Joseph Bologne honored in new Scottish university course

The son of an African slave and wealthy plantation owner, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was considered the best musician of his time.

However, racism nearly erased the virtuoso violinist and composer from history after his death from gangrene on June 10, 1799, and prevented him from rising among the ranks of his contemporaries during his lifetime.

Bologne enjoyed a reputation that some scholars believe even fueled the jealousy of his younger contemporary Mozart.


He appeared at the royal court with his pupil Marie Antoinette and conducted the premieres of Haydn’s symphonies commissioned for one of Europe’s leading orchestras.

Interest in the character’s long-ignored 18th-century legacy has finally been renewed thanks to a new full-length biopic, Chevalier, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., which is due out this summer and will premiere at Glasgow movie theatre.

His works are also increasingly featured in classical music concert programs around the world and in university courses.

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Aberdeen University, which offers academic and postgraduate music courses, is developing a new Global Music History course that will educate students about Joseph Bologne’s fascinating life and legacy.

A spokeswoman said: “Our curriculum is regularly reviewed and updated to provide new experiences and challenges for our students.


“This review provides an opportunity to broaden the wide range of music examined to include the work of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, an outstanding musician whose work as a composer, violinist and orchestra leader was recognized during his lifetime and now will be rediscovered.”

Glasgow University said the composer’s works are already “taught and performed” by students.

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She added: “Our music students learn about the work of Saint-Georges and examples from his music are discussed as part of the Intermediate Music Techniques course, which is compulsory for BMus and optional for MA.

“Saint-Georges is also mentioned in lectures and tutorials dealing with issues of music historiography and the shaping of the Western canon at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.”


Professor John Butt, Gardiner Professor of Music at the University, conducts Saint-Georges’ Sinfonia Concertante in F, Op. 10/4 next month in Oregon, USA.

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The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh did not reply when asked if the students were taught about the work of Saint-Georges.

Born in Guadeloupe to a French colonial plantation owner and a young Senegalese slave, Bologne was taken to Paris at a young age to receive an education.

Before emerging as a dazzling virtuoso with his own violin concertos, the youthful Bologne became an internationally acclaimed fencing master.

He caught the attention of King Louis XV, who made him Chevalier. In later years Bologne, by then involved in the French Revolution, was made colonel of an all-black regiment.

However, experts say none of these achievements have prevented him from being recognized as fully equal to his white peers.

At the height of his career, he was proposed as music director of the Paris Opera, but after a group of star singers petitioned Queen Marie Antoinette, she refused to work with him because she did not want to take commissions from someone of mixed race, he retired from the race.

The injustice continued even after his death, when Bologne’s name was essentially erased from music history.

The nickname “Black Mozart” is also controversial.

Although the two were contemporaries and knew each other, there is little to suggest that Bologne remained in Mozart’s shadow for too long – and in several instances Mozart seems to have borrowed Bologne’s material in some of his own works.

The biopic Chevalier will be the screenwriting debut of Stefani Robinson, the author of the TV series Atlanta and What We Do in the Shadows, for which she both received Emmy nominations. Joseph Bologne honored in new Scottish university course

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