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Black Mozart from Guadeloupe celebrates comeback as film star
A legend awakes: at the time of Mozart and Haydn, Joseph Boulogne was a musical super-star in Paris – the first great black composer, an exceptionally gifted foilsman and a feared army commander. Now the ‘Chevalier de Saint Georges’, as was his title, is celebrating a comeback: in a film about his life - a life full of secrets.

By Bernhard Grdseloff
 
Chevalier de Saint-George, composer and fencing master, on a contemporary painting...
Chevalier de Saint-George, composer and fencing master, on a contemporary painting...
 
...and on the film film poster: black Mozart.
...and on the film film poster: black Mozart.
 
 

"His mother was a black slave, and his father was her master – a white great land owner from Basse Terre," reports Jean-Claude Halley, chairman to the Black Mozart’s fan club in Guadeloupe. "In 1758 the 13-year-old went to Paris to study classical music. But not much is really known about what happened before."

In Paris the gifted mulatto embarks on a rapid career: Boulogne composes sonatas, concertos and symphonies. Queen Marie Antoinette appoints him as her music director, King Louis XVI makes him director of the Paris Opera. At the same time the virtuoso violinist acquires a legendary reputation as a fencing master. Halley: "He’s regarded as the founder of modern foil technique which served as a model for the three musketeers."

The incredible speed of a foil sword combined with a hint of Creole melancholy also characterises the Chevalier’s music. "There are hardly any soloists capable of playing like that," says musician Halley.

During the French Revolution the composer leads an army of black soldiers. Yet he falls out of favour with Napoleon, and many of his works are lost. "There‘s no trace of his 10 operas," regrets Halley. "Perhaps his revived popularity will make something turn up."
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