Chevalier de Saint-Georges: the remarkable revolutionary

Screen Shot 2021-01-26 at 14.30.37

Too long overlooked, the extraordinary life of 18th-century violinist and composer the Chevalier de Saint-Georges has once more been celebrated over the past 25 years. Yet his compositions remain unfairly neglected, writes Kevin MacDonald

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–99), was one of the most incredible musical personages of the late 18th century, yet he languished in relative obscurity for two centuries. Violin virtuoso, composer, champion fencer and French revolutionary officer, he began life on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe as the son of a wealthy French plantation owner and his enslaved African mistress. His life story is told in novels, a Canadian docudrama, an upcoming Hollywood film and a number of recent, qualitatively uneven, biographies. Despite a growing catalogue of recordings of his compositions – there was a particular boom between 1996 and 2005 – his works remain all too rarely performed. Here I will consider his re-emergence in the musical literature, some of the best- documented aspects of his life, and his role in the development of the violin repertoire in the last decades of the 18th century…

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Subscribe to continue reading…

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. For a limited period, you can try an online subscription to The Strad completely free of charge.

  • Free 7-day trial

    Not sure about subscribing? Sign up now to read this article in full and you’ll also receive unlimited access to premium online content, including the digital edition and online archive for 7 days.

    No strings attached – we won’t ask for your card details

  • Subscribe 

    No more paywalls. To enjoy the best in-depth features and analysis from The Strad’s latest and past issues, upgrade to a subscription now. You’ll also enjoy regular issues and special supplements* and access to an online archive of issues back to 2010.


* Issues and supplements are available as both print and digital editions. Online subscribers will only receive access to the digital versions.