Saturday, August 6, 2011

'Un contemporain atypique de Mozart ('An Atypical Contemporary of Mozart') : Le Chevalier de Saint-George'

[Un contemporain atypique de Mozart: Le Chevalier de Saint-George; Michelle Garnier-Panafieu; YP Éditions (2011)]

The life, fencing and music of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) are presented at On April 26, 2011 AfriClassical announced the debut of Un contemporain atypique de Mozart (An Atypical Contemporary of Mozart): Le Chevalier de Saint-George, written by Michelle Garnier-Panafieu. The book received its debut on April 27, 2011 as part of the International Saint-Georges Festival in Guadeloupe, where Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges was born. Professor Michelle Garnier-Panafieu is a Musicologist at Université Rennes II.

We were keenly aware of the author's specialized knowledge of the music of Saint-George and his contemporaries. She had written, for example, the lengthy and scholarly liner notes for the 2008 Avenira release, Le Chevalier de Saint-George: The Complete Symphonies Concertantes On 2 CDs. We invited Prof. Garnier-Panafieu to summarize her findings for inclusion on the Saint-Georges page at She graciously did so. The longtime French translator of the Saint-Georges page, Daniel Marciano, offered to translate the summary into English, with the assistance of his American-born wife Carol. The summary can be found at No. 51 in the Table of Contents:

51 Un contemporain atypique de Mozart : Le Chevalier de Saint-George by Prof. Michelle Garnier-Panafieu

Saint-George, the composer: the excellence of his instrumental music which favors the violin

Rhetoric and composition

Saint-George’s style is based on rhetorical processes which deal with the imitation of nature advocated by philosophers from du Bos to Chabanon, and the theorists of music who refer to singing as an essential element of writing. To the vocal model and to its mechanisms such as repetition, recurrence, alternation, contrast and variety used to structure the speech and express passions must be added the influence of French cultural trends such as choreographic art, sentimental style and “romance” or love melodies, the Italian trend of violin virtuosity and German trends, namely the influence of The School of Mannheim, Sturm und Drang.

The predominance of private concerts: string quartets and sonatas.
Saint-George made his debut as a composer in the innovative genre of the string quartet of which he was one of the principal protagonists: eighteen of them in three opus: Opus 1 in 1773, 2nd Book in 1778, Opus 14 in 1785. His string quartets are characterised by nimble, graceful themes, often with a hint of melancholia and by vivacious rondos with an alternation in minor and major modes. They illustrate the quartet concertante with numerous soli.

He was an expert in his elegant and refined chamber music. Let us mention his sonatas for the harpsichord or the piano forte and his brilliant Sonatas for the Violin Obligato - two violins – 1799. He splendidly expressed the specificity of his style in his orchestral works.

The conquest of the concert public, symphonia concertante, symphonies

If he was one of the best protagonists of the symphonia concertante, a typical French genre (eight of them between 1775 and 1782: two in Opus VI, two in Opus IX, two in Opus X, one in Opus XII, one in Opus XIII, intended for two principal violins to which was added a viola in Opus X and predominantly in two movements Allegro – Rondo of vaudevillian style), he also contributed to the blossoming of the symphony (two in Opus XI, the second one being the overture of L’Amant anonyme (the Anonymous lover).

Lyrical theater and vocal music: a little explored domain written especially for the violin
But his fourteen concertos "written especially for the violin”, composed for his own use and published between 1773 and 1778 (let us quote the Opus II, III, IV, V, VII, VIII) except the posthumous last one, in 1799, are his works which testify best to his bold technique and full of brightness (drums, melodic intervals, contrasts of registers). Instrumented for strings and winds (two flutes, two oboes and two horns ad libitum), they adopt the vivaldian pattern (Allegro in which alternate Tutti and Soli, Adagio or Largo expressive and influenced by the lyrical writing, Rondeau).
If his comedies with ariettes are not well-known (except for The Anonymous Lover, complete scores did not reach us), his melodies and romances were much appreciated in salons such as that of Madame de Chambonas. A Song of the Opera of Mr. Saint-George ( « Soir et matin sur la fougère », extracted from La Chasse) appears in an anthology of Grénier, harp master of Marie-Antoinette in about 1763 (pages 31-33 and Documents from N° 4 to 6b).

His musical Work is still a domain of research. It was certainly one of the best representatives of the concertante aesthetics of the Century of Enlightenment and one of the essential links of the music chain which from Rameau to Berlioz, insured the transition from the Baroque to the Romantic movements.
Prof. Michelle Garnier-Panafieu
Musicologist, Université Rennes II

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