On October 20 the Lubbock Chamber Orchestra will present a program that includes Joseph Bologne’s Symphony #2. Bologne, whose full name is Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George (1745-99) had a unique and fascinating life. Joseph’s father Georges, whose life was also full of incident, was a planter on the island of Guadeloupe. His mother Ninon was a slave belonging to Georges. Unlike virtually every other incidence of this type of paternity, which is best described as rape, Georges was devoted to both mother and child despite having a wife.
Georges brought his wife, Ninon, and little Joseph to France where he acknowledged to boy’s paternity, allowed him to use the family name, and paid for a first rate education for his mixed race son. At age 13 Joseph was boarded with Master of Arms, La Boëssière where he was trained in swordmanship. By age 17 he was among the best swordsmen in Europe, if not the best. He also embarked on a military career by becoming a member of the Gendarmes de la Garde du Roi. Henry Angelo, who ran a famous fencing academy in London, wrote of Saint-Georges that:
“Never did any man combine such suppleness with so much strength. He excelled in every physical exercise he took up, and was also an accomplished swimmer and skater … 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”.
He began studying the violin before he went to France. He continued his musical studies in Paris. In 1769 he joined the Concert des Amateurs as first violin (leader). At age 24 he became director of the orchestra. He soon became famous as a performer, conductor, and composer. In 1775 he was nominated to be director of the Paris Opéra. The nomination failed because some of the leading singers at the Opéra protested being subjected to the orders of a mulatto.
IN 1781 he founded the Concert de la Loge Olympique. After traveling to Austria to meet Joseph Haydn, he premiered his six Paris Symphonies in 1787 with his (Bologne’s) orchestra. He continued composing in a wide variety of genres, while still active as a swordsman. He also advocated the abolition of slavery in both France and England.
He also had a reputation as a great lover. Despite the prejudice he was subjected to, he nevertheless moved in the highest social and cultural circles in Paris and London.
While a free man he was denied many of the rights of a white man such as marriage. Thus, when the revolution declared the rights of man he embraced its cause. In 1792 he was appointed colonel of a regiment of light troops consisting of colored men and comprising 1,000 soldiers. The French Revolution devoured many of its adherents, unsurprisingly, he was denounced and imprisoned for 18 months. He was lucky to escape execution. His later attempts to rejoin the army were rejected. He died of bladder disease, probably cancer, in 1799. For a complete account of Bologne’s life see the BIOGRAPHY OF JOSEPH BOLOGNE DE SAINT-GEORGES.
When one reads about the remarkable career of Bologne the obvious thought is someone should make a movie about this man. Well, someone has. The trailer for it is below. The film takes a few departures from Bologne’s real story, but the extraordinary abilities of the man push through.
A complete performance of Bologne’s Symphony #2 which will be performed in the Crickets Theater. The theater is the small venue at the Buddy Holly Center. Anyone familiar with the career of the late cultural icon will understand the name. The theater is a gem seating about 400 people and has superb acoustics which may even surpass those of the large hall. A picture of the theater is above the title.