Saint-Georges, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de

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Saint-Georges, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de

Saint-Georges, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de , noted West Indian violinist and composer; b. near Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, c. 1739; d. Paris, June 9?, 1799. He was the son of a wealthy Frenchman and a black slave, and was reared in Santo Domingo. He went to Paris with his father in 1749 (his mother joined them in 1760); as a youth he studied boxing and fencing, and became one of the leading fencers of Europe; he also studied music with Jean-Marie Leclair l’aîné and with François Gossec (1763–66); the latter dedicated his op.9 string trios to him. In 1769 he became a violinist in the orch. of the Concert des Amateurs, becoming its director in 1773; after it was disbanded in 1781, he founded his own Concert de la Loge Olympique, for which Haydn composed his set of Paris syms.; it was disbanded in 1789. He also continued his activities as a fencer, and visited London in this capacity in 1785 and 1789. In 1791 he became a captain in the National Guard in Lille and soon was charged with organizing a black regiment, the Legion Nationale des Américains et du Midi (among his 1,000 troops was the father of Dumas père); when the venture proved of little success, he was relieved of his duties and later imprisoned for 18 months; after living on St. Dominique, he returned to Paris about 1797.


DRAMATIC : Opera (all first perf. in Paris): Ernestine (July 19, 1777); La Chasse (Oct. 12, 1778); L’Amant anonyme (March 8, 1780); Le Droit du seigneur (n.d.); La Fille garçon (Aug. 18, 1787); Le Marchand de marrons (1788); Guillaume tout coeur (1790). other : 9 symphonies concertantes; 15 violin concertos; chamber music; songs.


E. Derr, J. B., C. de S.-G.: Black Musician and Athlete in Galant Paris (Ann Arbor, 1972).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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