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Home -> Composers -> Saint-Georges, Le Chevalier de -> String Quartets


Saint-Georges String Quartets

Selected Recordings


Table of Contents

  1 Arion 55425
  2 Koch 3 6411 2H1 
  3 Integral A&A007
  4 Integral 221.125/1
  5 AFKA SK-557
  6 Avenira 276011 

  7 Assai 222622
  8 INT 221.148



Audio Samples: CDs 3, 4, 5, 6 & 8

(1) Arion 55425 (1998)
No. 1 in C Major, No. 2 in E-flat Major, No. 3 in G Minor, No. 4 in C Minor, No. 5 in G Minor & No. 6 in D Major
Jean-Noel Molard String Quartet;  Arion 55425 (1998).  Violinist Joel-Marie Fauquet writes in the liner notes:

Posterity has certainly remembered Saint-Georges, and the recording which Arion has devoted to four of the twelve extremely fine violin concertos, show that our attention to him is fully justified.
Saint-Georges developed the concerto form according to his own technical possibilities, but they always give way to the abundance and charm of his particularly sensitive, eloquent and pungent melodic gifts, often mingled with a touch of Creole melancholy.  These qualities are also to be found to the same extent in his chamber music, sonatas and string quartets.  The part played by Saint-Georges in the development of the quartet in France is no less eminent since it was with these Six string quartets  here recorded for the first time by Arion, that Saint-Georges revealed himself to his contemporaries as a composer.  That was in 1773, Saint-Georges can undoubtedly be placed alongside Francois Joseph Gossec, his teacher of composition, and Pierre Vachon (1731-1803) as one of the first exponents of this form.


(2) Koch Schwann 3-6411-2 H1 (1996)
Op. 15, No. 6 in G Minor 
Joachim Quartet;  Koch Schwann 3 6411 2 H1 (1996).  Carl de Nys writes in the liner notes:

A new form of chamber music was born and cultivated in France during the second half of the Age of Enlightenment.  The rise of the string quartet from the 1770s through to the beginning of the romantic era, cast it firmly in opposition to that of the Viennese School.  Two crucial factors provided a catalyst for the rise of a French school of quartets concertante  or "in dialogue", and the fashion for them began to compete with the symphony concertante, so much appreciated at the time by audiences of the Concert Spirituel  and the Concert des Amateurs.

(3) Integral Classic A&A007 (2002)
Op. 1. Nos. 2, 3, 4 & 5
String Quartet in G Major, Op. 1, No. 3
Antarès Quartet;  Integral Classic  A&A007 (2002)

(4) Integral Classic 221.125/1 (2003)
G.002, G.007, G.067 & G.068
String Quartet in B-flat Major, G.067
Antarès Quartet; Integral Classic INT 221.125/1 (2003).  The Web site of the Antares Quartet explains the artistic project at www.quatuor-antares.com [Translation by Webmaster]:
After an initial disc released in May 2002(Integral Classic A&A007), devoted to four of the earliest string quartets of Saint-Georges and to two of the Milan quartets of Mozart, the Antarès Quartet today presents a new recording (Integral Classic INT 221.125/1) devoted to Chevalier de Saint-Georges and to the young Mozart.
This disc is the second of four volumes which will constitute the complete works for string quartet of Chevalier de Saint-Georges performed by the Antarès Quartet on Integral Classic.

For reasons of historical and musical interest, the Antarès Quartet wished to include in these recordings the Milan quartets of Mozart, which were written in the same period of time in which the string quartet was being discovered and defined as a musical genre in its own right.
Although it is not known if they ever met, Mozart's second trip to Paris took place at a time at which Saint-Georges exercised a very great influence over French musical life.
The liner notes by Alain Guédé provide additional explanation of the context in which these works were composed:
Mozart had just left Paris after a series of setbacks when Saint-George began composing the six quartets of his second collection.  The dark-skinned composer was then at the height of his own fame. In just a few years, he had raised the Concert des Amateurs, to which direction he had succeeded Gossec, to the rank of best European orchestra.  His music-making attracted crowds to the Concert Spirituel, and Queen Marie-Antoniette herself attended a number of his performances.  Moreover, his opera La Chasse (The Hunt)  was performed before the court at Marly and then published by the King's printer.
Seven years after the first of the metis' compositions, his style had matured.  He had freed himself from the Italian influence which his first musicmaster Leclair had taught him in order to enrich his palette.  The harmony was richer and the instruments more readily put into dialogue with each other, rather than being exclusively at the service of the first or the solo violin.
Subsequently, Guédé turns specifically to String Quartet No. G. 068:
The faithful will detect an intense spirituality in this work.  Freemasons will discover in it a funerary ritual composed by a brother of the Order.  Others again will no doubt see a homage to his brothers in slavery who, some thousands of miles away, succumbed to their commanders' whips.  It is true that the melancholy rendered by this adagio could be to classical music what the blues is to jazz.
With the three other quartets by Saint-George selected here by the Antarès String Quartet, we are brought back to the salon music played in literary and artistic circles which was so successful during the Age of Enlightenment.  Music, which illustrates perfectly that period of quest for a better and more enlightened humanity.
This second volume of quartets by the so-called "Nègre des Lumières" shows us a composer who has attained the fullness of his art.

(5) AFKA Records SK-557 (2003)
No. 1 in B-flat Major, No. 2 in G Minor, No. 3 in C Major, No. 4 in F Major, No. 5 in G Major & No. 6 in B-flat Major
String Quartet No. 3 in C Major  Sample Time 5:03

Coleridge String Quartet;  AFKA SK-557 (2003).  Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor of Music at Lawrence University, writes in the liner notes:

These quartets, never before recorded - and feared lost by some - shed new light on 18th-century France and offer splendid opportunities for the enhancement of curricular, broadcasting, and repertoire plans, if not just for an individual's listening pleasure. Their elegant, aristocratic, and wistful moments add substantially to the growing reputation of Saint-Georges, "le nègre des lumières".
The cellist of the Coleridge String Quartet, William E. Thomas, adds in the liner notes:
These Quartets of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Joseph Boulogne), 1745-1799, were thought to be 'lost'.  The fact that they are titled Quartetto Concertants  has undoubtedly added to the confusion regarding the nature of these works.  They were published in 1779 by Durieu in Paris (rue Dauphine), although some believe the date of publication to be 1777.
These are extraordinary works.  They are not written in the style that was so popular at the time which generally featured the first violin with the other strings taking a supportive role.  What we hear instead is a conversation amongst equals.  The cello has ample opportunities to 'sing' and carry technically-demanding passages.  Equally the viola and second violin are called upon to share melodic material and negotiate the vigorous demands of Saint-Georges' writing.

(6) Avenira 276011 (2005) 
String Quartets, Op. 14
No. 1 in D Major, No. 2 in B-flat Major, No. 3 in F Minor, No. 4
in G Major, No. 5 in E-flat Major & No. 6 in G Minor
Apollon String Quartet; Avenira 276011 (2005). 
String Quartet No. 3 in F Minor
Michelle Garnier-Panafieu writes in the liner notes:

The Quartets Opus 14: tonalities and  morphology, writing and style

This collection combines, in a manner very rare at this period, two quartets in the minor key. It comprises two groups of three quartets, each consisting of two works in the major and one in the minor key; I D major, II B flat major, III F minor, IV G major, V E flat major, VI G Minor. In keeping with a practice that was current in France and adopted by Saint-George in his preceding quartets (e.g. Opus 1, Allegro Rondo or Allegro Minuet) they are all in two movements, rather short and in the same key. Without any indication of tempo, the first movements are constructed like Allegros in sonata form. The final movements are more diversified and have dance allusions (Tempo di minuetto of No IV); they are winsome and ornamental variations (Andante con variatione) of No. I and II; or they are characterised by their dynamism (Vivace and Allegro of No. III and VI). Saint-George excelled at handling modal contrasts like so many lighting effects.

The writing is clear and well adapted to the instruments, the melody tuneful and tender, embroidered with elegant arabesques of quaver violets; the themes are gracious and full of charm, endued with a kind of creole languor and melancholy qualified with a tenderness that is sometimes almost Mozartian.

Far from being the monopoly of the first violin, the melodic phrase passes alternately from this to the second violin and, quite often, to the cello playing in various registers, or to the viola. Saint-George likes to repeat his themes, the second time in a low or high octave.

He uses the procedures of the Mannheim
School (such as the Vorhalt that produces an impression of painful or solemn insistence) and like Gasviniès and Le Duc drops languorous touches in the melodic texture. This succession of Soli - the alternation between episodes of opposing character (melodically and rhythmically), the recurrence of sequences designed to prepare for the entrance of the soloist and his triumphs of virtuosity, the influence of orchestral writing (in unison) and vocal music(opera, light opera or love-song) bestow on his works the concertante style already referred to.

Inspired by the vocal model, Saint-George seems to go along with the aesthetic ideas of Rousseau and Diderot in favour of nature. He was also influenced by the pre-Romantic aesthetic of Sturm und Drang (note in particular the quartets in F and G minor), to which most composers of the period paid their tribute.

(7) Assai 222622 (2004)
String Quartets, Op. 11
No. 1 in D Major, No. 2 in C-flat Major, No. 3 in F Minor, No.
4 in G Major, No. 5 in E-flat Major & No. 6 in G Minor
Quatuor Atlantis; Assai 222622 (2004)

(8) Integral Classic INT 221.148 (2005)
G.069, G.070, G.071, G.072
String Quartet in G Major, G.071
Antarès Quartet;  Integral Classic INT 221.148 (2005)
Alain Guede writes in the liner notes:

The work of Saint-George follows his progression as a person, and we must thank the Antarès quartet for having undertaken this edition of the whole of his quartets.  This third volume allows us to notice a fascinating development in the musical writing of the Black composer.
These quartets were written in 1779, a period during which his style solidified.  Three years before, his opera La Chasse had been a great success at the Comédie Italienne, and was then played at the Court.  This piece is now widely considered one of the greatest classical works.  Saint-George soon crossed the line from the dialogue between voices to
the dialogue between instruments. Furthermore, the Parisian style was at that time the symphonia concertante, a new form characterized by a musical exchange between several soloist instruments.  In 1776, his symphonies concertante for violin and cello G.037 and G.038 were also a great success. This success preceded that of Mozart, who, immediately after his second trip to Paris, delivered in 1779 his concertante for violin and viola.

The musical writing of this second booklet of Saint-George's quartets is filled with this "atmosphere" he contributed to inspire.  His first opus, which he composed in 1772, was centred on the singing melodyof the first violin and was flooded with a very "Italian" lightness. The work of 1779 marked a very clear evolution.  The cello steals the show from the violin.  More exactly: it shares it.  These quartets take often the form of a symphonia concertante in miniature, with a conversation -sometimes charming, sometimes grave - between the cello and the violin, and the
viola occasionally inviting itself to join the duo. A change appears in the immersion as well.  The tonality is overall less light.  Thus, the second movement of the quartet in G major N° 5 G.071 conceals melancholic accents of unsettling beauty.  Antarès honors us once again with a delicate and intelligent
interpretation, which the audience of the
intellectual salons of the Enlightenment would have appreciated.  This recording is a delightful contribution to the work undertaken by this talented quartet for nearly six years.


This page was last updated on March 5, 2022

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