Friday, March 17, 2017

"Le Mozart Noir: The Life and Music of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges," a DVD & CD, is a Unique Tribute to the 18th Century Afro-French Composer

Le Mozart Noir: The Life and Music of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, TMK 1031 DVDCD is a combined reissue by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Directed by Jeanne Lamon, of a DVD and a CD which were originally released separately by CBC Home Video and CBC Records, both of Canada, under the same title.  The film was broadcast on CBC Television as a one-hour feature program before the original DVD was released.  Its length is 53:00 minutes.  

In full disclosure, I am not a musicologist but some biographical information from my website on Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges,
was provided to the producers, which is why the film credits state: "Bill Zick, Musicologist."

The Director of the film is Raymon Saint-Jean.  The adult Chevalier de Saint-Georges is Kendall Knights.  The young Saint-Georges is Marcus Johnson.

1 Overture
2 Childhood
3 Turn to Music
4 Marie Joseph
5 Tragedy
6 Divas
7 The French Revolution
8 Finale

Joseph de Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) was born on Christmas Day on his father's 250-acre plantation, with 60 slaves, in the French West Indies colony of Guadeloupe.  His mother, Nanon, was a slave of African descent.  She was the mistress and property of George de Bologne de Saint-Georges.  The boy's father tutored him in Music and Fencing.  At age 8, in 1753, he sailed to France and began his formal education.  In October, 1756 the 13-year-old entered the fencing academy of Nicolas Texier de La Böessière, an elite boarding school for the sons of the aristocracy.  After six years at the fencing academy, Saint-Georges proved himself the best fencer in France.

The film portrays Saint-Georges as a sought-after figure in French society, who had many affairs, but one whose race was considered an obstacle to marriage. Saint-Georges distinguished himself as a violinist, conductor and composer at a young age.  The music on the CD is also performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Jeanne Lamon.  It opens with excerpts from L'amant anonyme (1780), also published as Symphony in D Major, op. 11, no. 2.  The excerpts comprise the first 6 tracks of the disc.  The music is representative of the late Baroque and early Classical periods.

Gabriel Banat, a former violinist of the New York Philharmonic, is author of The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (2006), regarded by many as the most authoritative biography of Saint-Georges in English.  He comments on the film about the influence of Saint-Georges which is evident in a work of Mozart, and demonstrates by playing excerpts from the works of the two composers on the violin.  

The next work is the Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 3, no. 1 (1774).  It features Linda Melsted as violin soloist.  She brings out great feeling in her performance, on Tracks 7-9.  The Symphony in G Major, op. 11, no. 1 (1779) is the final work of Saint-Georges on this recording, on Tracks 10-12, and shares the exquisite character of the earlier works.

Track 13 consists of the Allegro (7:15) from the Violin Concerto in F Major, op. 10, no. 4 (1745) of Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764).  Genevieve Gilardeau is violin soloist.  The final work on the recording is the Symphony in D Major, op. 5, no. 5, "Pastorella" of Francois-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829).

During the French Revolution Saint-Georges was given command of 1,000 soldiers of color, and acquitted himself heroically.  Still, his past associations with the monarchy and aristocracy contributed to false allegations of misuse of public funds meant for his military unit, and led to his imprisonment for about a year until he was cleared of the charges.  Upon his release he was denied reinstatement to the French Army, and led his final orchestra, the Circle of Harmony, until his death.

Le Mozart Noir, the combined DVD and CD, is a unique combination to our knowledge.  It provides much-needed documentation of the historic life and highly accomplished music of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, an Afro-French violinist, composer and conductor.  In France the Antares Quartet has a long-running project of recording works of Saint-Georges and Mozart on the same CDs.  I have four of those recordings, and I believe they demonstrate that the compositions of these two master composers can fairly be compared.   

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