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Who was ‘The Black Mozart’?

Published: February 11, 2010 at 9:00 am
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‘The Black Mozart’ is a nickname given to the 18th-century French musician and composer Joseph Bologne, also known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

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Bologne was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe, the illegitimate son of a freed black slave and a white plantation owner. His father took him back to France when he was a child. As a young man he became famous in Paris as a swordsman and equestrian but he was also a brilliant musician. In the 1770s, he led one of the largest orchestras in the French capital and conducted the first performances of six Haydn symphonies.

Unfortunately his musical career came to an abrupt end when several leading singers, claiming that they could not perform under the direction of a ‘mulatto’, refused to accept his appointment as director of Louis XVI’s royal opera company. Bologne died forgotten in 1799 but his work has recently been rescued from oblivion and a number of recordings of his violin concertos, string quartets and harpsichord sonatas now exist.

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Answered by: Nick Rennison

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