who was 42, and a 59-year-old French woman, La chevalière d'Éon. Saint-Georges had broken an Achilles tendon at age 40, and was not as nimble as before. He could still parry and counterattack effectively. Gabriel Banat writes that on April 9, 1787 Saint-Georges was hit once by his opponent but still won the match. Pierre Bardin explains that La Chevalière hit Saint-Georges with what he calls a “coup de temps” which might be translated into English as a “time hit” or “counter time”. This action involves hitting one’s opponent on the preparation of his attack, thus reaching the target first. The chevalière was actually Charles d'Éon de Beaumont, a diplomat who dressed as a woman for many years to help him spy on foreign countries for the King of France. D'Éon was a multitalented man of letters, law, diplomacy and the military but had fallen out of favor with the royal court. He practiced fencing daily, in fear of his life. The encounter was not treated as headline news in the newspapers of Paris, but in her memoirs the Marquise de Créquy decried the fencing match between a "French gentleman" and a "mulatto" in scornful and racist language.
31 Voltaire's Influence
Four months after the fencing match in London, Saint-Georges premiered La Fille Garçon [The Girl Boy] at the Comédie-Italienne. Once again, most of the press praised the music of Saint-Georges. Baron Melchior von Grimm's newsletter on Parisian culture was an exception. Professor Ribbe notes that its critique reflected the racist opinions of Voltaire. He begins by paraphrasing the review:
Certainly, the Chevalier was capable of playing the violin, but he was not creative. It would be contrary to Nature if he were. In the rest of his review Grimm showed that he had retained the lesson of Voltaire well: 'This piece, he said, is the best Monsieur de Saint-George has ever written. Nevertheless, it also appears to be lacking in creativity. This recalls an observation, which has not yet been contradicted, that if Nature has served the mulattos well in a certain way by giving them a marvelous aptitude to practice all the imitative arts, it seems however to have refused this impulse of feeling and genius
which alone produces new ideas and original designs.'
The author points out that the term mulatto was as demeaning and insulting in the 18th century as it is today.
32 Paris Symphonies
Saint-Georges and the Concert de la Loge Olympique premiered Haydn's 6 Paris Symphonies, Nos. 82-87, in a triumphant series of concerts in 1787. Queen Marie-Antoniette attended them. Symphony No. 85 is called The Queen because it was Her Majesty's favorite.
33 Friends of Black People
Saint-Georges' trips to England introduced him to the country's anti-slavery movement. He helped found a French group called the Société des amis des noirs [Society of the Friends of Black People]. He also produced a children's musical, Aline et Dupré ou Le Marchand des marrons [Aline and Dupré or The Chestnut Seller]. It was staged on August 9, 1788. As a violinist, Saint-Georges gave concerts in England as well as France. One dark evening in January 1790 on which he was scheduled to perform in England he was walking alone, carrying his violin, when a man with a pistol and a stick tried to rob him. He fought off the robber, only to be attacked by 4 more men. He overpowered them as well. Gabriel Banat argues that Saint-Georges' support for the liberation of slaves was known in England, “...and no doubt sufficiently irritating to Britain's slave cartel to make them try to eliminate him.”
34 French Revolution
Saint-Georges was living in Lille when the French Revolution broke out in July, 1789. He joined the National Guard in Lille later that year. He obtained the rank of Captain in 1790. Saint-Georges the soldier was still a musician and a fencer, so he organized concerts and fencing demonstrations in Lille while stationed in the city. He even wrote an opera, Guillaume-Tout-Coeur ou les Amis de village [William-All-Heart or The Village Friends]. An actor from Lille wrote the lyrics for the work, which was performed September 8, 1790. Saint-Georges' connections with the Ancien Régime now made him the object of great suspicion, so he began signing his name as either Saint-George or simply George.
35 Saint-George Legion
Members of the National Guard were asked to volunteer for active duty, so Saint-Georges enlisted on June 21, 1791 as an aide-de-camp to two generals. He soon received another call to duty. On September 1, 1791 a delegation of men of color, led by Julien Raimond of Saint-Domingue, asked the National Assembly to allow them to fight in defense of the Revolution and its egalitarian ideals. The next day, the Assembly approved a corps comprised mainly of men of color, with 800 infantry and 200 cavalry personnel. Saint-Georges was appointed to be its Colonel. Its official name was légion franche de cavalerie des Américains, but it soon became known to all as the légion Saint-George [Saint-George Legion]. The Colonel chose his friend and protege Alexandre Dumas as Lieutenant-Colonel. Like his Colonel, he was the son of a French aristocrat and an African slave. He later had a son, also named Alexandre Dumas, who won fame as author of The Three Musketeers.
36 13th Combat Regiment
Austrian troops laid siege to Lille and the men of the Saint-George Legion were among the first in combat. The Colonel led his own troops and others, fighting on the front lines even though his rank did not require it. The Austrians were ultimately repulsed and Saint-Georges proudly informed the Convention of the victory. Soon, however, the authorities began removing men of color from the Legion. They renamed it the 13e Régiment de chasseurs [13th Combat Regiment]. Many men of color in the infantry were sent to the colonies to put down slave rebellions. Critics, including Alexandre Dumas, tried to undermine Saint-Georges' position. They blamed him for chronic shortages of food and equipment, and for poor morale.
37 Treason of Dumouriez
Saint-Georges played a crucial role in halting "la trahison de Dumouriez" [The Treason of Dumouriez] at Lille in April, 1793. General Charles François Dumouriez had been defeated at Neerwinden, Belgium in March and had subsequently made a secret armistice with Austria. He intended to capture Lille, crown the son of the dead King as Louis XVII, and use the city as a base for regaining control of France for the monarchy. Dumouriez sent General Miaczinski to a town near Lille with 4,000 troops. Miaczinski told Saint-Georges and Alexandre Dumas of the plan in person. They let him believe they would allow his soldiers to seize Lille. When the time came for him to take control of Lille, Miaczinski brought only a small escort. Saint-Georges and Dumas arrested him and sent him to Paris, where he was executed. His troops did not try to take the city; Dumouriez took refuge outside France; and the young French Republic was saved.
Saint-Georges was a hero, but not for long. His ties to the aristocracy made him vulnerable to false charges of misusing public funds. Simon Dufresse, a commissaire, wrote a scathing denunciation. Alexandre Dumas apparently had different political sympathies than his Colonel. He joined others in accusing his commanding officer of wrongdoing. Colonel Saint-Georges was arrested on November 4, 1793 and was imprisoned without trial. Robespierre eventually fell, signalling a change in the political winds. The Committee of Public Safety finally ruled that Saint-Georges had been removed without cause. On October 23, 1794 it ordered his release from prison. Saint-Georges' hopes of returning to his former position were dashed by a general decree of October 25, 1795.
Biographer Gabriel Banat reports he is persuaded by circumstantial evidence that Saint-Georges journeyed to Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, between April 2, 1796 and April 6, 1797. The Parisian press made no mention of Saint-Georges during the period. His sojourn is also supported by the book Memoirs of An Actress, by Louise Fusil, his close associate. Gabriel Banat and Pierre Bardin agree, however, that no documentary evidence of such a trip has been found, even though passenger records of the relevant ships have been searched thoroughly.
40 Le Cercle de l'Harmonie
In spring 1797 Saint-Georges returned to Paris and took charge of his final orchestra, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie [Circle of Harmony]. The Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe has published a book whose title translates to: Foil and Bow: Chevalier de Saint-George, Créole in the Century of the Enlightenment. The following excerpt has been translated by the Webmaster:
Toward the end of his life, in 1797, Saint-George directed the Circle of Harmony, a concert organization newly established at the Palais-Royal, in the former residence of the Duke of Orléans. "The concerts which have been held there under the direction of the famous Saint-George have left nothing to be desired for the choice of works or the superiority of performance" one could read in the journal Mercury for the month of April 1797.
Saint-Georges lived alone in a small apartment in Paris during the last two years of his life. In late spring, 1799 an untreated bladder infection caused him to become weak and feverish. Gabriel Banat's biography, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow, was published in June, 2006. P. 484 reproduces for the first time a document, dated June 12, 1799, which reports that Saint-Georges was taken in and cared for by Nicolas Duhamel, an old friend who had served under him. He stayed at Duhamel's home until his death on June 10, 1799. An official death report is also reproduced for the first time on P. 520 of the biography.
It was also in 2006 that Pierre Bardin published his biography, Joseph de Saint-George, le Chevalier Noir. Early in 2009, he announced his subsequent discovery of a police report:
The police superintendent of the Montreuil District was on duty on June 10th 1799, when at 8:00 PM, he had four visitors, well-dressed gentlemen who, after introducing themselves, had come to present a request.
Among them were two fencing masters, a Major of the 9th Regiment of Hussards and a former head clerk of the National Assembly.
They all declared that “citizen Joseph Bologne, also called Saint-George, colonel of the 13th Combat Regiment, died today at 1:00 P.M., on rue Boucherat No. 13, division of the Temple and recorded at the City Hall of the 13th District, his body having been carried today in a coffin to the Temple de la Liberté et de l’Egalité of the 8th district. As the informants knew the deceased well and were his close friends, they expressed the desire to exhume his body and place it in a lead coffin."
Claude Ribbe points out that obituaries for Saint-Georges appeared in local newspapers:
All the newspapers celebrated his memory with respect and emotion.
Luc Nemeth remarks that when his obituary was published, Saint-Georges already represented a distant past in the eyes of the era. "For having represented the future too well", he writes, "Saint-George could no longer be identified even remotely with the present." The author quotes an obituary's description of Saint-Georges' superiority in "arms, dance, riding and music", noting that it limits recognition to those talents of Saint-Georges which fell in the artistic and athletic domains.
Claude Ribbe reports that a music publisher issued posthumous editions of a violin concerto and a series of sonatas by Saint-Georges.
The Convention had abolished slavery in French colonies on February 4, 1794. The ideal of equality for which Saint-Georges and his volunteers of color had fought so bravely soon fell into disfavor. Napoleon Bonaparte sent troops to Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue in 1802 with orders to reinstitute slavery. People of color on Guadeloupe fought valiantly under Louis Delgrès, but on May 28, 1802 their defenses fell to General Antoine Richepance. Rather than live as slaves again, hundreds of people blew themselves up in a gunpowder warehouse. Emancipation would not return until 1848. The assault on Saint-Domingue killed people of color by the thousands and still France could not regain control. The former colony declared its independence in 1804, becoming the first Black republic in the world. People of color in France suffered setbacks as well. On May 29, 1802 a secret decree expelled all officers of color from the Army, ending the military career of General Alexandre Dumas.
45 Place in History
Professor Ribbe points out the irony in the verdict of history on the life of Saint-Georges:
In History texts, which have little to say about the Chevalier de Saint-George or of the million slaves deported to the French West Indies, Voltaire is honored as the most brilliant of the humanists and Napoleon as the most glorious of men of state.
Biographers agree that the music of Saint-Georges was rarely heard for nearly two centuries after his death. Prof. Ribbe attributes the neglect to overt action during the reign of Napoleon. Pierre Bardin says it resulted from the public's preference for the works of new composers, including Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt. He also notes that the life and exploits of Saint-Georges were remembered in two novels by Balzac and in all major works on fencing during the 19th century.
46 Rue du Chevalier Saint-George
For many years Paris had a street named for General Richepance. In 2001 the City Council changed its name to Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George, at the request of French citizens from the West Indies. A commemorative plaque for the street described Saint-George as a "Colonel de la Garde Nationale." Historian Luc Nemeth notes: "One could not better lie by omission, more than two centuries after the decree of December, 1792 stripped the unit of its identity as the 'Black Legion'." The original sign listed the date of birth as 1739, even though historians and most leading biographers have documented it as 1745. Gabriel Banat is author of the authoritative English language biography of Saint-Georges, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (2006). He engaged in a lengthy effort to obtain changes in the signs for the street. On 25 March 2010, the Office of the Mayor of Paris informed him of changes. Former Prof. Daniel Marciano has translated the letter from French:
Dear Sir, You drew my attention to the street signs of the Rue du Chevalier Saint-George, asking for the text to be modified. Please find herewith the photo of the new street signs which will soon be installed. Best regards, Philippe Lamy
The new signs call the street “Rue du Chevalier Saint-George,” and give the dates “1745-1799.” They add that he was “Colonel de la légion des Américains et du Midi,” [“Colonel of the Legion of the Americans and of the South”] the Legion of mainly Black volunteers Saint-Georges commanded.
CBC Television in Canada first broadcast the 52-minute documentary Le Mozart Noir: Reviving a Legend on March 6, 2003. Actor Kendall Knights plays Saint-Georges in dramatic scenes interwoven with historical narrative and performances of his music by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under its Conductor Jeanne Lamon. The documentary has been broadcast in many countries, including the U.S. A DVD version was released in 2005 and is available at music websites, including the CBC Records site, www.cbcshop.ca
The producer's Web site is www.lemozartnoir.com
48 L'Association des Amis de Joseph Bologne
L'Association des Amis de Joseph Bologne [Association of the Friends of Joseph Bologne] is based in Guadeloupe. Its President is Jean-Claude Halley, whose E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Banat, Gabriel. The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow. Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, 2006.
Bardin, Pierre. Joseph de Saint-George, le Chevalier Noir. France: Guenegaud, 2006.
Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe. Le Fleuret et l'Archet : Le Chevalier de Saint-George, Créole dans le Siècle des Lumières [Foil & Bow: Le Chevalier de Saint-George, Creole in the Century of the Enlightenment]. Bisdary - Gourbeyre, 2001.
Everyman's Dictionary of Music; Compiled by Eric Blom; Revised by Jack Westrup, Professor of Music, Oxford University. New York: New American Library, 1971.
Guédé, Alain. Monsieur de Saint-George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary. New York: Picador, 2003.
Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music; Edited by Don Michael Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.
Marciano, Daniel. Le chevalier de Saint-Georges, Le Fils de Noémie. France: Thespis, 2005.
Microsoft Encarta Africana Encyclopedia, on CD-ROM and in a book published by Basic Civitas Books. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Editors.
Nemeth, Luc. Un État-Civil Chargé D'Enjeux: Saint-George, 1745-1799. Annales historiques de la Révolution française, No. 339, January, 2005, pp. 79-97.
Ribbe, Claude. Le chevalier de Saint-George. France: Perrin, 2004.
Smidak, Emil F. Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Lucerne: Avenira, 1996.
51 Un contemporain atypique de Mozart : Le Chevalier de Saint-George by Prof. Michelle Garnier-Panafieu
Saint-George, the composer : the excellence of his instrumental music which favors the violin
Rhetoric and composition
Saint-George’s style is based on rhetorical processes which deal with the imitation of nature advocated by philosophers from du Bos to Chabanon, and the theorists of music who refer to singing as an essential element of writing. To the vocal model and to its mechanisms such as repetition, recurrence, alternation, contrast and variety used to structure the speech and express passions must be added the influence of French cultural trends such as choreographic art, sentimental style and “romance” or love melodies, the Italian trend of violin virtuosity and German trends, namely the influence of The School of Mannheim, Sturm und Drang.
The predominance of private concerts : string quartets and sonatas.
Saint-George made his debut as a composer in the innovative genre of the string quartet of which he was one of the principal protagonists : eighteen of them in three opus : Opus 1 in 1773, 2nd Book in 1778, Opus 14 in 1785. His string quartets are characterised by nimble, graceful themes, often with a hint of melancholia and by vivacious rondos with an alternation in minor and major modes. They illustrate the quartet concertante with numerous soli.
He was an expert in his elegant and refined chamber music. Let us mention his sonatas for the harpsichord or the piano forte and his brilliant Sonatas for the Violin Obligato - two violins – 1799. He splendidly expressed the specificity of his style in his orchestral works.
The conquest of the concert public, symphonia concertante, symphonies
If he was one of the best protagonists of the symphonia concertante, a typical French genre (eight of them between 1775 and 1782 : two in Opus VI, two in Opus IX, two in Opus X, one in Opus XII, one in Opus XIII, intended for two principal violins to which was added a viola in Opus X and predominantly in two movements Allegro – Rondo of vaudevillian style), he also contributed to the blossoming of the symphony (two in Opus XI, the second one being the overture of L’Amant anonyme (the Anonymous lover).
Lyrical theater and vocal music : a little explored domain written especially for the violin
But his fourteen concertos "written especially for the violin”, composed for his own use and published between 1773 and 1778 (let us quote the Opus II, III, IV, V, VII, VIII) except the posthumous last one, in 1799, are his works which testify best to his bold technique and full of brightness (drums, melodic intervals, contrasts of registers). Instrumented for strings and winds (two flutes, two oboes and two horns ad libitum), they adopt the vivaldian pattern (Allegro in which alternate Tutti and Soli, Adagio or Largo expressive and influenced by the lyrical writing, Rondeau).
If his comedies with ariettes are not well-known (except for The Anonymous Lover, complete scores did not reach us), his melodies and romances were much appreciated in salons such as that of Madame de Chambonas. A Song of the Opera of Mr. Saint-George ( « Soir et matin sur la fougère », extracted from La Chasse) appears in an anthology of Grénier, harp master of Marie-Antoinette in about 1763 (pages 31-33 and Documents from N° 4 to 6b).
His musical Work is still a domain of research. It was certainly one of the best representatives of the concertante aesthetics of the Century of Enlightenment and one of the essential links of the music chain which from Rameau to Berlioz, insured the transition from the Baroque to the Romantic movements.
Prof. Michelle Garnier-Panafieu
Musicologist, Université Rennes II
"The assault or fencing match which took place between Mademoiselle la Chevalière d'Eon de Beaumont and Monsieur de Saint-George on the 9th of April 1787 - At Carlton House in the presence of the Nobility and many eminent Fencing Masters of London." The Royal Collection © 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. (Paragraph 30 on this page provides background on the event.)
String Quartets Opus 14; Third Book of Quartets
Avenira 276011 (2005)
Rue du Chevalier Saint-George
(Chevalier de Saint-George Street)
The Complete Symphonies Concertantes, CD1
Miroslav Vilimec & Jiri Zilak, violins
Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra/
Jiri Malat, conductor
Jiri Zilak & Michal Pospisil, violins
Pilsen Philhamonic Orchestra/
Frantisek Preisler, Jr., conductor
Avenira 276017 (2008)