French composer, violinist & conductor | December 1745 – June 1799
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was born in Baillif, Guadeloupe, in 1745 and died in Paris in 1799. He was not only a composer, violin virtuoso and conductor but also excelled as a fencer and athlete. His eventful life has inspired the imagination of biographers since the 19th century. In the late 1760s, he joined Gossec’s Concert des amateurs, where he made his debut with two of his own violin concertos (op. 2, 1773) and instantly became a celebrated violin virtuoso. When Gossec was appointed director of the Concert spirituel in 1773, Saint-Georges took over the leadership of the Concert des amateurs. He completed his six string quartets in the same year, which, along with Gossec’s, were the first French compositions of this genre. With a series of violin concertos and his Symphonies concertantes, he finally established himself as a composer in the musical landscape of Paris. His virtuosity as a musician can be deduced from the nature of the concerts that he composed for himself and the orchestra, which featured high and highest positions on the fingerboard, great mobility of bowing and double-stop passages.
As director of both the Concert des amateurs and the Société de la Loge olympique, Saint-Georges made a vital contribution to the artistic standard of these orchestras and he can today be seen as the first French violin virtuoso. Between 1775 and 1785, his compositions were of crucial relevance for the two main genres of French instrumental music, Symphonie concertante and solo concert. Their development went hand in hand with a rapid boom of the concert scene in Paris.