Chevalier de Saint-George: biography

Chevalier de Saint-George

Half-breed born from a senegalese slave mother and a noble planter, the chevalier de Saint-George appears as one of the most romanesque figures of the 18th century. After a childhood raised in the West Indies Guadeloupe Island, this elegant half breed was quickly adopted by the parisian aristocracy for his numerous and great talents :

swordsman, danser, seducer and mainly as violinist, composer and orchestra leader.

Named by Gossec conductor of the Concert des amateurs orchestra and later the concert de l’Olympique which play regularly before hundreds of listeners a few times a week, this black man commissions Haydn for his six Parisian symphonies which he creates in Paris. Saint-George is also reputed for his virtuoso talents as violinist as well as for his compositions. Concertos written by this extraordinary musician attract a great public to the hotel de Soubise where the concert des amateurs take place (80 musicians)! Also his operas (one of the librettos is written by Choderlos de Laclos: author of liaison dangereuses) receive an undeniable popular success at the Comédie italienne situated near the actual Opéra comique.

His reputation as conductor is such
that his orchestras are considered
the best in Europe!

First coloured man intronised as freemason in France, he is a close friend of the duke d’Orléans. He lives in one of the most luxurious left bank mansion. Saint-George is named as director of the royal opera by the king Louis XVI who is then obliged to abandon his choice having to face a refusal from opera singers who reject a half-breed director. Many stays in London enhance his reputation as swordsman and musician: at a famous fencing match organised by his friend the young Prince of Wales he is given as opponent the chevalier d’Eon who has become « the chevalière! »

He wholeheartedly joins the French Revolution and creates a military unit : the American hussars regiment composed of blacks and half-breeds and named : Saint-George legion. He stops General Dumourriez the ex winner of the battle of Valmy who has turned against the Revolution.

This first black colonel of the French army will pay
a high price for his contribution to the French Revolution.

Abandoned by his protectors, he will go on as an orchestra leader but will live modestly compared to the luxury life he led under royalty. He will die in 1799 aged 60. « The Voltaire of music » says the abbé Grégoire, « Watteau of music » for La Laurencie, Saint-George in his time was highly praised in Paris – and London maybe – more than Mozart. He appears today as one of the major shipwrecked personalities of history.

Check his music catalogue, by Alain Guédé, to get to know more about Saint-George’s art

Click here.