During lockdown in spring 2020, violinist Augustin Hadelich wrote a blog post for The Strad about the Black composers whose work he was using the time to learn. One was Joseph Bologne, also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges, whose life and music we explore in our most recent issue. As part of his lockdown project, Hadelich performed both parts of de Saint-George’s Sonata for 2 Violins in A major. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was a composer whose name I was familiar with (although I had not played his music before), and whose life story reads like the plot of a movie. Saint-Georges’ father was French, his mother was his father’s black slave, in the colony of Guadeloupe. Saint-Georges grew up in France and quickly established himself as both one of the greatest fencers and one of the greatest violinists in the country.
I chose his lovely second sonata for 2 violins in A Major to be the first of this series of ’quarantine videos’ and recorded both parts. More recently, I learnt his violin concerto in A Major, Op. 5 no. 2, a flamboyant, energetic and inspired piece. It was a thrill to perform it with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for their ’Live from Music Hall’ virtual concert series.
How is it possible that somebody so celebrated during his lifetime could be erased so completely from our history books? In music history class, I never learnt his name, though I remember seemingly memorizing the names of just about every Italian and French composer of the period. If Viotti and Clementi could find a spot in the Canon, why not Chevalier de Saint-Georges? Happily, Saint-Georges may finally get his long-overdue recognition, as his name appears on many programmes this year.