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Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Man of Music and Gentleman-at-Arms: The Life and Times
of an Eighteenth-Century Prodigy
Author(s): Gabriel Banat
Source: Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 177-212
Published by: Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago and University
of Illinois Press
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When Catherine de Medici introduced the violin to the court of Henri

II of France, Parisians developed a strong liking for that Italian import.
The popularity of the violin grew steadily through the generations that
followed. King Louis XIII assembled the "Grand Bande" or "Les 24 vio-
lons du Roy." Louis XIV, the "Sun King," continued its patronage and
endowed his protege Lully with great power and an even better orches-
tra, "Les Petits Violons." It was a highly disciplined group whose mem-
bers dressed in resplendent fashion and enjoyed respect and acclaim.
According to a contemporary newspaper, "The violin has been ennobled
in our times" (Mercure de France June 1738, vol. 1, 1113).
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the violin had become so
popular that Parisians considered it the most perfect of all the instru-
ments. Audiences followed with ever-increasing interest the succession
of violin virtuosos, many of them composers performing their own
works, in the French capital's public and private concert halls.
Though Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Baptiste Viotti were both Ital-
ians, they represented the cornerstones of the classic French school of
violin playing (La Laurencie 1923). During the century between their
lifetimes, many more of their colleagues emigrated from Italy to seek
their fortunes in Paris, answering the steady demand for new talent.
After the Florentine Lully, whose original name was Lolli, others like
Guignon (Ghignone) and Deplanes (Piani) adapted to France to the
point of exchanging their Italian names for French ones. Of course, once
the violin was established, France produced its own virtuosos. Of the
French-born violinists, Guillemain was a Parisian, while many others
like Mondonville and Vachon came from the provinces to conquer the

GABRIEL BANAT is a violinist and has been a member of the New York Philharmonic since
1970. He is the editor of Masters of the Violin (New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1981-), of
which one volume was devoted to works by Saint-Georges. He is also editor of a facsimile
edition of the Mozart violin concertos (New York: Raven Press, 1986).


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178 Black Music Research Journal

world's capital of taste and culture. One of them, the Chevalier de Saint-
Georges, came from the exotic Antilles in the French colonies. Like
George Polgreen Bridgetower and another chevalier, the elusive J.J.O. de
Meude-Monpas, this violinist-composer was a mulatto, that is to say, of
mixed African and European blood.
Most of these names, celebrated in their times, are ignored today, ex-
cept by music historians. Some, like those of Rodolphe Kreutzer and
Pierre Gavinies, are remembered because the technical studies they pro-
duced are still being taught today. Others stand out as pioneers of new
forms. Joseph Casanea de Mondonville, for example, was the first to
produce keyboard sonatas with violin, and Jean-Marie Leclair was a pio-
neer of the violin concerto in France. But to make a name for himself in
Paris, any aspirant to fame had to appear at the Concert Spirituel. This
concert series, established in 1725 by the composer Philidor, was a dras-
tic departure from established practice. Under Louis XIV music was
strictly under the control of the king. Outside the court, private concerts
were organized by the households of princely courts emulating the king
by hiring their own orchestras, conductors, and composers. The courts
of the dukes of Maine, Conti, and Orleans all had such elaborate musi-
cal establishments. One of the best of these private orchestras was or-
ganized by Louis XV's fermier-general, La Poupliniere. These concerts
were, of course, restricted to the private circle of the host. The Concert
Spirituel was the first such series of concerts that was available to bour-
geois audiences as well. Originally motivated by the need for musical
events on religious holidays when theaters and the opera were dark, the
Concert was obliged to offer some vocal music with religious subjects,
such as motets, but very soon orchestral music became dominant in its
concerts as well. The first great symphonic institution in Europe, the
concerts were regularly covered by the press. The repertoire included
symphonies, earlier evolved from the French opera overture, and Ital-
ian-style instrumental concertos. These offered an opportunity for bril-
liant violin virtuosos to charm their highly critical audiences. Performers
frequently played their own compositions, often written especially for
the occasion. Paris was also the capital of music publishers, and for ad-
ditional appeal "as performed at the Concert Spirituel" was often adver-
tised on the title page of a newly published concerto.
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges emerged on the Parisian musical
scene around the same time as a new form, the simphonie concertante,
became popular. His name is closely associated with the success of this
new, essentially French form of concerto. A cross between the baroque
concerto grosso and the instrumental solo concerto, it captured the
imagination of the public by offering not one but two or more soloists
"competing" with each other as well as with the orchestra, in a kind of
contest. With two violin soloists, a comparison with a duel could be

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 179

made, an especially appropriate one in this case, as we shall see. In De-

cember 1775 Mercure de France reported that two violinists, "MM Schen-
ker and Leduc, le jeune, played a new Simphonie Concertante by M. de
Saint-Georges." It is a measure of his success that in that same year
Bailleux, the publisher, took a six-year option on Saint-Georges's concer-

Barry Brook (1962), whose work contributed enormously to our re-

evaluation of Saint-Georges, divides the development of the French
symphony into five periods, beginning ca. 1750 with l'Abb6, Gossec, et
al., and culminating between 1778 and 1789 with the simphonies con-
certantes of Rigel and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. It is obvious that,
in spite of the comparatively short period of his musical productivity,
Saint-Georges played an important role in the musical life of pre-revolu-
tionary France. Besides his simphonies concertantes, he also produced vio-
lin concertos and some of the earliest keyboard-violin sonatas, wrote op-
eras, and was among the very first French composers to write string
quartets. In addition, his unusual extra-musical activities, together with
his exotic origins, make him stand out even among his most talented
colleagues of Italian, French, and German origin.
Joseph de Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was an americain
from the colonies, the son of a noble French plantation owner and an
African slave from the island of Guadeloupe in the Antilles. He was the
subject of a popular nineteenth-century novel, which unfortunately con-
fused his biographers with much, mostly questionable, information and
romantic invention. Fortunately, Saint-Georges was also one of the out-
standing European swordsmen of his day, and thanks to the annals of
fencing and also documents concerning his military career, we are able
to find some reliable information about his life.
Saint-Georges's life was, in fact, so picturesque that one is reminded
of a character in one of Alexandre Dumas pere's adventure novels. No
wonder it inspired a member of Dumas's circle of cronies, Roger de
Beauvoir, who was a minor representative of the new romantic wave
gathered around Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, to write such an
adventure-filled novel about a fictionalized Saint-Georges (de Beauvoir
[1840] 1851). The book, in four volumes, was dramatized and performed
in Paris and London the same year, 1840; it is typical of the then-newly
popular serialized novel that assured Dumas's immortality in this same
period-the 1840s-with The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte
Cristo. Quoting from de Beauvoir's introduction, "Having by a lucky
chance discovered the skeleton of Saint-Georges with his silver tasselled
foil still at his side.. ." [!], makes one wonder how this work could have
been taken seriously enough by Saint-Georges's biographers to accept
even some of its notions as fact. De Beauvoir goes on to explain that he
finds oral tradition "reviving memories of living debris from the

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180 Black Music Research Journal

Chevalier's day" more valuable to him "than biographies or historical

notices" (de Beauvoir [1840] 1851, 8-9). (He then somewhat piously in-
forms the Duke of Fitz-James, to whom the novel is dedicated, of the
arduous and scholarly labors he expended researching his book.)
De Beauvoir's novel is not entirely to blame, however, for the confu-
sion regarding Saint-Georges's date of birth, with estimates ranging
from 1739 to 1749. It was Saint-Georges himself who started the prob-
lem by once representing himself to his military superiors as being
younger than he actually was.l His age, given as sixty at the time of his
death in 1799, has been taken too literally. It could well have been an
estimate by the official at the scene. There are no documents in Guade-
loupe regarding his birth. Slaves, after all, had little incentive to have
their children baptized. However, two histories written by fencing mas-
ters who had close personal contact with this man of many talents can
provide more reliable information about his life. The first of these, "No-
tice historique sur le Chevalier de Saint-Georges" (La Boessi&re 1818),
categorically states that he was born in Guadeloupe near Basse-Terre on
December 25, 1745. This "Notice" is one of two essays written by the
son of the great fencing master La Boessiere; both essays were published
as front matter to the elder La Boessiere's Treatise on the Art of Fencing
(1818). Since the other essay is a biography of his father, this pairing
shows the extent of La Boessi&re, Jr.'s love and esteem for his friend, the
Chevalier. In a short preface to the entire volume, he writes, "[I was]
raised with M. de Saint-Georges who until his death remained my
friend and comrade-in-arms" and (giving us a hint that the old master-
at-arms was not without his enemies) "Saint-Georges never gave in to
the cowardly insinuations of jealous mediocrity. . . . was all his life a
true friend to my father.... these two men were pre-destined to value
each other" (La Boessiere 1818, vj, xiij).
Sources like La Boessiere's, while not infallible, are at least credible.2
There are, of course, still many blank spaces in the Chevalier's history,
and the researcher is naturally tempted at least to consider all kinds of
information about him. Still, it is hard to see how serious music histori-
ans like La Laurencie (1923) and others could have given credence to
some of the fanciful inventions in de Beauvoir's novel. One of his typi-
cal fictions, pretending to show the hero's first steps on the violin, ex-
poses the novelist's lack of knowledge about music. Shortly after having
been taught the rudiments of violin playing by the clearly fictional char-
acter of Joseph Platon, supposed overseer of the Boulogne plantation in

1. La Laurencie (1923, 475) quotes a signed statement of October 1, 1792: "Joseph de

Boulogne, dit Saint-Georges, quarante-trois ans, ne a Guadeloupe, rentre a Lille depuis
deux ans" (original held in the Archives Administratives du Minist6re de la Guerre).
2. The second source, Angelo (1828; 1840), mis-stated Saint-Georges's death by ten or
eleven years.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 181

Saint Domingue (who can admittedly hardly play himself), the little boy
is overheard in the garden playing Tartini's difficult "Devil's Trill" so-
nata! This Platon (who later in the novel becomes Saint-Georges's valet
in Paris) is supposed to own a Stradivarius (elsewhere in the book an
Amati) given to him by a M. Exaudet, who actually was a second violin-
ist at the Opera, for whom a cleverly faked eighteenth century-sounding
address "over a pastry shop ... across from the convent in the Rue St.
Honore" was invented. Unfortunately, this Platon was accepted by at
least one important source, La Laurencie, as Saint-Georges's first
teacher, and others followed suit.
De Beauvoir ([1840] 1851, 36) proposes another totally farfetched no-
tion when he suggests that the hero's mother named her child Saint-
Georges after the name of a ship that "brought her people from their
homeland" and was at anchor in Guadeloupe at the time the child was
born. Quite an unlikely act of nostalgia, given the nature of slave ships
and what they must have meant to their victims! The fact is that Saint-
Georges inherited his name and title from his father. Barry Brook (1963,
1251) reports that Antonio Lolli (no relation to Lully) dedicated his Vio-
lin Concerto opus 4, and Carl Stamitz his Quartets opus 1, to "Joseph de
Bologne de Saint-George [sic], [who gave] an invaluable present to the
arts in the person of Monsieur your son." The elder Boulogne would
have been automatically given his title, the lowest degree of knighthood
in France, by the king because of his service as Royal Counsellor at the
Parliament of Metz, then as intendant of his Majesty's finances, and fi-
nally as Controlleur-General and Grand Treasurer of the Order of the
Holy Spirit (La Laurencie 1923, 451).
It was not altogether unusual that this child of a slave was accepted
as his own by his white father. The father of Alexandre Dumas pere was
sired by Davy de la Pailleterie, a nobleman from Normandy with the
"courtesy" title of marquis who had sought his fortune as a planter on
Saint Domingue. His son, called Thomas-Alexandre, was born in 1762 to
a slave-girl, Cessette Dumas, who kept house for him. According to
Andre Maurois (1957, 14), "It was customary that colons return to France
with their sons of semi-African blood, leaving their daughters in the Is-
lands." Dumas was eighteen when he was brought to Paris in 1780 by
his father. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1755, M. de Boulogne de Saint-
Georges brought his ten-year-old son to Paris, following (or perhaps ini-
tiating) that custom.
De la Pailleterie's property was in fact near Cap Rose in Saint Domin-
gue, whence perhaps de Beauvoir's choice of the fictional locale for
Saint-Georges's early years-a plantation called "La Rose" on the island
of Saint Domingue, today's Haiti. We have no documentary evidence
that Saint-Georges ever spent time on that island. Perhaps through
Dumas, de Beauvoir would have found background material easier to

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182 Black Music Research Journal

obtain about Saint Domingue than about Guadeloupe, convenience dic-

tating his choice of scenery. Later, in real events, however, the eldest
Dumas was to serve under Saint-Georges's colonelship in the army of
the Revolution.
In his "Notice historique," La Boessiere fils is perhaps the first of
many to pile praise upon praise on the remarkable Chevalier de Saint-
Georges in print. He calls him "perhaps the most extraordinary man to
appear in the history of fencing as well as in all other physical accom-
plishments." He writes that "Nature made him and then broke the
mold.... At the head of all my father's many students must be placed
the inimitable Saint-Georges." Soon after he was brought to France by
his father at age ten, he astonished his teachers by his facility to learn.
At age thirteen he was placed as a boarding student at La Boessiere's,
where he spent six years. Although La Boessiere only touches briefly on
Saint-Georges's achievements in music, it is well worth quoting further
from this illustrious second-generation fencing master, the most accurate
source we have on Saint-Georges. At fifteen "he was beating the strong-
est fighters. At seventeen he acquired the greatest speed." Unlike the
achievements of the creative artist, those of a sportsman are elusive.
Their achievements can only be appreciated by actually witnessing
them. "Many who saw Saint-Georges still exist and can confirm that all
that has been said about this marvelous man will not match the aston-
ishing truth. I who watched him closely, I who never left him, am still
in admiration" (La Boessiere 1818, xvj).
Saint-Georges was just 5'6" tall, very handsome, and gifted with pro-
digious bodily strength: "vital, supple, wiry, swift, he astonished with
his agility." Following a detailed description of his pupil's perfect tech-
nique, the master-at-arms points out the fairness of his approach: "de-
void of feints or tricks. One had to be advanced enough to draw with
him to really appreciate the extent of his superior powers." At age forty
he lost some of this skill after tearing the Achilles' heel of his left foot
while dancing, causing him to lose much of his speed, but his light hand
compensated for some of this loss, keeping him at an advantage over all
the other fighters. He was so well controlled that "he never injured any-
one even in those times when [face] masks were not yet in use"3 (La
Boessiere 1818, xvj).
His achievements in music are mentioned along with his other inter-
ests: horsemanship, swimming, dancing, and not least, his popularity in
society, and especially with the fair sex. Sought after by the fashionable
hostesses, as La B6essiere puts it, he often "succumbed to the charm of
meaningful relationships." And again, discreetly, "Blessed with a lively
temperament, he loved and was loved." Among other arts, the art of

3. La B6essiere, Sr., invented the iron-mesh mask used by fencers today.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 183

music was particularly near to him: "he became known by happy [sic]
compositions, notably violin concertos, that became highly fashionable.
His sumptuous talent on that instrument often gave him an edge over
the most skillful artists of his times."
The "Notice" continues to elaborate upon Saint-Georges's kindness
and compassion for others ("even old men") and the tactfulness he used
to help others accept his gifts: "He was apt to be good to the point of
weakness." At the same time it was dangerous to push him too far, but
once he got himself under control, he did everything to erase the offense
he might have caused. Adversely, he often allowed himself to be drawn
away from his own interests. "He had been at the point to ensure his
fortune, but indolence and his lightness of character never allowed him
to pursue the same goal for very long" (La B6essiere 1818, vj).
Henry Angelo was an English counterpart of the younger La
Boessiere. Son of a riding-master and a fencing master like his French
colleague, a chapter in his book Angelo's Pic Nic contains mostly first-
hand information (Angelo 1840; see also Angelo 1828-1830): "A narra-
tive of Saint-Georges, sent for purposely [sic] to my friend M. de Saint-
Ville at Paris."4 He too writes of "the skillful horseman, remarkable shot,
musician," but, like his French colleague, emphasizes that

the act in which he surpassed all his contemporaries was fencing.... He

[also] conducted the orchestras of Mme de Montesson [the Duke of Or-
leans's morganatic wife] and that of the Marquis [the Marquise] de
Montalembert. In 1779 he was received as an inmate [sic] in the house of
the Duke of Orleans and held the rank of "lieutenant de chasse de Pinci."
[Some time after] he came to London and took part in a grand assault be-
fore the Prince of Wales [later George IV].

That Henry Angelo was also there is apparent from the London Morn-
ing Herald of April 9, 1787:

Principals present were Fabian, a celebrated professor of Paris, Mr. Moge,

Mr. Angelo and the Prince himself, who did Mr. Saint-Georges the honor to
thrust with him in carte and in carte and tirce .... The highlight of the day,
however, was the match between Saint-Georges and the Chevalier d'Eon"
(Angelo 1840, 62).

That mysterious personage faced his opponent in a somewhat cumber-

some outfit-an ample silk dress, complete with crinoline, and a lace
bonnet. Having served Louis XV of France in a secret diplomatic mis-
sion to the court of Elizabeth I of Russia and trained as a lawyer, the
Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont received a commission as an officer of
dragoons. He eventually managed to make such a shambles of his pe
sonal and public affairs that he became debt-ridden and acquired po

4. De Saintville was a colleague-in-arms of Angelo's in Paris.

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184 Black Music Research Journal

erful enemies at the courts of France and England alike. A predilection

to dress occasionally as a woman started perhaps with that secret mis-
sion to St. Petersburg. In that disguise he was able to evade the vigilance
of Empress Elizabeth's chancellor, Count Bestouchev, while delivering
King Louis's messages to the Empress. Now, faced with prison or
worse, he decided that the only way to escape his desperate situation
was to claim that he was in fact a woman. He approached Beaumar-
chais, a magistrate and the future author of The Marriage of Figaro, to
intercede in his behalf. The pardon Beaumarchais obtained for d'Eon
from the young king, Louis XVI, included a condition that smacked
somewhat of an intrigue from one of the author's plays. When in public,
in return for immunity, the hapless captain of dragoons was ordered to
wear clothing befitting "her" real sex until his, or rather, her, death.
When d'Eon "assumed the petticoat," he lived on Brewer Street in
London and gave elaborate dinner parties attended by the literati, in-
cluding composers J. C. Bach, Johannes Baptiste Cramer, and Carl
Friedrick Abel (Angelo 1828, vol. 2, 111). After running low on funds, he
was forced to return to Tonnerre, his birthplace in France. Very soon he
became desperate for some masculine action and pleaded for a change
in this condition, but to no avail. With the opinion about evenly split on
the Chevalier's sex, the English, ready to bet on anything, had for years
been offering policies worth ?6000 on d'Eon's real sex. His exhibition
fight with Saint-Georges at Carlton House on April 9, 1787, in the pres-
ence of H.R.H. the Regent, was immortalized in a painting by Robineau
(see Fig. 1). Interest in the contest had, of course, been heightened by the
mystery surrounding d'Eon and by the exotic background of the other
chevalier. By then the "Chevaliere," aged sixty, was forced to give fenc-
ing exhibitions for a living. Reportedly, "she" won that contest by six to
four but afterwards declared that her opponent gallantly held back, not
entirely impossible, given his kindness and d'Eon's financial situation.
Saint-Georges however denied throwing the fight, insisting on the
"Lady's" superior strength and skill.
Upon d'Eon's death in 1810, the doctors were joined at the postmor-
tem by an English nobleman, who, having viewed the body, declared
that it was clearly "that of a man, my spouse having made the same
statement" (Angelo 1828, vol. 2, 58).5 The bettors had to be satisfied. In
spite of that, to this day writers are divided about whether d'Eon was
male or female. That Saint-Georges and d'Eon had more than a single
meeting is evident from a contemporary English caricature: d'Eon in his
crinoline and a shirt-sleeved Saint-Georges are back-to-back pugilists,
punching a couple of their enemies, figures probably recognizable by
the reader of the day. Saint-Georges's features are quite true to life,

5. Turner, the painter, was there and "made a print of d'Eon's death mask."

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 185

Figure 1. Robineau painting of d'Eon and Saint-Georges

though with somewhat exaggerated African features, and he is made to

speak with a "comic" Caribbean accent. In spite of that, the tone of the
cartoon is not unsympathetic toward the athletic pair of adventurers
(see Fig. 2). It was during this first trip to London that Saint-Georges
had his portrait painted by an American painter, Mather Brown. He ap-
pears with his foil in hand; his violin and a musical score can be seen in
the background (see Fig. 3). In April of 1788 it was engraved and
printed in many copies, a sign of the Chevalier's popularity, even in
London. He gave this portrait to Henry Angelo, who risked his life to
save it from his studio in Covent Garden when the opera house burned
on June 17, 1789 (Angelo 1828, vol. 2, 77-78).
The only clues we have that Saint-Georges had any kind of musical
interest before 1769 are a six-line poem of praise by M. Moline which
appeared in Mercure de France of February 1768 ("Vers, au bas du por-
trait de M. B*** de S.G.***" [underneath the portrait of ...]), comparing
him with Apollo, "god of harmony"; dedications to him of music by
Lolli (1764) and Gossec (1766); and the fact that no matter how talented,
one has to start at an early age and persevere on the violin to be suc-
cessful as an adult. In 1766 his fame as a swordsman was such that an
ambitious young Italian fencer, Faldoni, traveled to Paris in order to
challenge Saint-Georges to a contest. But until that point, we have no
similar proof of his comparable standing in music.

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186 Black Music Research Journal


41, 7; , I ~-

/'~e~?r ~ r'rL~bk ni~tY,~_ .

Figure 2. Mile d'Eon "Riposting." From a contemporary

We know almost nothing of the musical studies t

part of his life in his formative years. It is obviou
tante, and his "amateur" standing ended officially
founded the Concert des Amateurs and invited Sain
illustrious orchestra. It boasted a string section of
ber that probably included the violas), twelve cell
besides winds. As a composer, Francois Joseph Gos
figure in the development of the French sympho
dedication of his trios, he is considered to have been Saint-Georges's
composition teacher.6 After leading the Concert des Amateurs at the town
house of the Prince de Soubise for four years, Gossec was called, to-
gether with Gavinies and Leduc, to direct the Concert Spirituel. It is at
this point that he handed the leadership of his old orchestra to Saint-
Beginning in 1773, Saint-Georges devoted himself to music as his pri-
mary career, directing his orchestra with "great precision and fine nu-
ances" (Laborde and Laborde 1780, vol. 3, 484). Under Saint-Georges's
leadership this was soon considered to be "the best orchestra for the
Symphonies there is in Paris, and perhaps, Europe" (Almanach Musical
1775, 198).
The winter before, Saint-Georges had composed two violin concertos

6. Logically, that would make Lolli, who also dedicated works to his father, a candidate
as Saint-Georges's violin teacher. La Laurencie (1923) names Ledair, apparently without
any evidence.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 187

1~~~. ~ ~ 1

jl ur~~~? . 4

A4 EP+ K\~?"r
~~, ~ r



- - . ??,,?

1;1\. ,JT?
C., r
rlr? ??:

,a, ?t

Figure 3. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

and performed them with the orchestra. Now they were published as
his opus 2. Announcing the publication, Mercure de France wrote, "These
concertos had been performed last winter at the Concert des Amateurs by
the author himself and received great applause as much for the merit of
the performance as for that of its composition." His first opus, published
earlier that year by Sieber, was a set of six string quartets, which to-
gether with those of Gossec and Vachon, were among the first in France.

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188 Black Music Research Journal

In 1775 his first two simphonies concertantes were performed at the Con-
cert Spirituel and were also published by Sieber. Bailleux published
opuses 3 and 4 as single violin concertos and then four more concertos
in pairs, as opuses 5 and 7. Various Paris publishers between 1773 and
1785 printed no less than nine and perhaps as many as twelve violin
concertos, as many as eight simphonies concertantes, and two symphonies.
His chamber works number two, possibly three, sets of six string quar-
tets and three sonatas for keyboard and violin. Of six solo violin sonatas
with a second violin he composed in this period, only three were pub-
lished, posthumously in 1800, by Pleyel. A sonata for flute and harp and
a piece for guitar, published in the Journal de la Guitarre in 1791, com-
plete Saint-Georges's known list of instrumental works.7
His opus 1 string quartets are in two movements, an Allegro and a
Rondo, in a departure from his German and Italian models. As another
unusual feature, quartets no. 3, 4, and 5 of this set are in a minor key,
and the second movements of the first and last of these quartets contain
a minore section. Both this set of 1773 and the later Quartetto Concertans
[sic] use all four instruments in more equal fashion than might be ex-
pected, considering the dominance of the violin in other early string
quartets of the period.
The sonatas are also in two movements. They do offer the violin an
independent role, in the manner of the earliest duo sonatas by Joseph
Casanea de Mondonville and Michel Corrette. Written a generation after
these high-baroque or pre-classic models, Saint-Georges's sonatas are
classical in style, in spite of the fact that his contemporaries in France,
Italy, and England continued to produce figured-bass sonatas until the
end of the century. The three sonatas for two violins are really solo so-
natas with a second violin accompaniment. In the third sonata the first
violin part is especially brilliant, with effective passage work in the
highest positions of the instrument. Saint-Georges never wrote any vio-
lin sonatas with figured bass. This clear break with the baroque is per-
haps the strongest argument that he was entirely of the new age.
The important simphonies concertantes were written for two violins and
orchestra. In one pair, the opus 10, the solo group consists of two violins
and a viola. Idiomatically, these two works are similar to the violin con-
certos but contain somewhat less demanding passagework. Occasionally
the soloists still rise into the highest regions of the E string, but there is
less complicated arpeggio work with bariolage and other technical de-
vices that abound in the solo concertos. In return, the solo voices are
either engaged in lively competition or join in duets, complementing
one another in a most charming fashion.
By the time Mozart returned to Paris in 1778, simphonies concertantes

7. A bassoon concerto, performed in 1782, has unfortunately been lost.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 189

by Saint-Georges, Leduc, Daveau, and other composers were all the

rage. Mozart began to compose as many as six such works, of which
only the magnificent K. 364 for violin and viola has survived in its au-
thentic form.8 Baron Grimm, Leopold Mozart's friend who sheltered
Wolfgang after his mother's tragic death in Paris, was the old Duke of
Orleans's private secretary at the same time that Saint-Georges was con-
ductor of the orchestra in the Duke's and Mme Montesson's household.
In his letter of July 29, 1778, to Fridolin Weber, Mozart mentions the
Concert des Amateurs among his connections to help obtain some engage
ments in Paris for Weber's daughter Aloysia (Mozart 1962, vol. 2, 415). I
would be unlikely for him to have such a connection without being ac-
quainted with the orchestra's director, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
Mozart's father, Leopold, in a letter of April 6, 1778, included the Con
cert des Amateurs in a list of possible commissions for Mozart in Paris
The possibility of some contact between the two musicians is further
suggested by a comparison of a passage from the Rondeau of Saint
Georges's Violin Concerto in A major, op. 7, no. 2, with a famous pas-
sage from Mozart's Symphonie Concertante in E-flat major, K. 364 (see E
1). The Saint-Georges violin concerto cited in Example 1, the Violin Con-

Example 1.
a. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Violin Concerto in A Major, op. 7, no. 2,
Rondeau, mm. 121-124
8va --------------------------

b. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphonie Conc

364, Presto, mm. 448-452
_ a

8. The original of M
Gros. The one now
begun by Mozart on

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190 Black Music Research Journal

certo in G major, op. 2, no. 1,9 and the Simphonie Concertante in C Major,
op. 6, no. 1, are some examples of his superior talent as a composer.'0
The classical style comes full blown to Saint-Georges's violin concer-
tos. The first two of these were written two years before Mozart wrote
his violin concertos in Salzburg." They are in three movements, more
"galant" than "rococo" in style, full of Parisian appeal. The emphasis
here is not on depth of meaning (the harmonic development is too sim-
ple for that), but verve and charm overwhelm the listener. The best of
the concertos are really very good, conveying the splendid bravado of
the composer's personality. The slow movements have an affecting
quality, some of them being enhanced by an occasional augmented sec-
ond in the minor key, evoking an exotic Creole atmosphere. The Ron-
deaus all have a minore section (as in Mozart's third and fifth concertos),
suggesting a similar nostalgic mood, in contrast with the typically gal-
ant style of the movement. Except for the above-mentioned portions in
minor keys, Saint-Georges's musical invention does not stand out
among his colleagues. Harmonically conventional, his sonata forms con-
tain little opportunity for extensive development. In this respect he is
vastly overshadowed by his contemporaries in Austria-Haydn and
Aside from their natural and appealing qualities, the significance of
his concertos and simphonies concertantes is their role as a bridge, con-
necting the violin technique of the violinist-composers of the late ba-
roque (such as Tartini and Locatelli) to the technique of the nineteenth-
century romantics. Saint-Georges's particular virtuoso idiom leads
directly to Beethoven and beyond, by-passing the violinistically more
restrained style of the Mannheim school and the great Austrian masters
of classicism. Followers, such as Kreutzer, Viotti, and Rode, carried on
the virtuosity audiences admired in Saint-Georges to successive genera-
tions. Beethoven's admiration for one of them, the Parisian Rodolphe
Kreutzer, is evident from the dedication to him of the important opus 47
sonata. Beethoven had never met Saint-Georges and heard Kreutzer
only once, in 1798. However, he did have close personal contact with
two pupils of Saint-Georges's friend, Giovanni Mane Giomovichi,l2 who
were representatives of the same Paris school. They were George
Bridgetower and Franz Clement.
Giomovichi, who had a reputation for eccentricity and quarrelsome

9. This work is mistaken for a solo violin concerto in the thematic index in Brook (1962).
10. Strangely enough, La Laurencie, whose work covers Saint-Georges's life and music
most thoroughly, knew only one of the simphonies concertantes. Published by Sieber as no.
13, it is really the second one in the 1775 set, in G major.
11. There is some recent evidence, based on watermarks, ink, and graphology, that
suggests that Mozart's first violin concerto (K. 207) was written in 1773, the same year as
Saint-Georges's first two concertos (see Plath 1978; Tyson 1983; Tyson 1984; Mahling 1983).
12. He was an Italian violinist, who also called himself Jarnoweck.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 191

behavior, had been performing some of Saint-Georges's concertos,

claiming that they were his own. When Saint-Georges confronted him
with proof that he even intended to publish them as his own,
Giorovichi, in a fit of rage, struck him. Instead of challenging him to
the customary duel, Saint-Georges declared he was "too fond of his tal-
ent to fight with him" (Pougin 1888, 18, footnote 2), surely a generous
act from the best swordsman in Europe.l3
It follows that, knowingly or not, Giornovichi's pupils must have had
some of Saint-Georges's concertos in their repertoire. Bridgetower was a
famous mulatto violinist who made his debut in 1789, at age ten, with
the Concert Spirituel in Paris. The Prince of Wales, who had heard him in
London that same year, was so impressed that he arranged for him to
study with Giomovichi. Bridgetower was still in the Prince's employ in
1803 when he came to Vienna. There he struck up a friendship with
Beethoven, who was only too glad to write a sonata for one of
Bridgetower's recitals at the Augarten. As usual, Beethoven was late in
finishing the sonata, and the violinist had to read the first two move-
ments from Beethoven's hardly legible manuscript, while the composer
played his unfinished part mostly from memory.'4 Bridgetower's mo-
tions while performing were reported by Karl Czerny as extreme to the
point of being ridiculous (Grove 1935, vol. 1, 470). This might explain
why at its first performance the sonata elicited derision. It might also
explain Beethoven's original dedication to Bridgetower on the manu-
script sketch: "Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer
[sic], gran pazzo [lunatic] e compositore mulattico" (Grove 1980, 282). In
his old age, Bridgetower reminisced about the two of them being con-
stant companions during his stay in Vienna. He said that the first copy
of the sonata was dedicated to him, but when they quarreled "about a
girl," Beethoven changed his mind and dedicated it to Rodolphe
Kreutzer instead (Forbes 1973, 333).
Like Bridgetower, the Viennese Franz Clement also studied with
Giomovichi in London. Three years later, when he was only twelve, he
played for Beethoven in Vienna. Beethoven liked his playing so much
that several years later he wrote his only concerto for Franz Clement. He
also expressed his sympathy for the young virtuoso in a dedication that
shows his liking for the boy's style: "Concerto par Clemenza pour Clem-
ent, primo Violino e Direttore al Theatro a Vienna, dal L. v. Bthvn.,
1806" (quoted in Forbes 1973, 410). Clement may actually have played
some Saint-Georges for Beethoven, while looking for the most brilliant
pieces in his repertoire. Later, Beethoven may have remembered some

13. Later, with Viotti in Paris and Cramer in London, he was not so lucky. After
insulting each of them, Giomovichi left town rather than fight.
14. The last movement was "borrowed" from an earlier sonata. It remained with the

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192 Black Music Research Journal

of this music when writing his violin concerto for Clement. There are in
fact some passages in the concerto (and in Beethoven's Triple Concerto
in C Major) that are too similar to others by Saint-Georges to be mere
coincidence. Especially striking is a difficult passage in bariolage, a tech-
nical device often employed by Saint-Georges but in this case so un-
usual that, when it appears in Beethoven's manuscript of his concerto
(but not used in the published version), it cannot be considered entirely
accidental (see Ex. 2 and Ex. 3).
This writer has noted elsewhere (Banat 1981, vol. 3, xiii-xiv) that by
this time a radical change in the design of the violin bow was influen-
cing French violin-playing. Most apparent in Saint-Georges's work, this
change was mainly responsible for his advanced style in violin tech-
nique. About 1750, in England and France, some bowmakers, notably
Thomas Dodd the elder and Francois Tourte l'amne (Francais, n.d.), re-
versed the usual camber (or curve) of the stick, that is, the wooden part
of the bow. Since the baroque, the bow's arch had been flattening. Now
it became concave. The greater resistance produced enabled the player
to "glue" his rapid strokes to the strings more firmly a la corde, produc-
ing a stronger, more aggressive tone in the center and upper part of his
bow.15 This change coincided with the advent of the fortepiano and was
perhaps motivated by the need to match the stronger tone and percus-
sive quality of that instrument. The new bow's ability to cross strings
with great precision and speed enabled Saint-Georges to produce
passagework in his rapier-like style, streaking up to the highest regions
of the fingerboard. The new design for the bow, however, did not
spread all at once over the map of Europe. Well established in France
and England by the third quarter of the eighteenth century (Franqais,
n.d.), its eventual acceptance in Vienna, beginning about 1800, can be
attributed to violinists such as Bridgetower and Clement. The new bow
was probably in use there by the time Beethoven produced his early
chamber works. His first violin sonatas (op. 12) were probably written
for the new "Tourte l'alne"-type bow. As for his "Kreutzer" Sonata and
the violin concerto, they could not be played properly without it.
Admittedly, aside from the particular technical language of the violin
or, shall we say, the bow, Saint-Georges's concertos are not to be consid-
ered in a class with Beethoven's great opus 61, but there is justification
to compare them favorably with those of Viotti, Spohr, or Rode, com-
posers who are better known than Saint-Georges but whose work he
predated and certainly influenced. In spite of this, he suffered neglect
and was forgotten, at least temporarily, by successive generations. Saint-

15. Unfortunately, at the same time, much of the freedom to "float" the bow, producing
a spontaneous articulation, was lost due to the increased tension resulting from a harder
rebound. Now the player must work much harder to approximate Mozart's and Haydn's
authentic style.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 193

Example 2.
a. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 2, no. 2,
Rondeau, mm. 193-194

b. Ludwig van Beethoven, Violin Concerto, op. 61, mm. 174-175

Example 3.
a. Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 2, no. 2,
Allegro, mm. 256-257

b. Ludwig van Beethoven, Violin Concerto, op. 61, monograph score, p. 50

=^^T^^p<e. _
7f /f'~7e kp t

Georges is a good example of the relative nature of fame. One encyclo-

pedia (Thompson 1985, 1703) gives him three lines.16 The great German
Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart devotes more than a page to him
(Brook 1963). The French Encyclopedie de la musique mentions him not at
all in the body of the text but, as an afterthought, remembers him in the

16. Thompson (1985, 1865) characterizes him as "eccentric," obviously mistaking him
for Giornovichi, who was that; and Riemann (1961, vol. 7, 368) finds him "extravagant,"
perhaps making the same mistake.

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194 Black Music Research Journal

addenda (Michel 1958-1961, 1011). One reason for Saint-Georges's rela-

tive neglect in the history of music (if not that of fencing) could have
been the relatively short time he spent as a composer-only a dozen
years or so. Having reached his thirties, and seemingly at the zenith of
his powers as a musician, Saint-Georges decided to enter the treacher-
ous field of opera.
The Paris Opera had, by that time, been in financial trouble for some
years. In 1767, after only ten years, two violinists, Rebel and Francoeur,
asked to be released from their thirty-year contracts directing the Opera.
Louis XIV had placed a ceiling on state subsidy for the Opera that was
now unrealistically small in view of rising costs, and the Opera was a
losing proposition, just as it is today. It was also a playground for the
rich and powerful, who competed openly for the prestige of keeping the
ladies of its stage in luxurious trappings. Power and prestige, in addi-
tion to the confidence that they might succeed where others had failed,
can be the only explanation for the succession of impresarios willing to
pay the required security of as much as half a million livres for the
privilege of running the opera.
Among the bidders in 1776 was a group of entrepreneurs-"a consor-
tium of capitalists" (Grimm 1776, vol. 9, 184)-that included Saint-
Georges as co-director of the Opera. At that point several members of
the company (some singers and a dancer, Miles Guimart, Amould, Ro-
salie, and other demi-mondaines, surely with some powerful protectors
behind them) addressed a petition to the queen: "their honor and the
delicate nature of their conscience, could never allow them to submit to
the orders of a mulatto" (Fetis, 1800, vol. 37, 317). Such an important
consideration had to have its desired effect, wrote Grimm with some
Eventually the Opera was taken over by the king-"nationalized," as
it would be called today-to be administered by the Superintendent of
the Royal Entertainments (Les Menus-Plaisirs du Roi). This was Papillon
de la Ferte, "a scheming and ambitious man [who] wanted to become
the real master of the Opera" (Pougin 1914, 8). The famous letter to the
queen by the honorable ladies might well have been instigated by this
gentleman to help him achieve his goal, but his triumph lasted less than
a year, for, "exasperated by the eternal troubles that agitated that lyric
republic," the Opera, he too dropped that hot chestnut (Laborde and
Laborde 1780, vol. 1,401).
It is possible that Saint-Georges recognized that, under the guise of
racial prejudice, he had been the victim of politics, but it must still have
had an impact on him. It was the first blow of this nature since he came
to Paris, as far as we can tell. Far from being discouraged, however, he
began composing the first of several operas and became captivated by
the medium (as was Mozart about the same time). Regrettably, as we

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 195

shall see, Saint-Georges practically abandoned the field of instrumental

music, and the violin in particular, in the process.
Saint-Georges produced his first opera, Ernestine, in 1777 at the
Theatre des Italiens. He was still directing the Concert des Amateurs and
with growing acclaim, but his new interest must have meant consider-
able financial sacrifice to him. That, added to the personal insult suf-
fered at the hands of the ladies of the opera, must have had some effect
on his usually exuberant nature. It was in this mood that Saint-Georges
conducted his orchestra, the Concert des Amateurs, in a memorial tribute
to a friend, Leduc, who was, until the time of his death, the director of
the Concert Spirituel. Deeply moved by the loss and overcome by emo-
tion, during the Adagio of the symphony by his late friend, Saint-
Georges let drop his bow and wept (Journal de Paris February 28, 1777).
The story of Ernestine was written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, a
captain of artillery and author of a notorious novel, Les Liaisons dan-
gereuses, which inspired a modem play and two motion pictures. Ernes-
tine, however, was not successful, apparently because the libretto (pre-
pared by a third party) was found wanting. Wrote Mercure de France
(August 1777):

The Comediens Italiens performed Saturday, July 19th, "Ernestine," Com-

edy in 3 acts, mixed with ariettas. ... In this piece the Poet neglected to
handle situations, contrasts, and personalities that could have rendered the
action livelier and more interesting. The amateur [in the eighteenth-century
sense of the word] who composed the score, very distinguished by more
than one talent, did as much as could be done with such an ungraceful
plot: one noted very pleasant duos, brilliant arias, ensemble numbers, that
do him honor and which attest a fine style, with much knowledge, facility,
and talent. But in France the poem is judged before the music, and the
Musician's art can never entirely cover the deficiencies of the Drama.

Ernestine lasted only one performance. Far from discouraged, Saint-

Georges produced his next opera, La Chasse, in October 1778. This one,
with a libretto by Desfontaines, fared a little better. It had four perform-
ances, just under the average for the period. But La Fille garqon, with text
by Desmaillot, met with the same fate as Ernestine. The music was
praised, but the libretto doomed the piece to failure. In the next ten
years Saint-Georges wrote five more comic operas. All except one, the
third, L'Amant anonyme, which is in the Bibliotheque du Conservatoire
in Paris, have been lost or are preserved in fragments only. His Le Droit
de seigneur, known only from a single aria published in Journal de la
Harpe in 1784, reveals by its title the tantalizing possibility of some con-
nection with Beaumarchais's play The Marriage of Figaro, which made its
sensational appearance the same year. Of the others, Le Marchand de
Marrons, produced at the Theatre Beaujolais in 1788 and Guillaume tout
cceur (1790) have never been found.

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Soon after his unsuccessful bid for the Opera (now the Academie
Royale), Saint-Georges, like so many of his colleagues, found it expedient
to enter into the service of a princely household. Producing his operas
must have been a strain on his finances, always burdened by his pen-
chant for largesse toward his friends and charity to all who asked for it.
The advent of public concert series, like the Concert Spirituel and the
Concert des Amateurs, did not end the custom of aristocrats supporting
their own theaters, complete with orchestras. Nobles of the highest rank,
royalty included, continued to appear as actors and singers in their own
productions; but this could still take place only in their own private en-

Paris had several such private theaters, none as distinguished as that

of Mme de Montesson in her town house on the Chaussee d'Antin. Mar-
ried by morganatic marriage17 to the Duke of Orleans, the cousin of the
king, she was fond of appearing in classical or bucolic roles in plays and
opera-ballets, sometimes joined by her husband the Duke, playing peas-
ants or shepherds.18 In 1779 Saint-Georges, elegant, sociable, a successful
composer and orchestra-builder, was a natural choice for musical direc-
tor of Mme de Montesson's theater. As an added financial incentive, he
was made an equerry to Mme and an official of her husband the Duke's
Hunt.l9 In April of that year Saint-Georges was nearly assassinated, as
Jean-Marie Leclair had been fifteen years earlier in 1764. According to
de Bachaumont's memoirs (1837), Saint-Georges and a companion were
attacked on the street by six footpads, but they managed to escape with
their lives, thanks to Saint-Georges's superior strength and skill. When
the old Duke, his employer, urged the police to press its investigation
against the perpetrators, the Duke was warned to desist because of the
court's involvement in that incident. As it happened, the attackers be-
longed to the police; and their leader, Desbrunieres, was identified as a
police official. Just as Leclair's death remains a mystery, the reason for
this assassination attempt has never been explained. Rather than being
political, its motive might have been one of Saint-Georges's reputed love
Thanks to his new position, Saint-Georges must have been quite a

17. Because she was not of royal blood, King Louis XV forbade a more formal union but
consented to one similar to Louis XIV's alliance with Mme de Maintenon.
18. Beaumarchais's play The Barber of Seville and Pergolesi's La Serva padrona were given
in her theater in 1777 with Mme de Montesson on stage.
19. In perhaps the most absurd scene in the de Beauvoir novel ([1840] 1951), Saint-
Georges tops Jarnoweck in a contest on the violin at Mme de Montesson's by "executing
an Air of Correlli, using his bejewelled riding-crop instead of a bow"! De Beauvoir casts
him as Mme de Montesson's lover.
20. At least one grand lady, Mme de Montalembert, for whom Saint-Georges also
worked as a conductor, was mentioned in the gossipy pages of both de Bachaumont'
M6moires (1837) and de Beauvray's Journal (1902) as having a scandalous affair with "
mulatre, Saint-Georges."

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 197

busy man. He was conducting and writing for at least two orchestras
and composing operas. One of these orchestras, the famous Concert des
Amateurs, was now threatened with extinction because of lack of funds.
In fact, the Journal de Paris of January 28, 1781, announced its cessation
due to the bankruptcy of one of its sponsors. Actually, Saint-Georges
and his orchestra continued to function almost without interruption
under a new sponsor as the orchestra of the "Loge Olympique," an ex-
clusive Masonic lodge in Paris. When the Concert des Amateurs found
itself homeless, its music library was kept by Baron d'Ogny (later a
Count), one of the principal sponsors of the orchestra, who was a lead-
ing member of the "Loge Olympique." Almost immediately a new or-
chestra was started as Le Concert de la Loge Olympique with Saint-Georges
in charge. The library, and one would think the personnel, remained the
same as it had been with the former Concerts des Amateurs at the Hotel
Soubise. Their new location was at the Palais Royal, whose landlord was
the Duke of Orleans. The new Concert began by "borrowing at the Palais
Royal, the home, name, and organization of a masonic affiliation,"
writes Marie Bobillier ([1900] 1970, 364), and, "the society in question
was purified by having to pass a Scrutin [test] and admitted to the Great
Lodge in a solemn ceremony."
There is a recurring relationship between Freemasonry and music in
the eighteenth century. Salomon, Haydn's impresario in London, gave
the first of his concerts with his famous orchestra in Freemason's Hall
there. Haydn was a Freemason. But the most famous example of such a
relationship was Mozart. His membership in the Viennese Lodge "B
neficence" (after 1785, the "New Crowned Hope") resulted in The Magi
Flute, full of Masonic symbolism; his Masonic Funeral music (K. 477
and other lesser works. Hutchins (1976, 98) describes Mozart as "a crea
ture sensitive to the snubs of society, and most happy in the company o
people who forgot rank [and who] was naturally drawn to the Masonic
ideals of brotherhood and philanthropy." This description also suit
Saint-Georges to perfection. Saint-Georges's affiliation with Freemasonr
was more than just musical. In France, Jacobin ideas found ferti
ground in these clubs where, under the aegis of fraternity and equality
were brought together intellectuals from the nobility, the bourgeoisie
and the artistic community as well. The participation of members of th
European aristocracy in such radical ideas of enlightenment affected in-
tellectual thought on two continents.
Count Nicholas Eszterhazy, Haydn's employer, was also a Freemason.
He was a member of the Viennese lodge "The Crowned Hope," whic
Haydn joined in 1785. That same year Count Ogny employed Saint
Georges as an intermediary with Haydn to commission six symphonies
from the Viennese master.21 They were duly delivered (Haydn mu

21. The former baron, now count, was one of the two main sponsors of the Amateur
The other was Fermier-General de la Haye, who held the tobacco monopolies in France.

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have rounded out the set with two already-completed symphonies, as

they date from 1784), and we can assume it was Saint-Georges who con-
ducted them for the first time. These are the works known as the "Paris"
Symphonies (nos. 82-88). The fourth of the set was played on one of the
several occasions when Marie Antoinette attended a concert at the
lodge; hence its sobriquet, "La Reine."
In 1785 the Duke of Orleans, patron of Saint-Georges, died. His son
Philippe, Duke of Chartres, inherited his title, becoming the penultim
Duke of Orleans, later Philippe Egalite. He was one of the liberal aris
crats irresistibly attracted to the new revolutionary ideals. The Duke
only two years younger, and Philippe and Saint-Georges develope
friendship that might well have been founded in Freemasonry.22 Gi
his origin, the revolutionary ideas they shared must have come mor
naturally to the Chevalier than to the Duke, who nevertheless becam
by far the more radical of the two. Philippe had been planning a ma
nificent project-to turn his property, the gardens of the Palais Roya
which were given to him by his father in 1776, into a "pleasure-dom
for the people of Paris. Eventually, this was to become a complex
arcades, cafes, theaters, and gardens, where the barriers of class disti
tion were disregarded and aristocrat, bourgeois, and artisan ming
freely in the pursuit of art and entertainment. It was truly a manife
tion of the political trend of the times. In this veritable bazaar of eve
thing from popular and even vulgar entertainment to the highest in
performing arts, Philippe Egalite was anticipating the kind of melti
pot of the classes which was soon to happen in the National Assembl
It was enthusiastically embraced by those artists, playwrights, poets
and musicians who were denied expression at the elite theaters sa
tioned by the court. These writers, whose ranks included Beaumarch
would mount their plays instead at the Palais Royal. De Bachaum
(1837, vol. 2, 400) called it "a continuous country fair, where all the
ents ... come together to shine."
In spite of his popularity in society, Saint-Georges was functionin
only on the fringes of royal privilege. After he failed to join the anoin
as a director of the Opera, he eagerly took advantage of the vital atm
phere of the Palais Royal. Some evenings after the opera, he even joi
the strolling singers in the gardens, accompanying himself on the gui
At least one of his operas, Le Marchand de Marrons, was played at one
the theaters there which was named after Philippe's brother, the Du
of Beaujolais, and its action took place in the gardens of the Palais Roy
(de Bachaumont 1837, vol. 3, 400, entry for January 16, 1787). Th
were also recitals by visiting musicians; for example, Karl Franz
string-baryton player from Count Eszterhazy's orchestra, played ha

22. Philippe played an especially prominent role in that movement, which was m
politicized in France than in Austria at the time.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 199

hour recitals at regular intervals in arcade 166 every day from 11:00 A.M.
to 2:00 P.M. for two weeks. There were also grand events in the Cirque,
an amphitheater. "La Prise de la Bastille," a Hierodrame by Desangiers,
was staged there on November 8, 1789, not long after the real thing
(Bobillier [1900] 1970, 383).
The Palais Royal was the center of intense political activity as the
movement towards a constitutional monarchy turned into a revolution
and eventually a Jacobin republic. Crowds had political as well as artis-
tic freedom in these spacious grounds in the very heart of the city, out
of bounds to the police by orders of Philippe. It is evident that Philippe
and Saint-Georges developed a relationship which started in the house-
hold of Philippe's father and stepmother, Mme de Montesson, but inten-
sified in the heady atmosphere of the Palais Royal. While Saint-
Georges's station, and especially his talent and personality, gave him
entry to the highest circles of society, his roots and his temperament
made him a revolutionary.
After the death of the elder Orleans in 1785, Saint-Georges's steady
employment ended, and it was then that he became more involved in
the busy political life of the new duke, Philippe Egalite. It seems that at
least the second, if not both, of Saint-Georges's trips to London was un-
dertaken in the company of Orleans. Throughout his novel, de Beauvoir
(besides some nineteenth-century racial prejudice) shows strong royalist
political views, totally in contrast to the radical republican views of his
nineteenth-century confreres Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas pere,
both of whom were exiled for their ideals, suffering political sanctions
under both the restoration and the second empire of Napoleon III. In an
obvious effort to empathize with his hero, the nineteenth-century royal-
ist de Beauvoir ([1840] 1851) tried to endow his protagonist, the fictional
Saint-Georges, with his own loyalties. Attempting to "exonerate" his
hero, he portrays Philippe Egalite as forcing Saint-Georges to embrace
Philippe's revolutionary politics against his own beliefs.
We know that the queen, Marie Antoinette, came to the concerts at
the Loge Olympique. According to de Bachaumont (1873, vol. 2, 323),
Saint-Georges "was admitted to make music with the Queen."23 In spite
of the growing agitation against her since 1780, she had gained the sym-
pathy of those republicans who came into personal contact with her,
especially between the king's execution and her own, nine months later.
Saint-Georges must have been no exception. No doubt personal feelings
toward her caused him conflict and anguish also felt by other republi-
cans, such as Lafayette, Dumouriez, and even Danton. Yet, as we shall
see, these feelings did not have sufficient impact on him to change his
political orientation.

23. "Saint-Georges a etait admis a en faire la musique avec la Reine."

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200 Black Music Research Journal

Saint-Georges's political views were clearly on the side of the Repub-

lic. It would have been difficult to imagine otherwise, given his origins
and character. At the Belgian front, he had a chance to change sides
when his commander, General Dumouriez, defected and invited his offi-
cers to join him. Instead, Saint-Georges hastened to warn the authorities
in Lille of the danger this act represented to their city. The revolution
meant a loss of the social position he enjoyed in Parisian society, but his
words and his actions after that event show that he had wanted the
system to change. A large part of the issue for him was, of course,
question of slavery in the French colonies.
Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, intellectuals such a
Montesquieu had condemned slavery. Later Diderot and the Mirabeau
father and son, "[brought] the argument from the realm of philosop
into that of public affairs and literature" (Pluchon 1989, 22-23). Upo
his accession to the throne in 1774, Louis XVI himself entertained so
of these revolutionary ideas. According to the diary of the Abbe de V
(Lacy 1866, vol. 68, 855): "The King finds it useful and just to put an e
to the enslavement of the blacks in the colonies, compensating th
owners for their value." However, the funds for this plan would not
available for another ten years. Rumors of the new monarch's privat
confidences to his minister, Turgot, found their way not only to th
worthy Abbe's diary, but also to the merchants of metropolitan Fran
especially Bordeaux, who were commercially most dependent on trad
with Saint Domingue. That was the last of such plans for a time. No
until February 4, 1794, did the Convention in Paris pass a decree to pr
claim freedom for "men of colour," and even that was soon reversed
the long run, commercial interests in metropolitan France used confl
in the colonies between black freedmen, mulattoes, and slaves to ren
hopeless all efforts to free the slaves.
Saint-Georges was not indifferent to these events. Perhaps to avoi
taking sides in the turmoil to come, he attempted to stay in England
his second trip there in 1788. But, "in spite of the fact that H.R.H. ag
received him graciously at Brighton, his plans were so badly laid, th
he was unsuccessful in establishing himself there" (Angelo 1840, 24).
The article on Saint-Georges in Biographie universelle states: "after
experience with the operatic ladies, Saint-Georges was rendered mor
accessible to revolutionary opinions, which by the way became those
nearly all men of colour." It also mentions an incident in June of 17
when Saint-Georges, suspected of being an agent of Philippe Egal
was advised to leave the city of Tourai, Belgium, and was accused
trying, "on pretext of giving a concert, to convert some of the emig
there to the cause of Orleans" (Fetis 1800, vol. 37, 317).
Saint-Georges's friend, Louise Fusil, whose memoirs Souvenirs d'un
actrice (1841) speak of him with genuine affection, also mention the in

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 201

dent at Tournai. According to her version, Saint-Georges was simply

trying to make a living as a musician by giving some concerts that year
in Amiens and Lille. He was traveling with his companion and friend
Lamothe, a celebrated French horn player who, as a swordsman, was
second only to Saint-Georges himself. Mile Fusil met the two of them in
Amiens to help organize and to participate in their concert tour of the
northern cities. Saint-Georges was hoping to repeat his programs in
Tournai, a city that was a center of Royalist emigres. The Moniteur Uni-
versel of June 19, 1791, seems to have the last word in this episode. The
commandant of the city warned the ci-devant (former) Chevalier not to
appear in that city in public. "The refugees from France dislike his
views, which are associated with those of Philip Egalite, ci-devant Duke
of Orleans."
According to Louise Fusil, Saint-Georges and Lamothe were insepara-
ble companions, even though Saint-Georges outshone his friend as a
marksman, a skater, a rider, a dancer-in a word, everything. All these
talents were responsible for the brilliant reputation he had enjoyed since
his arrival in France. He was an example for all the young gentlemen of
that time, who provided him with a constant escort.
Saint-Georges often gave public or subscription concerts. He com-
posed both the text and the music of a large number of pieces. His Ro-
mances were especially fashionable. He also had many requests to per-
form one of those quasi-improvised instrumental numbers that were so
popular in the musical or literary salons of the eighteenth century. In
these pieces of pure program music, virtually an entire scenario, be it
battle, storm, or love scene, was conjured up by the violinist or pianist
aided only by his talent and the imagination of his receptive listeners.
Saint-Georges's specialty on the violin, writes Louise Fusil, was "Loves
and Death of the Poor Little Bird," a piece that brought him much suc-

This piece began with the bird singing a brilliant song, full of l
embellishments, expressing its delight in the return of spring
sounds. But soon after came the second part where he murmu
This was a soulful and seductive song. One would fairly see th
skipping from one branch to another, pursuing the cruel one
ready chosen another, and then flying away in a flutter of it
third subject was the death of the poor bird, its plaintive song,
its memories, with here and there a remembered note from th
by-gone happiness. Then the voice of the bird weakened gr
ended by dying out. Falling from his lonely branch, his life ex
few vibrant sounds. This was the last song of the bird, his las
1841, 143-145).

According to the custom of these improvised pieces, S

probably played it a little differently each time.

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202 Black Music Research Journal

The storming of the Bastille in 1789 put an end to the aristocratic

gatherings that lionized Saint-Georges. It also brought hope to those op-
pressed slaves and freedmen in the French colonies whose destinies
were not as fortunate as his had been. While, thanks to his father's posi-
tion and affection for him, Saint-Georges was able to use his many ex-
traordinary gifts to live most of his life in the uppermost strata of feudal
society, his mother's people continued to toil in slavery.
The Caribbean Antilles, scene of Saint-Georges's childhood, and espe-
cially Saint Domingue, its capital, were the focal point of French power
in the American colonies.24 In 1789 there were 465,429 African slaves in
Saint Domingue alone, not counting those in the other Antilles like Gua-
deloupe and Martinique. To them, the sight of the red, white, and blue
cockade meant that "the white slaves killed their masters and are now
free" (Pluchon 1989, 42). This resulted in unrest, which in turn was met
with repression and executions.
A free Afro-French landowner from Saint Domingue, Vincent Oge,
was the first to go to the National Assembly in Paris to lobby for som
measures to improve the lot of his race in French America. His failure
and his subsequent bitterness led to his brutal execution as an insurgent
by the French in Saint Domingue in February 1791. Oge's mentor i
Paris, the brilliant Abbe Gregoire, who was calling for emancipation for
Jews as well as for blacks, and the journalist Jacques-Pierre Brissot wer
not content with the lofty speeches supporting the principle of abolitio
made by Marat, Danton, Mirabeau, and Robespierre in the Assembly
They were trying to mobilize public opinion, then known as "The Gen
eral Will," for some tangible action in that cause. In spite of all the rhe
oric, however, it was not before April 1793 that any black representa-
tives were elected to the Assembly. (They were Dufay, Blanc, and Mill
mulattoes, and Belley, a black, all from the Grand Isle, Saint Domingue.
At the same time the Brissotins were provoking Austria with d
mands for the return of royalist refugees gathered in Austrian-occupie
Belgium. In April 1792 fifty thousand Austrian troops were massed on
the Belgian frontier. On April 20 of that year, Louis XVI, virtually a pri
oner in Paris, was forced to declare war on Austria and his own brother
in-law, the Emperor Leopold II. France was mobilizing in the spirit of
what Brissot called "a crusade for liberty" (Schama 1989, 597) to the
tune of a brand new hymn, "La Marseillaise" by Rouget de Lisle, an-
other officer-composer.2 Two of the generals given command in the

24. The loss of Saint Domingue in 1804 was principally responsible for the sale of the
Louisiana Territories by Napoleon Bonaparte to Thomas Jefferson, then President of the
United States. Bonaparte felt that Saint Domingue was essential to supplying and
protecting the New Orleans colony. He also hoped to apply pressure on England by
enhancing the power of the United States.
25. Other, forgotten hymns were written by Pleyel, Gossec, Mehul, and Gretry.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 203

field, Lafayette and Rochambeau, had experienced spectacular successes

on the side of the colonies during the American Revolution, but in spite
of their qualifications and the competence of the commander in the
north, Charles Dumouriez, the first campaign, an attack on Tournai in
Belgium from the northern French city of Lille, ended in a rout. The
efficiency of the army was greatly diminished by the fact that their ex-
perienced officers were suspected by the rank and file of counterrevolu-
tionary tendencies. Many of these officers were in fact emigrating in
droves. By this time Saint-Georges had become a captain in the National
Guard of Lille and probably took part in the action of April 1792. By the
time in the fall when Dumouriez scored victories at Valmy and
Jenappes, Saint-Georges was colonel of his own regiment.
On September 7, 1792, at the initiative of a free colonist, the "qua-
droon" Julien Raimond, landowner from Saint Domingue, the Legisla-
tive Assembly in Paris was petitioned by "men of color" to authorize
the formation of a "Legion of Volunteers" to participate in the war
against Austria. (Raimond, citing his mission, had exempted himself but
donated 500 livres toward equipment for the troops.) The proposition
was adopted, and Saint-Georges was ordered to form a regiment, the
"Regiment des Hussards Americains et du Midi," with himself as colo-
nel. One of his subalterns was Thomas Alexandre Dumas, father of Al-
exandre Dumas pere, author of The Three Musketeers, and grandfather of
Alexandre Dumas fils, the dramatist.
Grandfather Dumas was eventually destined for a meteoric rise in the
army, unusual even by the standards of those revolutionary times. Like
Saint-Georges, Dumas was the offspring of a French father and an Afri-
can mother. Born on a plantation near Cap Rose in Saint Domingue, he
joined the army as a simple soldier before the revolution of 1789. Pro-
moted to brigadier (sergeant) in February 1792 and spurred by black
pride and revolutionary zeal, he gladly accepted an invitation from "the
extremely popular Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who shared his views"
(Maurois 1957, 15), to join his regiment as a second lieutenant. Accord-
ing to his son, the famous author, a rivalry between Saint-Georges and
another commandant, Boyer, soon made a captain of the officer, who
had so recently risen from the ranks. By October 10, 1792, as a result of
his bravery in action, Dumas was promoted again, this time to lieuten-
ant colonel. That action must have been the battle of Valmy on Septem-
ber 20. In any case, Dumas became a general by July 1793 and general of
a division, as chief of the army of the Pyrennees, by September of that
year. Then, while fighting with Napoleon in Egypt, his military career
suffered a sudden setback. The emperor never forgave Dumas for grum-
bling with his fellow generals about the course of that ultimately disas-
trous adventure. Long before, however, Saint-Georges's own military ca-
reer had suffered a mortal blow.

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204 Black Music Research Journal

Some of Saint-Georges's biographers claim that while his regiment

was fighting on the front in Belgium, Saint-Georges himself, back at
headquarters in Lille, was accused of living in safety and in style on
regimental funds. As a result, he was arrested and jailed for a year. He
is supposed to have been released after being granted amnesty. A closer
look at the facts, however, shows this view of Saint-Georges's misfor-
tunes to be oversimplified and quite unjust to him.
Saint-Georges, a citizen of Lille since 1789, was among the first to re-
spond to the call for patriotic duty as a member of the National Guard,
4th battalion, 2nd company, 1st platoon, 1st section, 2nd squad, no. 8-
in other words, a private soldier. Joseph de Boulogne, alias Saint-
Georges, according to the 1791 census, had been residing in Lille for two
years, at 550, rue Notre Dame (La Laurencie 1923, 475). On September 8,
1792, one day after deputy Raimond's proposal, the Legislative Assem-
bly decreed the formation of a Legion Nationale du Midi. It was to con-
sist of one thousand men-eight hundred foot soldiers and two hun-
dred horsemen-under Saint-Georges as colonel-designate.
By September 15 most of the cadres were in place, but as late as Feb-
ruary 1793 we find their colonel protesting that the order of the minister
of war to take his regiment to the front in Belgium would mean "lead-
ing his men into butchery" unless he could complete their equipment
and training in Lille. It is noteworthy that, on the same date, the admin-
istrative council of his regiment signaled to Paris that it had received
nothing of the sum of 325,430 livres accorded to the troops in December.
Alexandre Dumas, in his Memoires (1881, 38), claims that Saint-Georges,
"lacking the stomach for a fight," remained in Lille "in safety and com-
fort." Dumas implies that his father, the elder Dumas, the chef d'escadron,
was actually in command while the regiment was in battle. Un-
characteristic as this behavior might be for Saint-Georges, it could be
given credence but for the great author's penchant for telling tall tales.
He was all too fond of gilding his father's image with tales of impossi-
ble feats of strength.26 Andre Maurois (1957, 170) describes him as one
who "loved history, but did not respect it." He also writes, "He could
not see the line separating reality from imagination" (Maurois 1957, 8).
Contradicting Dumas, a report of the Committee of Public Safety releas-
ing Saint-Georges from prison included an eyewitness testimony of his
comrades-in-arms, who saw him confront the enemy, leading not only
his hussards but an entire column, "for the pleasure of serving the Re-
public, and this in an action that he could have avoided by virtue of his

26. Grandfather Dumas was supposed to have raised a horse off the ground while
hanging on a beam by his arms. He also could supposedly lift two rifles on each hand by
his fingers stuck in the barrels. Saint-Georges was supposedly jealous of these feats
(Dumas 1881, 24).

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 205

rank, since there were only fifty of his own men in that column" (La
Laurencie 1923, 475).
As a matter of fact, while in Lille, the regiment underwent changes
that must have been extremely painful to Saint-Georges. Soon after their
arrival, "the men of color were removed from the squads. On March 17
[all of the men except for the first company of the regiment] were or-
dered to Brest to embark for the colonies" (Descaves 1891, 6), presum-
ably Saint Domingue, where a mutiny of the slaves had erupted. The
first company was diverted to the distasteful and bloody task of putting
down the counterrevolution in the Vendee, eventually to be dispersed
among other units. This left Saint-Georges and his fellow officers "of
color" deprived of the special bond they shared with their enlisted men.
The Legion, whose cavalry was called "Les Hussards Americains et du
Midi" and as a regiment "Legion Nationale des Americains et du Midi"
but more often the "Legion Saint-Georges," was renamed the "13e
Regiment de Chasseurs a Cheval," that is, light cavalry.
In January 1793 Louis XVI was executed. In the National Convention
Philippe Egalite was one of those who voted for his death.27 On March
10, 1793, the Revolutionary Tribunal was established in Paris. Soon it
was to become the feared instrument of Robespierre during the Great
Terror. On April 6 of that year, the Committee for Public Safety was
created; Robespierre joined it on July 26. On July 27 General Dumouriez,
former confidant of Louis XV, minister of Louis XVI, and lately com-
mander of the Revolutionary Armies of the North, learned that he, to-
gether with most of his staff, was to be arrested by the Committee. After
trying unsuccessfully to persuade his army to turn against the Commit-
tee and march on Paris, Dumouriez deserted to the Austrians with some
troops and a few officers of his staff, including Philippe Egalite's nine-
teen-year-old son (later to become King Louis Philippe of France). In
Paris the Tribunal and the Committee assumed unlimited powers under
a new law (of 22 Prairial28) citing "crimes against the Republic," which
covered any accusation from lack of enthusiasm for the revolution to
high treason. This law could, and often did, land the accused citizen
under the swift blade of the guillotine. Police spies became common-
place; they were everywhere, listening and reporting to the Committee.
In May of that year, 1793, Saint-Georges was denounced on vague
suspicions and hearsay. He was described as "a man to be watched"
(Commissionaire Dufrenne, quoted in La Laurencie 1923, 477). Accused
of misappropriating regimental funds meant for horses, he was sum-
moned to Paris on May 11 to face the Revolutionary Tribunal. In short

27. Egalite was portrayed as a monster by the royalist press of that time. La Marle
(1989) views him as working for the revolution because of personal dynastic ambition and
using Freemasonry as his tool.
28. Ninth month of the revolutionary calendar.

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206 Black Music Research Journal

order, he was not only cleared of those charges but, after returning to
the regiment, he was also confirmed in his temporary rank as "chef de
brigade." On September 25, however, he was suspended, along with
eight other officers of his command. This time he was incarcerated in
Houdainville military prison near Clermont-sur-Oise and kept there
without specific charges for eighteen months. That this arrest had noth-
ing to do with the previous charges against him is obvious both from a
letter in which he demands to be told of the accusations against him
(quoted in La Laurencie 1923, 480) and from the minister's polite but
evasive reply, simply disregarding his question. This time Saint-Georges
was probably the victim of the new Law of Suspects enacted on 17
Prairial a few days before his arrest, concerning people harboring
"counterrevolutionary designs."
Outwardly at least, Saint-Georges never wavered in his solidly repub-
lican sentiments. If anything, when addressing officials, he was some-
what too glib in his use of revolutionary jargon to be entirely sincere.
But his actions also point to steadfast loyalty to the republican cause. A
document from Egalite-sur-Mame (republican name for Chateau
Thierry) certifies him "a good and courageous republican" (La Lauren-
cie 1923, 481), while an earlier one from Lille supports his claim that he
kept that important city from danger at the hands of Dumouriez and
Prince Cobourg of Austria by reporting to the authorities there General
Dumouriez's treason as soon as it happened.
Given the perspective of history, it is easy to recognize that which
remained a mystery to the ci-devant Chevalier-the reason for his arrest
and imprisonment. J. B. Bouchette, the war minister, who was responsi-
ble for Saint-Georges's arrest and to whom he addressed his letter, was
a strong supporter of Hebert, leader of the most dangerous elements in
the Convention. At the time Saint-Georges was arrested, the Committee
for Public Safety was ready for a purge of its more moderate elements.
The assassination of Marat and the losses on the battlefields gave further
impetus to extremists like Robespierre and Saint-Just. The purge was on.
On June 2, thirty-one Girondist deputies were arrested; and in October,
a month after Saint-Georges's incarceration, they were sent to the guillo-
tine by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Among them was Brissot, the de-
fender of the blacks on whose inspiration Saint-Georges's regiment was
On November 7 Saint-Georges's former patron and political mentor,
Philippe Egalite, was sent to the guillotine. (On the scaffold he declared
his regret at having spilled innocent blood, presumably that of his
cousin the king.) Choderlos de Laclos, the artillery captain who in 1777
wrote the story for Saint-Georges's first opera, Ernestine, had entered po-
litical life in the service of Philippe Egalite in 1788. Laclos was impris-
oned twice during the Reign of Terror. Saint-Georges, as we recall, was

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 207

accused of being an agent of the Duke and chased out of Tournai in

1791. Obviously they were both fortunate to survive the Terror with
their heads still on their shoulders. While Saint-Georges was in prison in
Arras near Lille, unspeakable atrocities were being perpetrated on the
civilian population by Lebon, one of the half-dozen sadistic agents that
the Committee for Public Safety let loose on the people who were sus-
pected of royalist sympathies in various regions of France.
That particular nightmare for Saint-Georges and countless others
ended when Robespierre fell in July 1794. At that time he was released
from prison, not by an act of clemency but for lack of any evidence
against him (La Laurencie 1923, 482). What followed now for Saint-
Georges was a drawn-out tug-of-war for the post of commander of his
former regiment. He was reinstated by the Committee of Public Safety
on 23 Floreal, year III, based on a report calling his arrest "apparently
without justification" and citing him for the already mentioned instance
of bravery in action (Ministry of War Archives).
As a result of his reinstatement, however, there were now three colo-
nels charged with command of the 13th Hussards: Saint-Georges; Colo-
nel Jean-Franqois Target, who succeeded him upon his arrest; and a
Colonel Bouquet, who was given the post when the regiment was "reor-
ganized." The year before, after taking command, Target wrote the im-
prisoned Saint-Georges a courageous and noble letter, expressing admi-
ration for his leadership and reiterating the injustice of his suspension.
Needless to say, this officer stepped aside on Saint-Georges's return.
Bouquet, on the other hand, protested again and again after Saint-
Georges was reinstated and eventually won. Bouquet's argument-that
Saint-Georges was giving orders from Paris to a regiment he had not
seen in two years seems reasonable. Actually Saint-Georges was
caught in a complicated "catch-22" situation by article 7 of the law of 13
Prairial. This law decreed that officials absent from their posts after a
specific date were considered emigres, politically undesirable, and there-
fore deprived of their positions. This decree was used against Saint-
Georges even though he was absent while in jail. A last attempt by the
unfortunate colonel to win back his commission was signed simply
"George." Dated 5 Floreal, year V [1796], this letter closes the chapter on
Saint-Georges's military career.
In this last letter that we have in Saint-Georges's hand, he still asserts
his continuing loyalty to republican principles. His next move, however,
took him to an area where republican ideals were in most painful con-
flict with themselves. This was the land of Saint-Georges's childhood,
France's Caribbean-island colonies, which were in the grip of another
revolution, a mutiny of its black slaves. According to his friend Louise
Fusil, Saint-Georges left for Saint Domingue in the company of his faith-

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208 Black Music Research Journal

ful friend Lamothe, the French horn virtuoso who played Sancho Panza
to Saint-Georges's Don Quixote in that adventure.
It seems almost inevitable that, being at loose ends, Saint-Georges
should be attracted to the scene of this new conflict. Strangely enough,
his mother's people were fighting a war against republican France, but
they were fighting under the same flag, the tricolor, that was flying over
the troops sent against them by the national government. Because the
repercussions of this insurrection had serious consequences on metro-
politan France-including the formation of the Society of the Friends of
Blacks by Brissot, Mirabeau, Lafayette, and others and the establishment
of the "Saint-Georges regiment"-everyone in Paris was aware of the
events in Saint Domingue. In spite of that, upon his arrival there Saint-
Georges must have been thoroughly bewildered by the constantly shift-
ing roles of the protagonists in this chaotic conflict. Blacks, mulattoes,
freedmen, and slaves constantly changed sides with the French, English,
or Spaniards. At one point, for example, in August 1798 after joining
Spain, Toussaint L'Ouverture, the future leader of the insurgents, be-
came an ally of Great Britain. During Saint-Georges's stay, in March
1796, there was armed conflict between blacks and mulattoes on the is-
land under the mulatto General Villatte.
Saint-Georges's part in these events remains a mystery to us. We
gather from Louise Fusil that Saint-Georges and Lamothe were more
like victims than heroes in this particular adventure. She knew that they
had left for Saint Domingue, then in full revolt. Rumors in Paris were
that they had "died, hanged in some mutiny." One day, while sitting in
the gardens of the Palais Royal reading a magazine with a friend, she
was suddenly confronted by two men, one of whom was Saint-Georges
singing a self-mocking limerick:

At last there you are

I thought you'd been hung.
For more than two years
Where have you been?

Thus we learn that Saint-Georges and Lamothe had been away for two
years. Assuming that they left in 1795 after Saint-Georges's last petition
to the army was ignored, it would have been 1797 when they returned.29
In Paris, Saint-Georges once again faithfully returned to his real pro-
fession, music. He was, after all, an amateur in the noble eighteenth-
century sense of the word, a lover of the art. He now led the orchestra
of the Cercle de l'Harmonie. The Cercle, an exclusive club located in the
Palais Royal, offered entertainments such as chess, dining, and billiards,

29. Louise Fusil, after seeing them several times, left Paris on long tours and eventually
accompanied Napoleon to Russia. She returned to France in 1813 after witnessing the
battle of Beresina, the subject of the last part of her memoirs.

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Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges 209

as well as concerts of a very high order. The concerts, under the direc-
tion of the "famous Saint-Georges, left nothing to be desired for the
choice of pieces and superiority of execution" (Mercure de France April 6,
1797). The Mercure de France reports that aspirants could only be admit-
ted to the Cercle after "submitting to a purifying test [un scrutin
epuratoire]." This was, of course, a Freemason's initiation ceremony sim-
ilar to that of the "Loge Olympique," the second home of Saint-
Georges's old orchestra. This, and the fact that in 1784 Saint-Georges
had been entrusted to commission Haydn's "Paris" symphonies for the
Lodge, should be sufficient to confirm that, like Mozart and Haydn,
Saint-Georges was a Freemason.
Saint-Georges certainly identified with the triple slogan of the age of
enlightenment and its revolutions-Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Of
these three, the eighteenth-century Freemasons practiced fraternity best.
According to all who knew him, including his few enemies, that was
also true of Saint-Georges. This was a truly gentle man who, endowed
with extraordinary physical and artistic skills tempered by modesty, car-
ried love and consideration for his fellow men to extremes. His generos-
ity often conflicted with his own interests, and his help to others was
always offered with tact in order not to offend the recipient. La
B6essiere's "Notice" (1818, xvij) emphasizes that "in spite of his great
skill, he never hurt anybody in a fencing contest." We can add that he
went to great lengths to prevent fighting duels foisted on him by others,
which only his reputation as a superior swordsman allowed him to do
without being branded a coward.
Saint-Georges died on June 9 or 10, 1799. He was suffering from a
kidney condition, which eighteenth-century medicine diagnosed as the
cause of an ulcer on his leg. With characteristic stoicism he concealed
the seriousness of his wound. Eventually gangrene set in, causing his
death. The report of his death, held in the Archives of the Seine in Paris,
is as confusing for his biographers as was the date of his birth. To a
different degree, both the place where he died and his age at the time of
his death should be re-examined.
La Laurencie (1923, 487) quotes the report: "Saint-Georges Bologne
[sic], Joseph, aged 60, rue Boucherat No. 13, bachelor, 22 Prairial, year
VII [date of death]. Nicholas Duhamel, ex-officer, same house [witness].
Subject was living rue de Chartres, removed by Chagneaud." As La
Laurencie points out, Saint-Georges died in rue Boucherat, but was liv-
ing in the rue Chartres. We can speculate that, given his condition, this
could not have been a sudden death while visiting a friend. More likely,
Saint-Georges was received into the home of a former comrade, the ex-
officer Duhamel, when he became seriously ill, possibly helpless and
probably alone. Beauvoir's novel has "rue Boucherat au Marais" as the
scene of Saint-Georges's last home, and it is almost with regret that we

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210 Black Music Research Journal

also have to dismiss the last scene in his novel as mere romantic fic-
tion-the dying Saint-Georges lies in an alcove papered with love lette
by the great ladies of Paris; a draft makes them rustle and he exclaim
"Be quiet, faithless ones! You all deceived me!" The real Saint-Geor
would probably have preferred to be remembered in the words of hi
contemporary, Jean Benjamin de Laborde (1780, vol. 3, 484): "to all h
talents, he added the uncommon merit of great modesty and the gre
est tenderness." The note in the Archives of the Seine states that Saint-
Georges was sixty when he died. That round number was only an esti-
mate. He was actually fifty-four. But, whether he was sixty or fifty-four
at the time of his death, it is obvious now that this remarkable figure of
an athlete, musician, soldier, and human being was destined to be re-


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