The music of the man lauded in ‘The Chevalier’

Before Amadeus, there was Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The 18th-century Black composer, musician, adventurer and advocate — “at the intersection of forces that all became more famous than he” — is celebrated in the concert-theater work The Chevalier. Written by Bill Barclay, The Chevalier will receive its Midwest premiere in performances presented by Music of the Baroque with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. ’

The Chevalier explores Bologne's many achievements, often unsung in his time and little-known until recently. Among his accomplishments, he introduced Mozart to the symphony concertante format, in which two soloists share the spotlight — "like a good duel," Barclay writes. "Mozart’s artistic debt has never been attributed to Bologne.”

In addition, Bologne (1745-1799) inspired Alexandre Dumas père (1802–1870) — who, like Bologne, was also the son of a Caribbean slave and French aristocrat — in defending France and liberating the islands from slavery. Aramis, one of Dumas' Three Musketeers, is based on Bologne’s reputation as an adventurer and champion fencer.

Regarded as the first Black opera composer, Bologne created a new opera with Choderlos de Laclos, author of Dangerous Liaisons, and joined him in the cause of the French Revolution. 

The following playlist features Bologne's works, as performed on the 2019 Sony reissue with Paul Freeman (1936-2015), founder of the Chicago Sinfonietta, leading the London Symphony Orchestra, along with tracks by the Juilliard String Quartet. The second playlist, drawn from three commercial discs, focuses on works, including ones by Mozart and Gluck, excerpted in The Chevalier.

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