Joseph Bologne | LA Opera
From the age of eight he was educated in France. In 1757, his father was made a knight of the King’s Chamber, serving as personal attendant to King Louis XV. At the age of 17, Joseph was made an officer of the King’s Guard and given the title of “Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges.”
First rose to fame as the best fencer in France. it is only known that he lost one match.
little is known of his training as a violinist or as a composer. he began his professional career as a musician with les concerts des amateurs. he made a sensational solo debut with that orchestra in 1772, playing two violin concertos of his own composition. in 1773 he was appointed conductor of the orchestra. Under his leadership, it was considered the best orchestra in Paris and one of the best in all of Europe. In 1781 finances forced the orchestra to disband and Bologna became conductor of the newly formed orchestra Le Concert Olympique. Queen Marie Antoinette, an accomplished musician, frequently attended his concerts. Under the baton of Bologna, the orchestra premiered notably Haydn’s six “Paris symphonies” in 1786 in the presence of the Queen. throughout this decade he composed string quartets, violin concertos, symphonies concertantes, and other works.
during his tenure at les concerts des amateurs, the musical direction of the paris opera became vacant and bologna submitted an offer for the position. But after three of the company’s leading sopranos wrote to the Queen, stating her unwillingness to work for a mixed-race man, Bologna withdrew her application. despite the setback, he turned his attention to the composition of operas. His first opera, Ernestine, premiered at the Comédie-Italienne in 1777. The Bologna score was praised, but the libretto by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, was not, and the opera was performed only once. his second opera, la partie de chasse (the hunting party), premiered in 1778 at the same theater and was more successful than the first.
His third opera, L’amant anonymous (The Anonymous Lover), premiered in 1780 at the private theater of the Marquise de Montesson, wife of the Duke of Orleans, who appointed him musical director of her theater and gave him a residence in the ducal palace. (Bologna also served as the Duke’s hunting lieutenant.) The libretto was adapted from a play by the celebrated writer Madame de Genlis, who was a governess and tutor to the duke’s children. it is the only one of his operas to survive in complete form.
when the french revolution broke out in 1789, he joined the national guard in lille. in 1791 he was appointed colonel of the newly created legion franche de cavalerie des américains (American Free Legion of Cavalry), which was composed mainly of colored men; it soon became known as the legion saint-georges. Bologna served on the front lines, successfully repelling an attack by Austrian forces. Although he was a war hero, his close ties to the aristocracy made him an object of suspicion. he was imprisoned without trial in 1793, accused of false charges of embezzlement of public funds, for almost a year.
After his release, after having tried unsuccessfully to return to his command, he is believed to have traveled to Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). In 1797, after returning to Paris, he became director of a new orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, which performed at the former residence of the Duke of Orleans. he died in 1799, at the age of 53.