Program Notes: Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Written by Ronald Comber

Symphony  in D Major, Overture to “L’amant Anonyme” Op. 11 No. 2
Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1739-1799)

One of the most important figures in the Parisian musical scene in the second half of the eighteenth century, Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a composer of the first rank, a dashing horseman, and the finest swordsman in Europe. A mulatto born out of wedlock to a white plantation owner and his black mistress in Guadalupe, Saint-Georges was much loved and well supported by his parents and was given the best of education. Later, when he was nineteen, he became a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi through a combination of personal charm and family connections.

He soon began to make a reputation as a violinist-composer as well, achieving the post of Director of the Concert des Amateurs in 1771 (he would later conduct the premieres of all of Haydn’s ‘Paris’ Symphonies). Saint-Georges remained a popular public figure until the revolution, when he was denounced and arrested for having aristocratic connections. He died destitute in 1799.

Much of Saint-Georges’ music was lost or deliberately destroyed during the Revolution (Aristo! A la lanterne!) but that which survives is both masterful and engaging. Today’s Symphony No. 2, written apparently in 1775 as the Overture to his Opera L’amant anonyme, features a brilliant first movement, a moving slow movement and an engaging Finale.

The Symphony No. 1 in G Major, Op. 11, published with No 2 in 1779, is equally charming, featuring Mannheim crescendos in the first movement (very fashionable at the time), a tender slow movement, and a delightful Finale.

Overture to Idomoneo
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Idomoneo, considered to be the greatest Opera Seria ever written, occupies nonetheless an anomalous position of obscurity in relation to Mozart’s later operas.  Produced in 1781, it was his eleventh attempt at Opera Seria, and quite possibly, the one work upon which he lavished the most love.  Why, then, was it so rarely performed until relatively recently?  The most obvious reason is that although it represented the apogee of the Italian opera style, which went out of fashion before the ink had dried on the final page of the score (it only got three performances at its premiere in Munich). Sporadic attempts at revival were largely unsuccessful until a reappraisal of the work in the middle of the twentieth century, when it was seen to be a masterpiece. Mozart’s mastery is readily apparent, even in this brief Overture, in shortened Sonata form.

Finale of Symphony No. 86 in D Major, Allegro con spirito
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Although he was not working out of one of the European capitals, Haydn’s music gradually drew international interest. By the mid 1780’s Haydn’s works were growing extremely popular in Paris and a young nobleman, the Comte d’Ogny, decided to commission from Haydn a set of six symphonies for the Concert de la Loge Olympique, an orchestra administered by the Freemasons. Haydn was to be paid the sum of twenty-five Louis d’or for each symphony and a further five each for the rights of publication. The Symphonies were premiered in the 1787 season to consistent acclaim (Marie Antoinette was an ardent admirer).

Today’s Symphony No. 86 in D Major was written in 1786, the last of the series (No. 87 was in fact the first written). The Finale, a sparkling Allegro spiritoso, brings the work to a splendid peroration while showing the way to the future.

The Victoria Symphony performs on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen peoples and acknowledges with respect the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continues to this day. We extend our appreciation for the opportunity to live, create, and perform on this territory.