Chevalier de Saint-Georges, born Joseph Bologne, was a fencing prodigy and a master by his early 20s. His skill with sword and saddle allowed for him to mingle with other masters. Also, he would become acquainted with several people who would become important figures in French history.
While well known for his fencing ability, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was also a skilled violinist. It’s unknown if he was initially self-trained, trained by family, or classically trained. It also wasn’t known that he could play until he was in his late teens to early 20s. What is known is that he played as a child.
Many different accounts list several established composers and musicians as Saint-Georges’ teacher. Of those are Antonio Lolli, who dedicated two concertos to him, Jean-Marie Leclair, and Pierre Gavinies.
In 1769, he made his debut as a violinist for Francois Gossec’s Le Concert des Amateurs orchestra. Gossec would go to dedicate his Op. 9 six string trios to Saint-Georges. He continued to perform become the orchestra’s concertmaster in 1771 and debuted as a soloist a year later.
Between 1771 and 1779, he was prolific in French classical music producing several innovative compositions such as his Op. I. He also produced a number of sonatas, symphonies, concertos, and pioneered symphonie-concertantes.
Promotion to Director
His friend Francois Gossec would take up the director’s post at Concert Spirituel, a well-respected concert which filled in the slot when the big three concerts were off for the season. As a result, he made Chevalier de Saint-Georges the new director of Concert des Amateurs.
Under Saint-Georges, it gained a reputation of having a percussion of playing unmatched by other orchestras. He handled everything from who played and what they played to how the orchestra dressed for performances. The swordmaster continued to play the violin as a soloist during these performances.
Concert des Amateurs was the tightest orchestra in the country–some concert-goers of note would say on the continent. However, Chevalier de Saint-Georges had one problem: his reputation. While he wasn’t viewed unfavorably, he was viewed as a hyper-perfectionist—a taskmaster. Amateurs got its sterling reputation through Saint-Georges bringing a military approach to rehearsals, visuals, and performances.
This reputation would freeze him out of a career-crowning position over the Paris Opera.