Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
|Died||10 June 1799 (aged 53)|
|Alma mater||Académie de l'équitation|
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (25 December 1745 – 9 June 1799) was a French champion fencer, violinist and composer. A Creole free man of color,[a] he is the earliest European musician/composer of African descent to receive widespread critical acclaim. He published numerous string quartets, sonatas, symphonies, and stage works (opéra comique).
Saint-Georges was born in the then-French colony of Guadeloupe, the son of wealthy, married planter Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges and an enslaved Senegalese African woman named Nanon.[b] At the age of seven he was taken to France for his education; from the age of thirteen he trained at horse riding, fencing, and dancing. Two years later he beat the strongest fencer and was appointed "gendarme de la garde" by King Louis XVI.
He is believed to have received music and composition lessons from François-Joseph Gossec. In 1769 he joined a new symphony orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs, consisting of amateurs and professionals, and founded by Gossec. By 1771, Saint-Georges had been appointed the orchestra's concertmaster and had started composing his own music. Later in 1773, he succeeded Gossec as the orchestra's conductor.
In 1776, Saint-Georges was proposed as the next conductor of the Paris Opera but was subsequently denied this role because he was a person of colour. Around this time, his work as a composer began to focus primarily on the creation of operas. After Le Concert des Amateurs disbanded in 1781, he joined a new orchestra formed by a masonic lodge that was called Le Concert de la Loge Olympique. By 1785, he had stopped composing instrumental works altogether.
Following the 1789 outbreak of the French Revolution, and approaching 45 years of age, Saint-Georges served as a colonel of the Légion St.-Georges, established in 1792 which comprised "citizens of colour". After the defection of Dumouriez and execution of Brissot and Philippe-Égalité he became a victim of the Reign of Terror and was imprisoned. The dissolving of the Légion, and losing his military position he enjoyed the cafes, shops and theaters around the Palais-Royal; he died in Le Marais at a friend's house.
Saint-Georges' life and career is the subject of the 2022 biographical film Chevalier, in which he is portrayed by Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Joseph Bologne was born in Baillif, Basse-Terre as the son of a settler and planter Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges (1711–1774) and Nanon (ca 1727–1795), an 18-year-old enslaved African who served as his wife's personal maid. Bologne was legally married to Elisabeth Mérican (1722–1801) but acknowledged his son by Nanon and gave him his surname.
In 1747, when George Bologne was accused of murder, he fled to France. After two years he was granted a royal pardon and returned to Guadeloupe. In 1753, his father took Joseph, aged seven, to France for his education, installed him in a Jesuit boarding school in Angoulême so his brother Pierre could keep an eye on him, and returned to Guadeloupe. Two years later, on 26 August 1755, listed as passengers on the ship L'Aimable Rose, Bologne de Saint-Georges and Nanon landed in Bordeaux. Reunited with their son Joseph, they moved into a spacious apartment in the 6th Arrondissement (Rive Gauche, at 49 rue Saint André des Arts in Paris.
At the age of 13, Joseph was enrolled in a private fencing academy run by Texier de La Boëssière's in Rue Saint-Honoré across Oratoire du Louvre. "At 15 his [Bologne's] progress was so rapid, that he was already beating the best swordsmen, and at 17 he developed the greatest speed imaginable." Bologne was still a student when he beat Alexandre Picard, a fencing master in Rouen, who had been mocking him as "Boëssière's upstart mulatto", in public. That match, bet on heavily by a public divided into partisans and opponents of slavery, was an important episode for Bologne. His father rewarded Joseph with a horse and buggy.
His father, called "de Saint-Georges" after one of his plantations in Guadeloupe, was a commoner until 1757, when he acquired the title of Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi (Gentleman of the King's Chamber). On 5 April 1762, King Louis XV decreed that "Nègres et gens de couleur" must register with the clerk of the Admiralty within two months. Likely because at the end of the Seven Years' War, blacks and free mulattos were seen as helpful as France was losing the war. Many leading “Enlightenment” thinkers argued that Africans and their descendants were inferior to White Europeans, as exemplified by Voltaire's views on race and slavery. On the other hand Abbé Grégoire called Saint Georges "the Voltaire of music".
In 1761, after beating Alexandre Picard or on graduating from the academy, Bologne was made a Gendarme du roi (officer of the king's bodyguard) in Versailles and a chevalier. Thereon Joseph Bologne adopted the suffix of his father's plantation and was known as the "Chevalier de Saint-Georges," although prohibited by Code Noir from legally receiving this title.
In 1764, his father returned to Guadeloupe to look after his plantations. The following year, he made a last will and testament where he left Joseph an annuity of 8,000 francs and an adequate pension to Nanon, who remained with their son in Paris. When Georges de Bologne died in 1774 in Guadeloupe, he awarded his annuity and two plantations to his legitimate daughter, Elisabeth Benedictine. The younger Saint-Georges was ineligible under French law for titles of nobility due to his illegitimate status. Long before her death, Saint-Georges's mother would also record a testamentary deed dated 17 June 1778, in which she gives and bequeaths all her belongings and made him her universal legatee. According to biographer Pierre Bardin, she hesitantly signed "Anne Danneveau," and her son signed as "Mr De Bolongna St-George".
Yet he continued to fence daily in the various halls of Paris. There he met the fencing masters Domenico Angelo and son Henry and Chevalier d'Éon. On 17 May 1779 John Adams wrote in his diary mistakenly, as he wasn't the son of governor:
Lee gave Us an Account of St. George at Paris, a Molatto Man, Son of a former Governor of Guadaloupe, by a Negro Woman. He has a sister married to a Farmer General. He is the most accomplished Man in Europe in Riding, Running, Shooting, Fencing, Dancing, Musick. He will hit the Button, any Button on the Coat or Waistcoat of the greatest Masters. He will hit a Crown Piece in the Air with a Pistoll Ball.
Nothing is known about Saint-Georges' early musical training before reaching the age of nineteen. Given his prodigious technique as an adult, Saint-Georges must have practiced the violin seriously as a child. Banat, since 1970 violinist in the New York Philharmonic, discounted François-Joseph Fétis' claim that Saint-Georges studied violin with Jean-Marie Leclair. Some of his technique was said to reveal influence by Pierre Gaviniès. In 1764, when violinist Antonio Lolli arrived in Paris, he composed two concertos, Op. 2, for him.[note 1] In 1766, François-Joseph Gossec dedicated a set of six string trios, Op. 9, to Saint Georges. Lolli may have worked with Bologne on his violin technique and Gossec on compositions. In 1769, the Parisian public was amazed to see Saint-Georges, the great fencer, playing as a violinist in Gossec's new orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs in Hotel de Soubise.
Saint-Georges's first composition Op. I, probably composed in 1770 or 1771, was a set of six string quartets, among the first in France, published by famed French publisher, composer, and teacher Antoine Bailleux. He was inspired by Haydn's earliest quartets, brought from Vienna by Baron Bagge. Also in 1770, Carl Stamitz dedicated his own set of six string quartets to Saint-Georges. By 1771, Gossec had appointed Saint-Georges as the concertmaster of the Concert des Amateurs.
In 1772, Saint-Georges debuted as a soloist for the Concert des Amateurs. He played the first two violin concertos of his own composition, Op. II, with Gossec conducting the orchestra. The concertos garnered a highly positive reception, and Saint-Georges in particular was said to be "appreciated not as much for his compositions as for his performances, enrapturing especially the feminine members of his audience."
In 1773, when Gossec took over the direction of the prestigious Concert Spirituel, he designated Saint-Georges as the new conductor of the Concert des Amateurs. After fewer than two years under the younger man's direction, the group was described by Jean-Benjamin de La Borde as "performing with great precision and delicate nuances", and that it had become "the best orchestra for symphonies in Paris, and perhaps in all of Europe."[note 2] Saint-Georges was chosen as the dedicatee of another composition in 1778, this time for the unknown violinist Giovanni Avoglio's set of string quartets, Op. 6.
In 1781—after the Compte rendu was published—Saint Georges's Concert des Amateurs had to be disbanded due to a lack of funding.[c] Playwright, arms dealer and Secret du Roi (spy) Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais began to collect funds from private contributors, including many of the Concert's patrons, to send materiel aid for the American cause. The plan to send military aid via a fleet of fifty vessels and have those vessels return with American rice, cotton, or tobacco ended up bankrupting the French contributors as the American congress failed to acknowledge its debt and the ships were sent back empty. Saint-Georges turned to his friend and admirer, Philippe D'Orléans, duc de Chartres, for help.[d] Responding to Saint-Georges's plea, Philippe revived the orchestra as part of the Loge Olympique, an exclusive Freemason Lodge. This orchestra was made up of the finest musicians in Paris, with the membership qualification being membership in the Freemasons.
Renamed Le Concert Olympique, with practically the same personnel, it performed in the grand salon of the Palais Royal. In 1785, Count d'Ogny, the music coordinator of the "Olympic Lodge" since 1782 and a member of its cello section, commissioned Haydn to compose six new symphonies for the Concert Olympique.[e] Anyhow he asked Saint-Georges to write to Haydn and settle the details. Conducted by Saint-Georges, Haydn's "Paris" symphonies were first performed at the Salle des Gardes-Suisses of the Tuileries, a much larger hall, in order to accommodate the huge public demand to hear Haydn's new works. Queen Marie Antoinette attended some of Saint-Georges's concerts at the Hôtel de Soubise, arriving sometimes without notice, so the orchestra wore court attire for all its performances. "Dressed in rich velvet or damask with gold or silver braid and fine lace on their cuffs and collars and with their parade swords and plumed hats placed next to them on their benches, the combined effect was as pleasing to the eye as it was flattering to the ear." Saint-Georges played all of his violin concertos as a soloist with his orchestra.
In 1776 the Académie royale de musique, the Paris Opéra, was struggling financially and artistically. Saint-Georges was proposed as the next director of the opera. As creator of the first disciplined French orchestra since Lully, he was the obvious choice. But, according to Baron von Grimm's Correspondance litteraire, philosophique et critique, three of the Opéra's leading ladies "... presented a placet (petition) to the Queen [Marie Antoinette] assuring Her Majesty that their honor and delicate conscience could never allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto."
To defuse the brewing scandal, Louis XVI (only one year on the throne) took the Opéra back from the city of Paris to be managed by his Intendant of Light Entertainments. Following the "affair", Marie-Antoinette preferred to hold her musicales in the salon of her Petit appartement de la reine in the Palace of Versailles, or the Petit Trianon. She limited the audience to her intimate circle and a few musicians, among them the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. "Admitted to perform music with the Queen," Saint-Georges probably played his violin sonatas, with Her Majesty playing the fortepiano.[f]
The singers' placet may have ended Saint-Georges's aspirations to higher positions as a musician. But, over the next two years, he published two more violin concertos and a pair of his Symphonies concertantes. Thereafter, except for his final set of quartets (Op. 14, 1785), Saint-Georges abandoned composing instrumental music in favor of opera. However, he was still acquainted with and remained friendly with several composers (notably, Salieri, Gretry, and Gluck).
Ernestine, Saint-Georges's first opera, with a libretto by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the notorious author of Les Liaisons dangereuses, was performed on 19 July 1777, at the Comédie-Italienne. It did not survive its premiere. The critics liked the music, but panned the weak libretto, which was then usually given precedence over the music. The Queen attended with her entourage. She came to support Saint-Georges's opera but, after the audience kept echoing a character cracking his whip and crying "Ohé, Ohé," the Queen gave it the coup de grace by calling to her driver: "to Versailles, Ohé!"
After the failure of the opera, Madame de Montesson, morganatic wife of the Duc d'Orléans, realized her ambition to engage Saint-Georges as music director of her fashionable private theater. He was glad to gain a position that entitled him to an apartment in the ducal mansion on the Chaussée d'Antin. After Mozart's mother died in Paris, the composer was allowed to stay at his place for a period with Melchior Grimm, who, as personal secretary of the Duke, lived in the mansion. Mozart and Saint-Georges lived from 5 July to 11 September 1778 under the same roof at Madame de Montesson. The Duc d'Orléans appointed Saint-Georges as Lieutenant de la chasse of his vast hunting grounds at Raincy, with an additional salary of 2000 Livres a year. "Saint-Georges the mulatto so strong, so adroit, was one of the hunters..."
Saint-Georges wrote and rehearsed his second opera, appropriately named La Chasse (The Hunt) at Raincy. At its premiere in the Théâtre Italien, "The public received the work with loud applause. Vastly superior compared with Ernestine ... there is every reason to encourage him to continue [writing operas]." La Chasse was performed at her Majesty's request at the royal chateau at Marly. Saint-Georges's most successful opéra comique was L'amant anonyme, which was premiered in 1780, with a libretto based on a play of the same name by Madame de Montesson's niece, Madame de Genlis.[note 3]
In 1785, the Duke of Orléans died. Madame de Montesson, having been forbidden by the King to mourn him, shuttered their mansion, closed her theater, and retired to a convent near Paris. With his patrons gone, Saint-Georges lost not only his positions, but also his apartment. His friend, Louis Philippe, now Duke of Orléans, presented him with a small flat in the Palais-Royal, across the Louvre. Saint-Georges was drawn into the whirlpool of political and social activity around Philippe, an admirer of the British constitutional monarchy, the main opposition to the French absolute monarchy.
Meanwhile the Duke's ambitious plans for re-constructing the Palais-Royal left the Orchestre Olympique without a home and Saint-Georges unemployed. Seeing his protégé at loose ends and recalling that the Prince of Wales often expressed a wish to meet the legendary fencer, Philippe approved Brissot's plan to dispatch Saint-Georges to London. He believed it was a way to ensure the Regent-in-waiting's support of Philippe as future "Regent" of France. But Brissot had a secret agenda as well. He considered Saint-Georges, a "man of color", the ideal person to contact his fellow abolitionists in London and ask their advice about Brissot's plans for Les Amis des Noirs (Friends of the Blacks) modelled on the English anti-slavery movement.
According to Bologne's friend, Louise Fusil and likely his lover: "... admired for his fencing and riding prowess, he served as a model to young sportsmen ... who formed a court around him." A fine dancer, Saint-Georges was also invited to balls and welcomed in the salons (and boudoirs) of highborn ladies. "Partial for the music of liaisons where amour had real meaning... he loved and was loved."
During his time at the opera and before the revolution, Saint-Georges became involved with many women of Paris society. Joseph Bologne is known to have had at least one long-term, serious romantic relationship. One potential suitor of his was the dancer Marie-Madeleine Guimard, whose advances he declined. Having been spurned, and with great influence in the Queen's court, La Guimard would come to play a pivotal role in the petition that would deny Joseph's ambition to become the director of the Paris Opera from ever coming to fruition.
Pierre Lefebvre de Beauvray, a gossip writer at the time, author of a work entitled Journal d'un bourgeois de Popincourt, attributes to Saint-Georges a love affair with the Marquise Marie-Josephine de Montalembert, salonnière and novelist, young wife of an old general. Her husband was a general of military engineering in the Queen's Court (Marc René, marquis de Montalembert); his wife was said to have been drawn to the young composer. Their affair was later discovered and consequently upended, but not before she bore him a child. The infant was taken from Marie-Josephine and sent by her husband to a nearby village to essentially die. According to his biographer and the main author of this article Gabriel Banat, "Saint-Georges mourned the loss of one who was most likely his greatest love and the death of the son he never saw".
St. Georges assaulted
On 22 April 1779, around midnight, Saint-Georges was attacked in the streets of Paris as he was returning home with one of his friends. Malicious spirits claimed that this punitive expedition had been decided by the monarch's secret services.
In one of the thirty-six volumes of his Secret Memoirs, Louis Petit de Bachaumont mentions that the attack took place on the night of 1 May 1779. This date is incorrect and, moreover, he reports that Saint-Georges was attacked by six men. He and his friend valiantly defended themselves and were providentially saved by the watch and its men-at-arms:
« 1 May 1779. M. de Saint Georges is a mulatto, that is to say the son of a negress […] Recently, during the night, he was attacked by six men, he was with one of his friends, they defended themselves to the best of their ability against sticks with which the fellows wanted to knock them down; there is even talk of a pistol shot which was heard: the lookout occurred & prevented the consequences of this assassination, - so that Mr. de Saint Georges is freed for bruises & minor injuries; he even shows himself already in the world. Several of the killers have been arrested. M. le Duc d'Orléans wrote to M. le Noir, as soon as he was informed of the fact, to recommend to him the most exact research, and that a striking justice be done on the culprits. After 24 hours Mr. the Duke of Orléans was asked not to interfere in this affair, and the prisoners, who were recognized as policemen, among whom was a certain Desbrugnieres, so renowned in the affair of the Comte de Morangiès, were released, which gives rise to a thousand conjectures. » 
It was suggested that the Marquis de Montalembert, eager to avenge his honor and punish the "seducer" of his wife by setting up a night operation, was behind the nocturnal aggression.
In Spring 1787, Saint-Georges stayed in London with fencing masters Domenico Angelo and Henry, his son, whom he knew as an apprentice from early years in Paris. They arranged exhibition matches for him, including one at Carlton House, before the Prince of Wales. After sparring with him, carte and tierce, the prince matched Saint-Georges with several renowned masters. One included La Chevalière d'Éon, aged 59, in a voluminous black frock. A painting by Abbé Alexandre-Auguste Robineau, violinist-composer and painter, showed the Prince and his entourage watching Mlle D'Éon score a hit on Saint-Georges, giving rise to rumours that the Frenchman allowed it out of gallantry for a lady. But, as Saint-Georges had fenced with dragoon Captain d'Éon in Paris, he probably was deferring to her age. Saint-Georges played one of Robineau's concertos at the Anacreontic Society. He also delivered Brissot's request to the abolitionists MPs William Wilberforce, John Wilkes, and Reverend Thomas Clarkson. Before Saint-Georges left England, Mather Brown painted his portrait. Asked by Mrs Angelo if it was a true likeness, Saint-Georges replied: "Alas, Madame it is frightfully so."
Back in Paris, he completed and produced his latest opéra comique, La Fille Garçon, at the Théâtre des Italiens. The critics found the libretto wanting. "The piece, [was] sustained only by the music of Monsieur de Saint Georges... The success he obtained should serve as encouragement to continue enriching this theatre with his productions."
Meanwhile, having nearly completed reconstruction of the Palais-Royal, the Duke had opened several new theaters. The smallest was the Théâtre Beaujolais, a marionette theater for children, named after his youngest son, the duc de Beaujolais. The lead singers of the Opéra provided the voices for the puppets. Saint-Georges wrote the music of Le Marchand de Marrons (The Chestnut Vendor) for this theater, with a libretto by Madame de Genlis, Philippe's former mistress and then confidential adviser.
While Saint-Georges was away, the Concert Olympique had resumed performing at the Hôtel de Soubise, the old hall of the Amateurs. The Italian violinist Jean-Baptiste Viotti had been appointed as conductor. Together with the talented young singer Louise Fusil, and the horn virtuoso Lamothe, Saint-George went on a brief concert tour to Amiens. On 5 May 1789, the opening day of the fateful Estates General, Saint-Georges, standing in the gallery with Laclos, heard Jacques Necker, Louis XVI's minister of finance, saying, "The slave trade is a barbarous practice and must be eliminated." Choderlos de Laclos, who replaced Brissot as Philippe's chief of staff, intensified Brissot's campaign to promote Philippe as an alternative to the monarchy. On 14 July 1789, the fall of the Bastille took place, starting the French Revolution.
As Saint-Georges was seen as a mestizo but actually a free man of color, he was affected by the racism and racist laws in pre-Revolutionary France. After the abolition of feudalism in France Saint-Georges refrained from using his title "chevalier", and was addressed as "citoyen". On 26 August 1789, the assembly declared the equal rights to all French people but Saint-Georges wasn't there.
Early August Saint-Georges was sent by Laclos on a secret mission to London for his employer, the Duke of Orléans. His connections to the court may have played a role to leave the country. His assignment was to stay close to the Prince of Wales. Saint-Georges stayed at Grenier's an expensive hotel in Jermyn Street which later became patronised by French refugees. Saint-Georges was entertaining himself lavishly. On 15 August, the Prince took the composer to his Marine Pavilion in Brighton. He also took him fox hunting and to the races at Newmarket. After the Women's March on Versailles the Duke was accused of initiating it. Marquis de La Fayette, probably jealous of the Duke's popularity, persuaded the king to send him on a mission to England. When he arrived on 14 October, he became the Prince's regular companion; nevertheless Saint-Georges was invited separately.
When Saint-Georges passed Brissot's request to the British abolitionists, they complied by translating their literature into French for his fledgling Société des amis des Noirs. Saint-Georges met with them again, this time on his own account.
Late June 1790, Philippe Égalité, dubbed "The Red Duke" in London, realized that his "mission" there was a ruse used by the French king to get him out of the country. He amused himself with the Prince, horse racing, young women and champagne. Philippe clung to a vague promise made by King Louis to make him Regent of the Southern Netherlands. In February they moved to Brussels but the Belgians wanted a Republic, and rejected Philippe. In July 1790 the duke went back to Paris, but Saint-Georges decided to join a fencing tournament in Lille. On their journey, travelling to the coast:
"Early in July, walking home from Greenwich, a man armed with a pistol demanded his purse. The Chevalier disarmed the man... but when four more rogues hidden until then attacked him, he put them all out of commission. M. de Saint Georges received only some contusions which did not keep him from going on that night to play music in the company of friends." The nature of the attack, with four attackers emerging after the first one made sure they had the right victim, has been claimed to be an assassination attempt disguised as a hold-up, arranged by the "Slave Trade" to put an end to his abolitionist activities.
"On Thursday, July 8, 1790, in Lille's municipal ballroom, the famous Saint-Georges was the principal antagonist in a brilliant fencing tournament. Though ill, he fought with that grace which is his trademark. Lightning is no faster than his arms and in spite of running a fever, he demonstrated astonishing vigor." Two days later looking worse but in need of funds, he offered another assault, this one for the officers of the garrison. But his illness proved so serious that it sent him to bed for six long weeks. The diagnosis according to medical science at the time was "brain fever" (probably meningitis). Unconscious for days, he was taken in and nursed by some kind citizens of Lille. While still bedridden Saint-Georges began to compose an opera for Lille's theater company. Calling it Guillome tout Coeur, ou les amis du village, he dedicated it to the citizens of Lille. "Guillaume is an opera in one act. The music by Saint-George is full of sweet warmth of motion and spirit...Its [individual] pieces distinguished by their melodic lines and the vigor of their harmony. The public...made the hall resound with its justly deserved applause." It was to be his last opera, lost, including its libretto. He participated in local events and took charge of the music.
The actress Louise Fusil, who had idolized Saint-Georges since she was a girl of 15, wrote: "In 1791, I stopped in Amiens where St. Georges and Lamothe were waiting for me, committed to give some concerts over the Easter holidays. We were to repeat them in Tournai in June. But the French refugees assembled in that town just across the border, could not abide the Créole they believed to be an agent of the despised Duke of Orléans. St. Georges was even advised [by its commandant] not to stop there for long." According to a report by a local newspaper: "The dining room of the hotel where St. Georges, a citizen of France, was also staying, refused to serve him, but he remained perfectly calm; remarkable for a man with his means to defend himself."
Fusil describes the scenario of Saint-Georges' "Love and Death of the Poor Little Bird," a programmatic piece for violin alone, which he was constantly entreated to play especially by the ladies. Its three parts depicted the little bird greeting the spring; passionately pursuing the object of his love, who alas, has chosen another; its voice grows weaker then, after the last sigh, it is stilled forever. This kind of program music or sound painting of scenarios such as love scenes, tempests, or battles complete with cannonades and the cries of the wounded, conveyed by a lone violin, was by that time nearly forgotten. Fusil places his improvisational style on a par with her subsequent musical idol, Hector Berlioz: "We did not know then this expressive ...depiction a dramatic scene, which Mr. Berlioz later revealed to us... making us feel an emotion that identifies us with the subject."
Tired of politics yet faithful to his ideals, St. Georges decided to serve the Revolution, directly. With 50,000 Austrian troops massed on its borders, the first citizen's army in modern history was calling for volunteers. In 1790, having recovered from his illness, Saint-Georges was one of the first in Lille to join its Garde Nationale. But not even his military duties in the Garde Nationale could prevent St. Georges from giving concerts. Once again he was building an orchestra which, according to the announcement in the paper, "Will give a concert every week until Easter." At the conclusion of the last concert, the mayor of Lille placed a crown of laurels on St. Georges' brow and read a poem dedicated to him.
In April and June 1791, the Parliament recruited (400,000) volunteers from the entire French National Guard for the French Revolutionary Army. Saint-Georges was appointed captain and colonel in the following year.
On 20 April 1792, compelled by the National Assembly, Louis XVI declared war against his brother-in-law, Francis II. General Dillon, commander of Lille, was ordered by Dumouriez to attack Tournai, reportedly only lightly defended. Instead, massive fire by the Austrian artillery turned an orderly retreat into a rout by the regular cavalry but not that of the volunteers of the National Guard. Captain St. Georges commanded the company of volunteers that held the line at Baisieux near the Belgian border.
On 7 September 1792, the Parliament established a light cavalry consisting of volunteers from the West Indies and Africa. The name of it was "Légion franche de cavalerie des Américains et du Midi", but it was often referred to as "Légion St-Georges". Banat described it as "probably the first all non-white military unit" (in Europe). The legion comprised seven companies, of which only one was made up of coloured men, while the remainder comprised European-whites. According to Alexandre Dumas, one of the officers, Saint-Georges stammered. On 25 September the Austrian army started to bombard Lille. In February 1793, lacking infantry, the American Legion changed its name and became "13e régiment de chasseurs à cheval".
On 20 March 1793 the National Convention send Danton, the instigator of the Revolutionary Tribunal, and Delacroix to Leuven to investigate on Dumouriez during War with the Dutch Republic and his generals.[g] At the end of the month four commissioners lead by Pierre de Ruel, marquis de Beurnonville was sent to question and arrest him.  Dumouriez sensed a trap and invited them to his headquarters at Saint-Amand-les-Eaux had them arrested. (They were escorted by Saint-Georges.) On 2 April the city of Lille was successfully defended by Saint-Georges against Miaczinski who was sent by Dumouriez. Dumouriez' plans to reinstall the French Constitution of 1791, and restore the monarchy in Paris (with Duke of Chartres) fell apart. On 4 April the convention declared Dumouriez a traitor and outlaw and put a prize on his head. Dumouriez's defection on the next day changed the course of the events for the Brissotins.[h] On 6 April the Committee of Public Safety was installed. Philippe Égalité was then put under continuous surveillance.
On 28 April Saint-Georges was invited or sent to Paris. On 4 and 10 May he was accused by Stanislas-Marie Maillard, and Louis Héron. On 16 May his house was searched and bonds were found belonging to Philippe Égalité and Dumouriez.[i] On 18 May Saint-Georges, dressed civilian, performed a requiem by Gossec for the murdered general Théobald Dillon and the other victims in Lille. In the following weeks Saint-Georges was accused of misusing government funds, and the Legion disbanded. On 25 September 1793 Saint-Georges and ten of his officers were dismissed. On 29 September he was arrested without specific charges. (On 17 September, the Law of Suspects was passed, which authorized the imprisonment of vaguely defined "suspects".) It is supposed he was suspect of having been friendly with Marie-Antoinette, and Brissot and Philippe Égalité, all executed in the following weeks. Saint-Georges was sent to Chateau de Chantilly which served as a prison for political opponents (the Girondins) and then to Hondainville at chateau Saint-Aignan, formerly owned by the Comte de Saint-Morys.
Early December 1793 it seems, he was condemned for being involved in non-revolutionary activities such as music events, but not much is known about a trial; maybe there never was one. He was released after eleven months on 24 October 1794 and asked to be reinstated in the army on 3 April 1795. One month later he was arrested again, when White Terror was sweeping the country but released on 15 May. Five days later the Sans-culottes were defeated (in the Revolt of 1 Prairial Year III); on 22 August 1795 the Constitution of the Year III established a bicameral legislature, intended to slow down the legislative process.
On 19 October all the officers in the army, also the ones who were dismissed, had to clarify for the Committee of Public Safety where they were on the days around 13 Vendémiaire. On 24 October Saint-Georges was dismissed. On Sunday 25 October the National Convention declared itself dissolved and voted for a general amnesty for "deeds exclusively connected with the Revolution". A slimmed down government (the Directoire) started working and appointed Napoleon as General in Chief of the Interior and 2 March 1796 of the Army of Italy.
On 3 May 1797, Saint-Georges tried to join and signed his petition "George". He wrote:
"I continue to show loyalty to the revolution. Since the beginning of the war, I have been serving with relentless enthusiasm, but the persecution I suffered has not diminished. I have no other resources, only to restore my original position." However, his application to Rewbell, a member of the French Directory, failed again.
One of the decisions of Napoleon as First Consul for life was the re-establishment of slavery (Law of 20 May 1802) revoking the Law of 4 February 1794 which had abolished slavery in all the French colonies.
Some biographers claim that St. Georges would have stayed in Saint-Domingue where he would have met with Toussaint Louverture. However, the stay of Saint-Georges in Saint-Domingue, after his incarceration, is uncertain. There may be confusion with another legend, his stay on the island of Martinique in December 1789. In a newspaper it was written that on request of Martinique Saint-Georges arrived there with 15,000 rifles early December 1789. In fact he was with the Duke of Orléans in London and afterwards Lille.
It stands to reason that Julien Raimond would want to take St. Georges, an experienced officer, with him to Saint-Domingue, then in a civil war. While we lack concrete evidence that St. Georges was aboard the convoy of the commission, the fact that we find Captain Colin, and Lamotte (Lamothe) on the payroll of a ship of the convoy to Saint-Domingue, confirms Louise Fusil's account. So does Lionel de La Laurencie's statement: "The expedition to Saint-Domingue was Saint-Georges' last voyage," adding that "Disenchantment and melancholy resulting from his experiences during that voyage must have weighed heavily on his aging shoulders"
It seems unlikely that St. Georges has been a part of the official delegation of commissioners civilians sent to Saint-Domingue with their head Félicité Sonthonax, the friend of Jacques Pierre Brissot, the founder of the Society of the Friends of the Blacks. Historians have found to this day no trace of St. Georges in the press of the time, or in the archives of the manifests of ships bound for French ports for Saint-Domingue or making trips back in France. This leads to think that after his ouster of the armies of the Revolution, Saint-Georges would not have left Europe.
On 16 December 1795 his mother died, and on 29 March 1796 he signed as the executioner of her will. It is likely he inherited some money and property. Anyhow, the memoirs of Louise Fusil are full of inaccuracies, errors, or counter-truths.[j] On 19 April 1796 he and Lamothe, a horn player, gave a concert, for the unfortunate Carl Stamitz.
St. Georges was again building a symphony orchestra. Like his last ensemble, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie was also part of a Masonic lodge performing in what was formerly the Palais Royal. The founders of the new Loge, a group of nouveau riche gentlemen bent on re-creating the elegance of the old Loge Olympique, were delighted to find St. Georges back in Paris. On 11 April 1797 he gave concerts in the Palais-Royal. According to Le Mercure Français, "The concerts ... under the direction of the famous Saint Georges, left nothing to be desired as to the choice of pieces or the superiority of their execution". Another concert took place on 18 July 1798 in a park.
In the late spring of 1799, there came bad news from Saint-Domingue: Generals Hédouville and Roume, the Directoire's emissaries, reverting to the discredited policy of stirring up trouble between blacks and mulattoes, succeeded in starting a war between pro-French André Rigaud's mulattoes, and separatist Toussaint Louverture's blacks. It was so savage that it became known as the "War of Knives".
Though a number of his biographers maintain that at the end of his life, St. Georges lived in abject poverty, the Cercle was not exactly the lower depths. Rejected by the army, St. Georges, at the age of 51, found solace in his music. Sounding like any veteran performer proud of his longevity, he said: "Towards the end of my life, I was particularly devoted to my violin," adding: "never before did I play it so well!" Two of his contemporary obituaries reveal the course of his illness and death.
Nicholas Duhamel, a captain in Légion St.-Georges, was his friend until his death. Concerned about his old colonel's condition, he stopped by his apartment on rue de Chartres-Saint-Honoré near the Palais Royal and, having found him dying, took him to his apartment in rue Boucherat where he took care of him until the end.
This year died, twenty-four days apart, two extraordinary
but very different men, Beaumarchais and Saint-Georges;
both Masters at sparring; the one who could be touched by a
foil, was not the one who was more enviable for his virtues.
— Charles Maurice (1799)
From 1757 he lived at 49, fr:rue Saint André des Arts with his parents. In 1774 he lived at fr:Rue Guénégaud (also 6th arrondissement of Paris) with his mother. In 1777 he lived at Rue des Fontaines-du-Temple, in 1778 at Rue Saint Pierre, both in Le Marais; in 1780 he moved to 5, Chaussee d'Antin. After 1785 he lived in the Palais Royal. In September 1789 he stayed at Grenier's in Jermyn Street (Westminster) patronised by French refugees. In 1791 he lived at 550, Rue Notre-Dame, Lille. On 17 May 1793 he appeared as a witness at the Tribunal Révolutionnaire (headed by Jacques-Bernard-Marie Montané) in a case against the Polish general Joseph Miaczinski and gave his address at fr:Rue des Filles-Saint-Thomas. In March 1796 he lived at rue Jean Fleury (near Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois). In 1799, when he was sick he lived fr:Rue de Chartres-Saint-Honoré across the Palais-Royal but this street disappeared. On 9 June 1799, Saint-Georges died at 13, Rue de Boucherat (Le Marais). He was buried at Cimetière Sainte-Marguerite.
Saint-Georges wrote twelve violin concertos, two symphonies, and eight symphonie-concertantes, a new, intrinsically Parisian genre of which he was one of the chief exponents. He wrote his instrumental works over a short span of time, and they were published between 1771 and 1779. He also wrote six opéras comiques and a number of songs in manuscript. Saint-Georges wrote two more sets of six string quartets, three forte-piano and violin sonatas, a sonata for harp and flute, six violin duets, a rondeau for two violins, an adagio in F-minor (for piano), a harpsichord quartet. He even composed a children’s opera, “Aline et Dupré, ou le marchand de marrons,” which is lost, except the overture. The music for three other known compositions are lost: a cello sonata, performed in Lille in 1792, a concerto for clarinet, and one for bassoon.
Saint-Georges composed 14 violin concertos. Before copyrights, several publishers issued his concertos with both Opus numbers and numbering them according to the order in which they were composed. The thematic incipits on the right, should clear up the resulting confusion.
Unlike the concertos, their publishers issued the symphonie-concertantes following Bailleux's original opus numbers, as shown by the incipits on the right.
Recueil d'airs et duos avec orchestre: stamped Conservatoire de musique #4077, now in the music collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale, contains:
Note: The names of the characters, Ernestine and Clemengis, in numbers 4, 6, 7 and 8 of the above pieces indicate they came from the opera Ernestine; number 5 is probably from La Partie de chasse.
The orchestra for all the above consists of strings, two oboes and two horns.
The opera, Le Droit du seigneur taken for a work by Saint-Georges is in fact by J-P-E. Martini: one aria contributed by Saint-Georges, mentioned in 1784 by Mercure de France, is lost.
A Symphony in D by "Signor di Giorgio" in the British Library, arranged for pianoforte, as revealed by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is by the Earl of Kelly, using a nom de plume.
A quartet for harp and strings, ed. by Sieber, 1777, attributed to Saint-Georges, is mentioned in an advertisement in Mercure de France of September 1778 as: "arranged and dedicated to M. de Saint-Georges" by Delaplanque. This is obviously by the latter.
A sonata in the Recueil Choix de musique in the Bibliothèque Nationale, is a transcription for forte-piano and violin of Saint-Georges' violin concerto in G major, Op. II, No. 1. This is the only piece by Saint-Georges in the entire collection erroneously attributed to him.
Recueil d'Airs avec accompagnement de forte piano par M. de St. Georges pour Mme. La Comtesse de Vauban, sometimes presented as a collection of vocal pieces by Saint-Georges, contains too many numbers obviously composed by others. For example, "Richard Coeur de lion" is by Grétry; "Iphigenie en Tauride" is by Gluck; and an aria from Tarare is by Salieri. Even if Saint-Georges had arranged their orchestral accompaniments for forte-piano, it would be wrong to consider them as his compositions. As for the rest, though some might be by Saint-Georges, since this may only be resolved by a subjective stylistic evaluation, it would be incorrect to accept them all as his work.
Six Italian Canzonettas by a Signor di Giorgio, for voice, keyboard or harp, and The Mona Melodies, a collection of ancient airs from the Isle of Man, in the British Library, are not by Saint-Georges.
Recueil de pieces pour forte piano et violon pour Mme. la comtesse de Vauban erroneously subtitled "Trios" (they are solos and duos), a collection of individual movements, some for piano alone, deserves the same doubts as the Recueil d'Airs pour Mme. Vauban. Apart from drafts for two of Saint-Georges's oeuvres de clavecin, too many of these pieces seem incompatible with the composer's style. "Les Caquets" (The Gossips) a violin piece enthusiastically mentioned by some authors as typical of Saint-Georges's style, was composed in 1936 by the violinist Henri Casadesus. He also forged a spurious Handel viola concerto and the charming but equally spurious "Adelaide" concerto supposedly by the 10-year-old Mozart, which Casadesus’ brother, Marius Casadesus later admitted having composed (often incorrectly attributed to Henri as well).
The following is a list of all known commercial recordings.
Symphony Op. XI No. 1 in G:
Symphony Op. XI No. 2 in D:
(As mentioned above, a Concerto with Qian Zhou, reissued by Artaria as "Op. Posthumus in D", is the same as Op. IV, No. 1.)
Six quartets Op. 1 (1771).
Six Quatuors Concertans, "Au gout du jour", no opus number (1779).
Six Quartets Op. 14 (1785).
Three keyboard and violin sonatas (Op. 1a):