Screenshot from the Black Mozart of Cuba.
Who was Joseph Boulogne? That was a question perhaps most of the audience were asking themselves before yesterday’s screening of the Black Mozart in Cuba. After the film, however, the question everyone was asking was: why hadn’t we heard of Le Chevalier de St George before?
Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de St George, was a classical composer and violin virtuoso born in Guadeloupe in the mid 18th century. A mulatto, the son of a slave and her master, he achieved enormous success in Paris and was said to be Marie Antoinette’s favourite musician. He was also a top fencer, and led a regiment of coloured soldiers during the French Revolution. Yet when he died in 1799 he was all but forgotten, allegedly the result of a campaign by Napoleon to have him erased from history.
Interest in Le Chevalier began to rekindle about 40 years ago; the film the Black Mozart is the latest act in the rehabilitation of the memory of this extraordinary human being. What makes the film more than just a typical biographical documentary, however, is its skillful combining of the life of the man with a look at a festival of events held in Cuba a few years ago to celebrate his life and work. The result is a truly engaging and important film.