The historical drama “Chevalier” transports viewers to the French royal court of the 1700s, where a young man – the title character – rises from obscurity to become an internationally renowned musician and composer. However, the true story of the man known as “the Chevalier” is far more impressive than the movies imagine.
Who was Chevalier?
The Chevalier’s full name and title was Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Born in 1745, he was the son of Georges de Boulogne Saint-Georges, a wealthy and married plantation owner in the then French Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe (today an overseas department of France), and an enslaved Senegalese woman named Nano. Jo was most likely 16 when her son was born.
Saint-Georges accepted the existence of Joseph and his relationship with him. Starting at the age of eight, Joseph was taken to France to be educated at a Jesuit school, and his parents joined him in France a few years later. By the time he was a teenager, Joseph was increasingly gaining attention as a skilled fencer. Soon, his achievements were so great that he attracted the attention of King Louis XV, who named him an officer of the royal guards and a cavalier—hence his most famous moniker, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Years later, he continued to hone his fighting skills by fighting in the French Revolution (in the service of the First Republic).
His swordsmanship, however, would not be his only claim to fame. When he was in his twenties, Joseph burst onto the music scene as a violin prodigy and composer, historically little is known about how he received his musical training. He earned a reputation for his concerts and his performances, especially with a new symphony orchestra called Les Concerts des Amateurs; He became the conductor of the orchestra in 1773 and it received much acclaim. He was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, among other giants of classical music. During his musical career, he was also commissioned by theaters to write operas and was invited to appear in the salons of wealthy aristocrats.
Was Chevalier Black?
The original Chevalier was a mixed-race black man, the son of a white plantation owner and a black slave woman. As a result – despite his talent, fame and acclaim – he faced many obstacles in his career and life. In 1776, he was a leading candidate to take over as music director of the Paris Opera, but a group of singers wrote directly to Queen Marie Antoinette (who was herself a student of Joseph), insisting that he They will not take orders from Mixed. Caste man. The queen did not intervene directly, nor did she defend her tutor, and news of the petition was sufficient to cancel Yusuf’s application.
For many years, “Chevalier’s” legacy has been overshadowed by the greater fame of his white contemporaries. He has also been referred to as “The Black Mozart” on several occasions. Indeed, his legacy should and can stand on its own as a “Renaissance Man” who was skilled and renowned both athletically and artistically, and was among the first of African descent to achieve widespread fame and critical acclaim. As the first known European composer and musician.
A close friend of his wrote a biographical notice a few decades after his death and, unlike other famous composers of the period, it is very clear that music was just one aspect of Boulogne’s personal and professional identity. Admire the character and his achievements as a swordsman, a dancer, a swimmer, an ice skater, and so on. It’s really extraordinary,” music professor Julia Dow told The Guardian.
“The Chevalier” is the first major on-screen portrayal of this remarkable life, but it appears not to be the last.