Five Facts about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Five Facts about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges

This weekend, we’re excited to be joined by Grammy award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich as soloist and leader. The Artistry of Augustin Hadelich offers an eclectic program featuring the music of Bach, Shostakovich, and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. If you’re unfamiliar with 18th century composer Saint-Georges, here’s five things you should know about him! 

French and African heritage. Saint-Georges’ given name was Joseph Bologne, and he was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to a wealthy planter and the planter’s wife’s African slave. Upon becoming a chevalier (knight), he took his father’s suffix “de Saint-Georges"—named after a plantation in Guadeloupe—to become known as “Chevalier de Saint-Georges". 

Virtuoso violinist and accomplished composer. His early musical training is unknown, but it is assumed that violinist Antonio Lolli assisted with his violin technique and composer François-Joseph Gossec with composition. Saint-Georges composed and published numerous operas, string quartets, concertos, and symphonies over a short span of time, from 1771-1779. He performed all his violin concertos as soloist with Le Concert Olympique—an orchestra he also conducted. 

Commissioned and premiered Hadyn’s Paris Symphonies. Saint-Georges commissioned Joseph Haydn to write six symphonies for his orchestra—Le Concert Olympique. These compositions are best known as Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies and were premiered and conducted by Saint-Georges. 

Connected to Marie Antoinette. His name was put forward as a candidate for the director of the Paris Opera at one point, but the Opera’s prima donnas went to Queen Marie Antoinette and scuttled his candidacy (because they didn’t want to take orders from a “mulatto.”). Despite this, it’s thought that Marie Antoinette may have subsequently performed with Saint-Georges as his accompanist. 

Renowned swordsman. Before he became known as a violin virtuoso, Saint-Georges was renowned as the greatest swordsman in Europe. He was once attacked by five anti-abolitionists and Saint-Georges dispatched all five and went on to perform in a salon concert with friends that very night. 

Hear the Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ sViolin Concerto No. 2 in A major September 24–26 in The Artistry of Augustin Hadelich. 

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