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This image alone wouldn't be offensive, but when the title of this CD, Le Mozart Noir, is superimposed on top of it, it is. It would be no less so if a painting of Mozart himself had been emboldened with the words 'Le Boulogne Blanc'. What the producers fail to understand is that the music should and must be allowed to stand on its own and judged on its own merits, rather than making some ersatz connection to the racial identity of its creator in a transparent and distasteful attempt to legitimize it. But wouldn't you know it: The moment I began to attribute this appalling gaffe to insensitivity and misguided naiveté, I discover that the recording is the soundtrack to a CBC Television film about Boulogne. Well, that's show biz, I suppose, where nothing sells more product than a controversy.

That said, Boulogne was indeed a rarity, the mulatto son of a wealthy French plantation owner in Guadeloupe, and his mistress, an African slave. That sort of thing was hardly unusual back then, and recalls at least one popular case, the liaison between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. But in spite of the illegitimacy of his birth, his father, evidently an enlightened fellow granted him the family name and the best classical education Parisian society had to offer. Groomed for a military career, Boulogne became a crackerjack equestrian, swordsman, and sportsman. But he also pursued a career in music, writing symphonies, concertos, ballets, operas and chamber music. He was even nominated to take over the Paris Opera. But all this begs the question: is the music any good?

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Copyright © 7 January 2004 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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