Magazine article Strings

The Chevalier De Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow

Magazine article Strings

The Chevalier De Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow

Article excerpt

The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow by Gabriel Banat. Pendragon Press,, $56.

In April 1793, General Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez, the commander-ln-chlef of the French Revolutionary Army, decided to commit treason: he would betray his forces to the Austrians, crown the son of the executed Louis XVI, and march on Paris. He sent an advance force to Lille, where Joseph Boulogne, colonel of a local regiment, arrested his appointed commander, and effectively thwarted the plan. Dumouriez fled to Austria. The tides of war soon turned in the favor of the revolutionaries.

Saving the revolution, one might think, would be distinction enough for most men. However, for Boulogne, the son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, it was but one chapter-and a late one at that-in an extraordinary life. So extraordinary in fact, many of the accounts of Boulogne's life, or as he was better known, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, comprise equal parts fact and fiction.

In his new book, author Gabriel Banat aims to set the record straight about this violinist, composer, and conductor and his accomplishments, digging out the hard and fast kernels of truth from a litany of continually retold fiction. In doing so, he transcends the merely biographical to paint a vivid portrait of an era, placing Boulogne squarely in the context of the social, political, and musical worlds he inhabited.

If any one person could be said to personify 18th-century France, it would be Saint-Georges. Though he first achieved renown in the last decades of the ancien regime as the greatest fencer of his generation and received an appointment to the King's personal bodyguard, Saint-Georges' reserved a place in history for becoming one of the greatest musicians of his time. Mozart even cited his influence.

He was one of the first to write in the new idiom of the string quartet. …

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