Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was a virtuoso violinist, conductor, composer and champion fencer, who is remembered as the first classical composer of African ancestry.
Saint-George was born in Guadeloupe, West Indies, the son of a wealthy planter, Geroge Bologne de Saint-Georges and an African mother named Nanon. At the age of seven, Saint-Georges was brought to Paris for his education and began fencing at the age of thirteen. He excelled so rapidly in the sport that by age seventeen he was beating all of the best know champions.
Fencing quickly became his ticket into high society and composers Antonio Lolli and Francois Gossec both dedicated musical works to the young man. Although Saint-George already some abilities as a violinist, it is believed that both Lolli and Gossec contributed to Saint-Georges musical education. In 1979 Saint Georges emerged as part of Gossec’s new orchestra Le Concert des Amateurs of which he soon became concert master and later, conductor.
In 1772 Saint-Georges dazzled audiences with his debut performance as a soloist, playing the first two violin concertos that he himself had written. Between 1771- and 1779 Saint-Georges composed many other works that included a set of six string quartets, two symphonies, eight symphony concertantes, twelve additional violin concertos, and six operas.
During the French Revolution, Saint-Georges became colonel of the Legion St. Georges, the first all black regiment in Europe. Following the war, Saint Geroge once again built up an orchestra and continued with his musical pursuits until 1799 when he died due to illness.