Joseph Bologne was born in Baillif, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe as the illegitemate son of George Bologne de Saint-Georges and one of his African slaves, called Anne, known as Nanon. Unusually, his father supported Joseph's upbringing, and took him to France to be educated and to serve in the military. It was due to his military prowess, that Joseph Bologne earned the title 'Chevalier' to which he added his father's surname.
Bologne's real talent lay in music. He was taught the violin as a child, and also learned to compose. As an African man, he was something of a sensation to many of the conservative audiences in Paris; a place where a person of African descent was unable to hold a title, property, or land, and was even barred from marriage, due to the racial prejudices the society held. He joined the orchestra Les Concert des Amateurs, which he later went on to lead, and made his debut as a soloist, playing his own newly composer violin concerto with them in 1772.
Amongst many instrumental compositions, it is thought that Bologne also composer at least six operas. The only one known to still exist in full is L'Amant Anonyme. He was offered the position of director of Paris Opera in 1776, but was forced to decline the offer after he faced an objection, based on his race, from the sopranos in the company.
During his lifetime, Joseph Bologne was known as 'Le Mozart Noir' or 'Black Mozart', as his compositional skill was considered the parallel of his contemporary composer, Mozart. The comparison is primarily a retrospective one, however, as much of Mozart's work came after Bologne was already well established, and Mozart's dislike of Bologne is well documented.
Sadly, many of Bologne's manuscripts were lost, and probably destroyed, during the French Revolution.
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