________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover The Other Mozart: The Life of the Famous Chevalier de Saint-George.

Hugh Brewster. Illustrated by Eric Velasquez.
New York, NY: Abrams, 2007.
48 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
ISBN 978-0-8109-5720-6.

Subject Headings:
Saint-George, Joseph Boulogne, chevalier de, d. 1799-Juvenile literature.
Musicians-France-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Racially mixed people-France-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Nobility-France-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Jessica Peterson.

*** /4


On the night of the performance, Joseph took his place at the front of the orchestra and bowed to the king and queen and the glittering assembly of guests. He raised his arms and the overture began. La Chasse was a comedy and the audience laughed in all the right places. At the end, they cheered Joseph and his singers. Joseph bowed to the audience and to the king and queen. As Mare Antoinette nodded graciously in return, the diamonds in her hair sparkled more brightly than ever.

The Other Mozart is an informative biography of the life and achievements of Chevalier de Saint-George (or Joseph Bologne as he is referred to by the narrator). It is a triumphant account of a man who refuses to be bound by the colour of his skin and who grows to be a world famous composer. Throughout the story of Chevalier de Saint-George’s life, there are many other topics covered, including 18th century French society, the slave trade, the French revolution, fencing and music. Chevalier de Saint-George was born in the West Indies to a wealthy French planter (Georges de Bologne-Saint-George) and an African slave (Nanon). Although his mixed ancestry would normally hinder the social growth of a man in the 18th century, Chevalier de Saint-George grew to become not only a world renowned fencer, but he was also a talented and well known violinist playing for the French royalty, including Marie Antoinette. Chevalier de Saint-George’s success as a violinist quickly led him to a career in conducting and composing. He wrote numerous operas as well as concertos and sonatas and came to be a household name along with the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Because of this comparison, Chevalier de Saint-George eventually took on the nickname of “The Other Mozart.” During this time, the French Revolution broke out in response to the inequality of the upper and lower classes, and despite his fame and new found title of Colonel to the French army, Chevalier de Saint-George became a prisoner of treason. A year after his release, Chevalier de Saint-George served as a mediator to the French army during uprisings of plantation slaves in Haiti. Upon return from this dangerous trip, Chevalier de Saint-George continued to conduct and to compose his music and died a natural death. A man of such achievements was honoured in death, and his music is still being played by orchestras to this day.

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     This book could be enjoyed as a recreational read, but it would also be a wonderful resource for young readers working on a research project. The book’s layout can be slightly confusing at times. While most of the book chronologically follows the events of Chevalier de Saint-George’s life, at intervals throughout the book, timelines explain further the political unrest in France at the time. As well as timelines, there are text boxes on many pages which explain some of the rich vocabulary used (such as a brief introduction to the guillotine) as well as introduce new individuals mentioned in the biography (such as Marie Antoinette or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Although the text boxes are very informative and there is a small glossary, I feel as though this rich vocabulary should be accompanied by an expanded glossary unless the reader has at least some background knowledge of the politics and social order of the period of time in which the events of this book occur.

     The Other Mozart contains many wonderful visuals to aid readers in understanding aspects of eighteenth century France. There is a fine mix of decorative and functional illustrations. While there are many lovely full page oil paintings by Eric Velasquez, the illustrator, there is also an abundance of etchings, paintings, and photographs relating to this historical period. The etchings include images of plantations and gentlemen fencing as well as historical paintings of political figures, social gatherings and uprisings. The photographs illustrate items like violins and the guillotine. Velasquez’s rich oil paintings portray Joseph Bologne at different stages of his life and provide readers with further character background, suggesting a confident, strong and proud man. The breadth of illustrations allow readers to get fully involved in this time period by allowing them to visualize the extravagance of the time while showing how a man of colour might find it difficult to fit into such a society.


Jessica Peterson is a student in the Early Years Education Program at the University of Manitoba. She holds a degree in Fine Arts and is currently student teaching in a Grade 1/2 classroom in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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