Programs, Uncategorized

Symphonies of Josef Haydn on 3 December 2016

Saturday Evening, December 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm – Church of the Incarnation

THE DALLAS BACH SOCIETY | James Richman, Artistic Director


Symphony #6 in D Major “Le Matin”
Symphony #7 in C Major “Le Midi”
Symphony # 8 in G Major “Le Soir”

About the Program:

Joseph Haydn was of course one of the most important composers of the Classical era, and was known as the “Father of the Symphony”, having composed 104 of them! The set given this evening was the first group he wrote in his new position as Vice-Kapellmeister to Prince Paul Anton (Pál Antal) of Esterházy, in the year 1761. He was already 29 years old, and the times were changing as the Baroque era had run its course with the fashion for a simpler and more “Classic” style becoming predominant. While these symphonies owe a great deal to the Baroque concerto grosso format in a certain sense, what is different is the emphasis on solo instruments as opposed to pairs of instruments.

The large amount of solo writing in these works could just as well be thought of as an hommage by Haydn to the excellent players hired by Prince Paul Anton at the same time he was engaged by the Esterházy family. The Prince’s grandfather had been a poet, harpsichordist and composer, as well as a military leader who helped raise the siege of Vienna in 1683. Paul Anton was himself also a very musical man, playing the violin, flute, and lute, as well as being an important collector of manuscripts. With Haydn and the newly enhanced orchestra he had instantly made Esterházy an important venue, but alas he would not enjoy it for long as he himself died in 1762. Luckily for Haydn and the musical establishent (he would become Kapellmeister himself upon the death of the aged Gregor Werner) the new Prince Nikolaus (Miklos) the Magnificent also loved music and kept Haydn and the musical establishment for the rest of his life (until 1790).

Haydn’s early years were marked by trying apprenticeships and boy-choir placements, including at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, which nonetheless often left him literally hungry. He soon learned to crave free-lance singing where refreshments were often served by the hosts! When his voice changed at the age of 17 and he was no longer suitable for church singing he was forced to find his own way, but he was able to survive as a music teacher, street musician, and when he was 20, as the valet-accompanist to the important Italian composer Nicola Porpora, whom he later credited with teaching him the basics of composition. He also studied the Gradus ad Parnassum of Fux, and the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach for inspiration. He wrote his first opera at the age of 21, free-lanced for the palace in Vienna, and at the houses of Countess Thun and Baron Fürnberg, and finally got full-time employment with Count Morzin, in what is now the Czech Republic.

When the latter fell upon hard times and disbanded his orchestra, Haydn was picked up in 1761 by Prince Paul Anton and became a fixture at Esterházy for three decades. In a way it was lucky that in 1790 he was more or less let go by the new Prince Anton as the musical life of the castle was curtailed. Haydn was free to travel freely, as he had long realized the irony that even though he was the most famous composer in Europe, he was yet a duty-bound Kapellmeister in the remote Hungarian countryside. Haydn was fortunate to live long enough to be the toast of London and Paris, the mentor of Mozart and teacher of Beethoven! His first set of symphonies, fresh, lively and inventive, provide a lovely window into the world of his youth, and his own optimistic, lively, and endearing compositional style.


Since its founding in 1982 the Dallas Bach Society has been the primary resource in the Southwest for Baroque and Classic music on original instruments. Under the musical direction of James Richman, the Society unites the finest vocalists and instrumentalists from the Metroplex, all over the United States, and from abroad, in lively and informed performances of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell, Monteverdi, Couperin, Schütz and other period composers. Every season the Dallas Bach Society presents a full program of Baroque and Classic music on original instruments, featuring performances of favorites like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Passions,  Cantatas and Brandenburg Concertos, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as well as little known works of great music which would otherwise be heard only rarely, if at all. Significant recent performances include staged presentations of Monteverdi’s Ballo delle Ingrate and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and the modern staged premiere of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Zéphyre, both with the New York Baroque Dance Company; the Dublin and Mozart versions of Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Saint John Passion and Saint Matthew Passion, French cantatas with Bernard Deletré and Ann Monoyios from the Paris Opera, CPE Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano with fortepianist Christoph Hammer, and recordings for CD of Messiah and Bach solo Cantatas. Our performance of Messiah was chosen for broadcast nationwide by Public Radio International in 2012. The Board of Directors has defined the mission of the Dallas Bach Society as follows: to present in public performances of the highest quality music composed before 1800, especially the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, to encourage the development of this musical repertoire in the Dallas area for both performers and audience, and to promote and encourage public education and awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the musical art of the Baroque and earlier periods in our own time. Funding for the DBS includes grants from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, Texas Commission of the Arts, the Dallas Foundation, TACA, and private donations.  The DBS is a member of the Association of Professional Vocal Ensembles, the Neue Bach Gesellschaft, and is a founding member of Early Music America.

James Richman, Artistic Director of the Dallas Bach Society, is a prominent harpsichordist and fortepianist, as well as one of today’s leading conductors of Baroque music and opera. The first musician since Leonard Bernstein to graduate Harvard, Juilliard, and the Curtis Institute of Music, James Richman studied conducting with Max Rudolf and Herbert Blomstedt, piano with Rosina Lhevinne and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, and harpsichord with Albert Fuller and Kenneth Gilbert.  He holds a degree in the History of Science magna cum laude from Harvard College.  A recipient of the prestigious United States-FranceExchange Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he was made a chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1995, in recognition of his contributions to the field of music. James Richman has been a prizewinner in four international competitions for early keyboard instruments, including first prize in the Bodky Competition of the Cambridge Society of Early Music, laureate of the Bruges Harpsichord Competition, and bronze medal in the Paris Harpsichord Competition of the Festival Estival and in the First International Fortepiano Competition (Paris). In appearances at the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Spoleto Festival USA, the E. Nakamichi Baroque Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival, as well as in regular series in New York, he has organized and conducted revivals of stage works by Handel, Gluck, Purcell, J.C. Bach, Monteverdi, and seven operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau. He has recorded for Nonesuch, Newport Classic, Centaur, Vox and New World records, and his live performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #6 is featured on National Public Radio’s Bach CD, along with recordings of James Galway, Yo-Yo Ma and Christopher Hogwood.  He is also Artistic Director of New York’s Concert Royal ensemble, which appears annually with the Choir of Men & Boys at St. Thomas Church on 5th Avenue in performances of Messiah and the great works of Bach & Purcell.

James Andrewes performs with many North American period instrument ensembles including the Dallas Bach Society, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Bach Society Houston, Ars Lyrica Houston, and the Orchestra of New Spain. As a member of the early music group ¡Sacabuche! he has performed in China and Macau as well as throughout the U.S. and Canada, and can be heard on its recent recording of 17th Century Italian Motets on the ATMA Classique label (2015). He has directed and performed in several cantatas for the ongoing Bloomington Bach Cantata Series in Bloomington, Indiana.

James grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he began violin lessons at the age of five. He attained a Bachelor of Music (University of Otago), Master of Music (University of Oregon), and a Post-Masters Certificate in String Quartet Performance (University of Colorado) under the mentorship of the Takács Quartet. In 2011 he graduated with a second Masters degree at Indiana University, where he studied Early Music and Baroque violin with Stanley Ritchie. As a student he attended various festivals and workshops including the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar and the San Francisco Early Music Society summer workshops. In 2010 he was one of a select group of young musicians invited to participate in a national tour of New Zealand as part of the Wallfisch Band directed by baroque violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch.

Dallas Bach Orchestra:

James Andrewes, Concertmster

Marie-Elise MacNeely, Principal Second Violin

Thane Isaac, Michelle Hanlon, Helen Shore, Sarah Marshall, Violins

Miguel Cantu, Viola

Eric Smith, Cello

Randy Inman, Bass

Tamara Meredith, Janelle West, Flauto traverso

Mariana Riva, Sung Lee, Classical Oboe

Stephanie Corwin, Classical Bassoon

James Hampson, Burke Anderson, Natural Horn


The “Goldberg” Variations

The Dallas Bach Society
7 May 2016

J.S. Bach – Klavierübung Teil IV: “The Goldberg Variations” BWV 988
James Richman, Harpsichord

About the Program:

The Air with Diverse Variations which make up the fourth and final section of Bach’s encyclopedic Klavierübung are widely conceded to be his ultimate keyboard work. None of his other works exploit the harpsichord so perfectly, and this is one case where the piano fails most thoroughly at providing either the distinctive coloration which is at the heart of the piece, or the technical means for its realization. While the variations are indeed “profound”, complicated, and in general “learned”, as the 18th century would have put it, they are also a work of enormous lyricism and sensual beauty, as well as great playfulness.

The most interesting development in modern times concerning the Bach repertoire is surely the discovery in the early 1970’s of Bach’s own annotated copy of the printed edition of the Goldberg Variations. Appearing in one of three piles of music sold to settle the estate of a music professor in Alsace in the 1930’s, this first edition with its red ink markings was widely known, and sat on the music desk of its owner Prof. Paul Blümenroeder for over forty years before he took it to be rebound. Then a page containing fourteen canons on the Goldberg bass line in an all too familiar hand fell out of the tattered leather binding, and when the red- ink corrections in the printed copy were examined more closely, they too were found to be Bach’s own.

In addition to correcting various wrong notes, Bach clarifies our understanding of the work with his annotations in this copy, which of course became immediately the unique source for the work. He adds Adagio to the famous 25th “Black Pearl” variation, which was no surprise, although the verification of the disputed appogiaturas which smooth out the dramatic jumps in its opening were probably a disappointment to those looking for the equivalent of verismo drama in eighteenth-century keyboard music. The 7th variation is now officially a tempo di giga, and in general there are numerous ornaments which were omitted in the printed version, or perhaps added by Bach later – most striking of all are the appogiaturas in virtually every bar of the 26th variation, which was already so florid that no one today would have ever dreamed of enriching it further.

Finally, it seems that the lovely story related by Spitta about Count Keyserling and his goblet with a hundred louis d’or must suffer serious doubt. Aside from the obvious fact that a printed score would surely have borne a dedication in recognition of such a fabulous commission, we are now faced with the discovery that Goldberg the harpsichordist, who supposedly lulled the count to sleep with this work, was baptized in 1727, which would have made him twelve or thirteen when it was composed and fourteen when it was published. It may be quite true that he played Keyserling to sleep with this music, but it is far more likely to have been in the late 1740’s at the earliest and, sadly, probably from a copy purchased for a very much less princely sum.


Bach’s Saint John Passion program

19 March 2016 8:00 p.m. at Church of the Incarnation

The Dallas Bach Society
James Richman, Artistic Director

BWV 245 (LEIPZIG 1723)

Dann Coakwell, Evangelist
David Grogan, Jesus
Nicholas Garza, Servus
Audrey Brown, Ancilla
Charles Moore, Pilatus
Jason Awbrey, Petrus
Claire Daniels, Soprano
Agnes Vojtko, Alto
Nicholas Garza, Tenor
Patrick Gnage, Bass

About the Program:

To herald his arrival in Leipzig in 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a dramatic setting of the story of Christ’s final hours which he called his Johannes-Passion, or Passion According to Saint John. No doubt anxious to establish from the outset his complete mastery of church music, he made the work an outpouring of human emotions surrounding the sacred story, depicting in lively settings the voice of Christ, the message of the Evangelist, as well as the human feelings of the chorus, who from time to time represent the pious Christian congregation, the forces of the Roman Empire, and the angry crowd of Jews desperate to have Christ crucified.

This multiplicity of roles for the chorus is entirely in keeping with he practice in Baroque opera, where the chorus as a rule took on whatever identity of massed characters was called for, turning from courtiers to soldiers, peasants, or exotic nations, without so much as a costume change! The illustration of character and emotion took precedence, and standard stage dress would be altered usually by no more than a character symbol held by each chorister. As Bach wrote no opera, having made the decision to devote himself to the perfection of church music, his two great passions in effect represent this genre for us in his complete works. It is in these compositions that his most telling examples of Baroque characterization are found, and they are indeed powerful.

The obvious problem with such dramatic works was that everyone already knew the story, and how it would end. Thus the elements of suspense and surprise are not available, and indeed Bach opens the second half of Saint John with a Chorale which tells virtually the entire plot in a few bars. It is a sign of his consummate power as a composer that it matters not at all that we know what will happen, as his illustration of it in sound is so moving that it draws our attention in and of itself.

Bach uses the devices of the opera to teach this holy lesson, with the addition of the unusual character of the apostle himself telling the story, as in the Bible. This role of the Evangelist, however, derives directly from the “Mercury” characters in other operas, always a high tenor, a messenger telling us a narrative, only here made into the most important character aside from Jesus himself. Jesus is represented by the bass voice, in keeping with the Baroque norm for all gods, sorcerers and the like (through Mozart’s Sarastro in the Magic Flute), but especially meaningful for Bach as the fundamental bass, from which grows all music like an overtone series. When the bass is missing in Bach, and the high overtone chromatics dominate, we are usually far from the Lord!

The arias are also employed as in opera, taking time out from the action to give us a picture of the state of mind and emotions of the solo singer, here representing a member of the Christian people. In Saint John, these are mostly contemplative on the part of various Christian people affected by aspects of the story, and range from the naive apostle singing “I follow you with joyous steps” with the sound of innocent flutes, to the extremely sad “It is fulfilled” when the death of Jesus is at hand, accompanied by a mournful solo gamba. In the end, however, Bach transcends opera to produce a moving rendition of Biblical Truth, confined by no particular form, but rather using every possible means to transmit the Word in music.

About the Artists:

DANN COAKWELL, Evangelist, tenor, is sought after as a performer of Bach, Handel, and their contemporaries, who specializes in J.S. Bach’s Evangelist and the tenor roles of Benjamin Britten. He can be heard as a soloist on the Grammy-winning Conspirare: The Sacred Spirit of Russia, 2014 (Harmonia Mundi) and Grammy-nominated Conspirare: A Company of Voices, 2009. Coakwell has performed as a soloist internationally and nationally under such acclaimed conductors as Helmuth Rilling, Masaaki Suzuki, William Christie, Nicholas McGegan, Matthew Halls, John Scott, and Craig Hella Johnson. Coakwell has performed multiple times in New York’s Carnegie Hall, and he made his Lincoln Center New York solo debuts at both Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall to critical acclaim in 2014. He has appeared as a soloist with organizations such as Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart in Germany, Bach Collegium Japan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco, Oregon Bach Festival, and Conspirare.

DAVID GROGAN, Christus, bass, has performed extensively throughout the southwest, having appeared as a soloist with Dallas-Fort Worth area arts groups such as the Fort Worth Symphony, Dallas Bach Society, Plano Civic Chorus, Denton Bach Society, Texas Baroque Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Singers, Texas Camerata, Fort Worth Baroque Society, and several Texas universities. Recent performances include the Handel’s Messiah with Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys in NYC, Handel’s Acis and Galatea with Mountainside Baroque in Maryland, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, TX. The Dallas Morning News hailed Dr. Grogan as the “perfect Christus” after a performance of the Saint Matthew Passion with the Dallas Bach Society. The Albuquerque Tribune, in reference to a performance of Messiah with the New Mexico Symphony, said, “David Grogan had all the range and power required of the part, sounding like the voice of doom in “The people that walked in darkness” and the light of revelation in “The trumpet shall sound.” A performance of Elijah had critics praising his ability to “move easily from stentorian declamation to lyrical aria.” Another critic said that he “….brought an impressive vocal power to the lead role of Elijah, and his rich emotive gift set the level for the other chief performers.” The Dallas Morning News said “His meaty bass shook the heavens and the earth and sounded the trumpet with imposing conviction.”

CLAIRE DANIELS, soprano, is equally at home performing as a soloist, chamber musician, and choral singer. At the 2014 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, she performed with Arethusa Musica in the Young Performer’s Festival, Battle of the Early Bands, and the Fringe. Recently relocated to Dallas, she was soon asked to join the Orpheus Chamber Singers. She has also performed with Ensemble VIII, Texas Early Music Project, ¡Sacabuche!, Bloomington Bach Cantata Project, the University of Texas Chamber Singers, Concentus, Pro Arte Singers, and also portrayed the role of Cupid in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis with the Indiana University Baroque Orchestra. She was a featured soloist on Glad Tidings of Great Joy, a Christmas special aired by Public Radio International. While pursuing a master’s degree in early music performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, she studied with Paul Elliott and Mary Ann Hart. She received her undergraduate degree in Choral Music Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

AGNES VOJTKO, Hungarian mezzo-soprano, has established herself as a versatile and genuine artist both on the operatic and concert stage. Currently she is teaching at Southwestern University while frequently engaged as a concert soloist. Recent appearances include Mahler’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with American Bach Soloists, Mass in B Minor and St. Matthew Passion with Dallas Bach Society and concerts with Houston Baroque. Last June she performed Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (Schoenberg version) at UC Davis. Agnes has appeared with Austin Lyric Opera, Opera in the Heights and in Hungary with Ars Classica Chamber Opera and Budapest Chamber Opera. After she completed a bachelor’s degree at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, she moved to the United States as a Fulbright fellow to attend The University of Texas at Austin, where she obtained the Doctor of Musical Arts degree under the guidance of Darlene Wiley.

NICHOLAS GARZA, tenor, studied at University of Texas at Arlington as a Vocal Performance major with Jing Ling-Tam and David Grogan. Originally from Harlingen, Texas, Nicholas was a four-year Texas All-State Mixed Choir member, an Outstanding Soloist for Texas State Solo Ensemble, and a Competition winner in Classical Voice/Tenor at the 2010 NFAA YoungARTS. He has performed with Mountainside Baroque in Maryland as the Tenor soloist for the Telemann oratorio Der Tod Jesu and also was alto soloist for the Big Moose Bach Festival in New Hampshire. He worked with noted singer and conductor Simon Carrington as a singing fellow at the 2011 and 2012 Norfolk Chamber Music Festival of Yale University. He performs with many professional groups around the Metroplex including the Dallas Bach Society, Orpheus Chamber Singers, Orchestra of New Spain, the Fort Worth Opera Chorus and Christ the King Catholic Church. He has been called a “stand-out soloist” by the Dallas Morning News and has been hailed for his “appealing tenor, sinewy in the lower register, sweetly soft-edged on high.”

PATRICK J. GNAGE, baritone, studied voice at the Eastman School of Music and holds two degrees in Voice Performance and Literature. Mr. Gnage has been featured as soloist in all of the major oratorios of J.S. Bach, as well as the oratorios and choral works of Handel, Monteverdi, Carissimi, Mozart, Vaughan Williams, and Duruflé, performing with such ensembles as The Publick Musick, Orchestra of New Spain, Rochester Bach Festival Chorus, Concert Royal and the Dallas Bach Society. A new addition to his repertoire this season is the role of Jesus in Bob Chilcott’s version of the St John Passion, heard at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas. Patrick also appears on recordings released by Naxos American Classics and Sonabilis.


Le Mozart Noir: Program

Friday evening, February 26 and Saturday Evening February 27, 8:00 p.m.
Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts

The Dallas Bach Society James Richman, Artistic Director with
Yatande Boko, Haitian Drums Joanna Lynn-Jacobs, Mezzo-Soprano James Andrewes, Violin Soloist Quartet Galant and
Contemporary Ballet Dallas Valerie Shelton Tabor, Artistic Director and Choreographer

Present: Le Mozart Noir: The Untold Story

Narrator: Brandon Chase McGee
Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Terrance Johnson
Marie Joseph, Love Interest: Addison Holmes
Father of the Chevalier: Bryan Cunningham
Mother of the Chevalier: Kirsten Hamm
Soul of the Slave: Darrell Cleveland
Fencing Instructor: Trevor Wright
Dancers: Colby Calhoun, Marielle McGregor, Stephen McMaryion, Laura Pearson, Sophi Siragusa, Lea Zablocki
Music by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de St. George, except as noted

I. Youth

Drums of the Indies
Yatande Boko, Drummer
Dancers: Colby Calhoun, Darrell Cleveland, Kirsten Hamm, Terrance Johnson, Marielle McGregor, Stephen McMaryion, Laura Pearson & Sophi Siragusa

The Opera House
“Son amour, sa constance extrême” from L’Amant anonyme, Chevalier de St-George
Joanna Lynn-Jacobs, Soprano

Trio of Mother, Son, Daughter Quartet in C minor – Allegro

Contredanse: “Le Saint-Georges”
(named for the Chevalier, composer unknown)

Reconstructed from period notation by Catherine Turocy
Dancers: Addison Holmes, Bryan Cunningham, Terrance Johnson, Marielle McGregor, Laura Pearson, Trevor Wright, and Lea Zablocki

II. Investment

Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord

Learning to Fence
Quartet in G Minor – Allegro

III. Ego

Dance of Swooning Ladies
Quartet in C Major – Allegro assai


Aria: “Son amour, sa constance extrême” from L’Amant anonyme, Chevalier de St-George

IV. Identity

Pas de Deux of the Chevalier & Marie Minuet & Interruption
The Struggle/Call to Action

Music composed by Mark Landson (2016) Dance of the Brigade

V. Humility

Violin Concerto in D, Opus 3 #1, Adagio

Violin Concerto in D, Opus 3 #1, Rondo

This production made possible in part with a generous grant from the Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund of TACA.

Stage Manager: Natalie Young
Set Design: Scott Tatum
Technical Director: Carlos Castillo
Lighting Design: Suzanne Lavender
Costume Design: Fernando Hernandez
Dance of the Brigade: Stephen McMaryion
Project Dance Consultants: Catherine Turocy and Marcea Daiter
Production Coordinator for Booker T. Washington HS: Paul Bain

About the Program:

The story of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges is unique. The support of the New Works Fund has allowed us to attempt something more than just of concert of his music. Instead we have decided to present a more involved new creation with the hope of recreating the context of his life and times. Given the nature of eighteenth-century theater and dance, it would be extraordinarily difficult to tell his story through period forms – the narrative ballet was only being invented at this time, and its subject matter was not realistic or historical in any event.

Thus comes our decision to use a “modern” ballet in order to relate the Chevalier’s story for today’s audience, and its desire to go beyond the formalities of the Classic period in music history. In such a context it also necessary to go beyond the music of the period, and thus the decision to commission some new music from a composer who has worked with the choreographer, for the conflict sections of the ballet where Classic period music would seem too formal for today.

A final consideration is that it is most difficult even to produce a concert of music entirely by Classic period composers unless they happen to be named Mozart or Haydn, or happen to be sons of Sebastian Bach. It is so very odd that the Classical style, inspired by the rediscovery of Roman forms with the excavation of Pompeii in 1767, led to a total revolution in music which today is exemplified by two great geniuses, Haydn and Mozart, almost to the exclusion of their peers. While occasionally operas by Gluck, Cimarosa, and even Hasse, are performed, it is exceedingly rare for a symphony of Cannabich, Saint-Georges, or even Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to be played in concert in our time!

Our ballet as imagined by Ms. Shelton Tabor is designed to illustrate the rich fabric of the Chevalier’s life and times, and its meaning for today’s artistic world, using today’s dance forms, and employing music of the Chevalier and his era, as well as some new music by Mark Landson based on historical models. Our profound thanks go to the Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund of TACA for their generous support of this project.

DBS_CBD LeMozartNoir Marketing Photo_3
Le Mozart Noir, adored by women, was a consumate musician and conductor, master swordsman, and fighter during the French Revolution

Le Mozart Noir: Historical Background

Joseph Bologne, known as the Chevalier de St. Georges, was born in 1745, the son of a French planter in the West Indies and an African servant. Taken to Paris at age seven by his father to be educated, he became an excellent violinist and a swordsman of the highest caliber, and was a noted personality in Paris for a long time. Having been a star student starting at age thirteen at the Academie royale polytechnique des armes et de l’equitation, he defeated at the age of seventeen the head of a rival academy, thus making his reputation. On the other hand, we know nothing precise about his musical education, although it is clear he must have studied the violin assiduously. In 1764, the composer Antonio Lolli composed two violin concertos for him, and in 1766 the renowned Francois-Joseph Gossec dedicated a set of six Trios to him, so clearly his talents were developed early and blossomed alongside his military prowess.

When his father returned to Guadaloupe in 1764 after the Seven Years War, he left Joseph and his mother well set up in Paris with a large annuity. When he graduated the Academie royale in 1766 he was made a Gendarme du roi and a Chevalier, took his father’s Saint-Georges (actually the name of one of his plantations settled on him when he was made a Gentleman of the King’s Chamber in 1757), and thenceforth was known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

In 1769 he joined Gossec’s newly-formed orchestra Le concert des amateurs, and by 1771 was the concertmaster. The following year he performed his first two concertos, with Gossec conducting, to great applause. In the following eight years, he composed three sets of six string quartets (the first such composed in France), fourteen violin concertos, two symphonies, eight sinfonia concertantes, followed by six operas comiques, a truly prodigious amount of music considering the extent of his other activities. In 1773 Gossec took over the troubled Concert spirituel, and named the Chevalier as his successor at the Amateurs. In less than two years under his direction, this orchestra became the most disciplined group in Paris since Lully’s time, with a reputation all over Europe. Queen Marie-Antoinette attended their concerts at the Palais de Soubise, and as she sometimes appeared without warning, the musicians took to wearing court attire at all times. As a contemporary source reported: “Dressed in rich velvet or damask with gold or silver braid and fine lace on their cuffs and collars and with their parade swords and plumed hats placed next to them on their benches, the combined effect was as pleasing to the eye as it was flattering to the ear.”

When his father, who had returned to Guadaloupe, died in 1774, the annuity he had bestowed on the Chevalier was assigned to his legitimate half-sister, and he had to cease donating his services to the Amateurs, who commenced paying him generously, based on how the orchestra had become the largest and most prestigious ensemble in Europe.

In 1781, the Amateurs were disbanded for financial reasons, but the Chevalier appealed to his friend and fencing partner the Duke of Chartres, who had recently united the Masonic organizations in France, and the Duke revived the orchestra as part of la Loge Olympique, an exclusive Freemason lodge. As Le Concert Olympique, it performed in the grand salon of the Palais Royal, with essentially the same musicians. In 1785 the Count D’Ogny, grandmaster of the lodge and member of the cello section, authorized the Chevalier to commission a set of symphonies from Franz Josef Haydn, his Paris Symphonies, which were premiered in a large hall with the Chevalier conducting before the large public interested in Haydn’s work. The Chevalier also negotiated with Haydn for his commission, which was quite generous, and included an extra sum for residuals – normally composers got nothing once their pieces were out in the world.

The one instance where racial discrimination affected the career of the Chevalier occurred when his name was put forward by a “consortium of capitalists” (according to Baron Grimm) to take over the trouble Academie royal de musique (the Paris Opera). It seems that three of the sopranos, perhaps alarmed by the discipline the Chevalier imposed on his ensembles, petitioned the Queen to the effect that they could not be expected to take direction from a black man. The Chevalier immediately withdrew his name from consideration to avoid embarrassing the Queen, but the fallout from the affair led Louis XVI to take back the institution from the city of Paris (it had been given to the city by Louis XIV almost a century before), and led the Queen to have her musicales in the privacy of her chambers at Versailles, where the audience was her private circle and only a few musicians were invited to play. She probably played piano with the Chevalier playing the violin in his sonatas.

In 1785 the Duke of Orleans died, and the Chevalier’s friend the Duke of Chartres acceded to this title. With his old circle unable to help him, the Chevalier was once again saved by his friend, who set him up in an apartment in the Palais Royal, where he inevitably was drawn into the plots to make France a constitutional monarchy under the Duke, a path seen by the Orleanist side as the only way to avoid a bloody revolution. The story of the Chevalier becomes very complicated politically at this point, as he became an important player, sent to London, and eventually returning to France to lead what became known as the Legion Saint-Georges, the regiment of blacks fighting for the Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, starting in 1792.

Joseph Boulogne