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Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph…

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de…

by Lesa Cline-Ransome

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Joseph Boulogne was the only son of Guillaume-Pierre a plantation owner and one of his slaves Nanon. At the time of his birth Joseph was destined to accomplish many things when a midwife predicted that he would be meeting the king and queen on France at some time. Joseph walked the plantation in Guadeloupe with his father and would go into town with his mother, when he would come home at night he was given violin lessons by the plantation overseer. After years of living on Guadeloupe, his father decided that he was wealthy enough and that he would return to Paris with his family. Although he was the son of a plantation owner, Joseph was never looked at as anything other than a "mulatto" once they arrived in Paris. He never let the comments and actions of others influence his outlook on life. Joseph received a violin for his birthday one year and devoted himself to music. He had teachers hired to better his talents and they continued to push him toward his goal. He eventually went to work for an orchestra and was moved up to first chair and timekeeper, this was the one of the most important jobs! While Joseph was in his position, the orchestra grew and was soon having to move to different locations because of the crowds. Joseph started composing his first opera while he was working this job, and later went on to write 6 in total. He soon inspired the man we know as Mozart to perform and they would share the stage on alternate nights; although the never met. After one nights performance, Joseph was approached by a man in a uniform who gave him an invitation to the king and queens palace at Versailles. When he was at the castle there was no treatment on the color of his skin or even the slightest of statements, they were there to hear him play his music. Finally, the prediction came true and Joseph met the royals.

This is a great book to use even in a music class or lesson. I would enjoy having students get to see a different side than the normal on this topic. I think that this was a well written biography that provide a lot of information! I would also use this book in a social studies lesson as well. ( )
  mlanford3 | Jan 20, 2016 |
This was a lovely biography of a French musician of color. Born the son of a French noble and a slave in the Caribbean, he became a famous musician who inspired Mozart and performed for the King and Queen of France. Good, engaging, text. Beautiful illustrations. I would use this for a biography study. I would also possibly use it to talk about the slave trade/triangular trade. It could also be interesting as a text during units about civil rights, how people of color were treated in Europe as well. Might also be interesting to compare with a text about Marion Anderson.
Reading Level: 3.8 Interest Level: K-3 ( )
  TaraKennedy | Feb 19, 2015 |
This biography includes a lot of vocabulary that might be hard for an elementary student to undrstand. It also uses plenty of musical terms that are unfamilar to most readers. The book contains plenty of information and flows well in chronological order. The lack of author note does not help readers to decide if the author is creditab;e. However, I did enjoy the book and learn a lot. ( )
  marabie | Oct 26, 2014 |
This is the story of Joseph Boulogne, the son of a white West Indies plantation owner and a black slave. It is a great book to use to explore the issue of slavery and the many facets of it. An extremely unique story and nicely illustrated, though nothing innovative- the focus is the story. ( )
  marcheisler | Jan 29, 2014 |
An engaging picture-book biography of the eighteenth-century musician, composer and revolutionary, Joseph Boulogne, Before There Was Mozart sets out the story of this talented man, from his childhood on the tiny island of Guadalupe (part of the Leeward Islands), through his adolescence and young adulthood in Paris, where he studied music, and slowly gained the public (and royal) recognition that he deserved. His life was complicated by his status as a person of mixed race - his father was an aristocratic Frenchman (who gave him his title, Chevalier de Saint-George), and his mother a Wolof woman, originally from Senegal, and formerly a slave on his father's sugar cane plantation - and he had to struggle against the racial prejudices of his day, in making a place for himself in French society and culture. The narrative concludes with his triumphant first appearance at the royal palace of Versailles, where his virtuosic performance won him the patronage of Marie Antoinette, while the remainder of his life - his role in the French Revolution, his fight against slavery - is detailed in the brief afterword.

Informative and engrossing, Before There Was Mozart is a book that highlights the life story of a celebrated eighteenth-century musical figure who deserves to be better known today. I had heard Saint-George's name before, but really knew nothing about him, so I was glad to be able to correct that omission, although I would have liked to learn a little bit more about his later life as well. The artwork, done by James E. Ransome, is as engaging as the text, with a light-filled quality that I found very appealing. The only thing I didn't like about this book, as it happens, is the title. There's something a little cheap about the Mozart comparison - and Cline-Ransom isn't the only one to do this, as seen by another picture-book biography, The Other Mozart: The Life of the Chevalier Saint-George, or the recording, Le Mozart Noir - as it seems to imply that Saint-George's brilliance can only be established by comparison to his more well-known fellow composer. Leaving that issue aside, this is a book I would recommend to young music lovers, particularly those interested in the life stories of lesser known participants in the western European art music tradition. For my part, I finished it with a desire to become better acquainted with Saint-George's music, particularly his violin concertos! ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375836004, Hardcover)

The musical superstar of 18th-century France was Joseph Boulogne—a black man. This inspiring story tells how Joseph, the only child of a black slave and her white master, becomes "the most accomplished man in Europe." After traveling from his native West Indies to study music in Paris, young Joseph is taunted about his skin color. Despite his classmates' cruel words, he continues to devote himself to his violin, eventually becoming conductor of a whole orchestra. Joseph begins composing his own operas, which everyone acknowledges to be magnifique. But will he ever reach his dream of performing for the king and queen of France? This lushly illustrated book by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome introduces us to a talented musician and an overlooked figure in black history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:34 -0400)

Short biography of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George, a mixed race violinist who would play for the King and Queen of France.

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