Storytime Joseph Bologne Composer
25th December 1745 – 10th June 1799
Joseph Bologne was born in the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, his mother Nanon was an enslaved woman of Senegalese origin and his father was a French plantation owner with noble ties.
He grew to be one of the first composers of African Caribbean descent.
France’s Black Code imposed harsh restrictions on freedom of religion plus marriage for the enslaved and non slaved living in the colonies.
So his Father moved young Joseph and Nanon to France to give Joseph a better education.
Joseph was a bright and gifted young child; he excelled in fencing, boxing, dancing and swimming.
When he was 13 he enrolled in a school that specialised in fencing and riding, and within a year he became one of the best swordsmen of Europe.
By the time he turned 17 he was made an officer of the king’s guard and given the title “Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges”
There is not much written of how he was musically trained; however he made his debut at Les Concerts Des Amateurs when he was 27.
Joseph was named conductor of the orchestra in 1773; it was seen as one of the finest orchestras in Paris and in Europe.
In 1781, he became the director of the newly formed orchestra Le Concert Olympique.
Queen Marie Antoinette, was a huge fan of Bologne’s work and attended a lot of his concerts.
In 1789 when the French Revolution broke out; he joined the National Guard.
In 1791, he was the colonel of the American Free Legion of Cavalry – which was mostly made up of men of colour.
Joseph was jailed for almost a year without trial; falsely accused of misusing public funds.
He raised suspicion because he was closely aligned with the aristocracy, it didn’t matter that he was a war hero.
When he was freed, he returned to making music; in 1797 he became a director of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie for two years until he died at the age of 53 from a bladder infection.
Much of his music was lost and forgotten because of the French Revolution; however there has been a renewed interest in his music over the last few decades.
There is a street named after him in Paris; he was also rumoured to be the inspiration behind Aramis in The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.
I will leave you this quote by Aramis:
The merit of all things; lies in their difficulty
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