American Original: A Salute to Louis Moreau Gottschalk

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

Editor's Note: This episode originally aired in July 2013.

The Fourth of July provides an ideal opportunity to focus on the adventurous life and music of American pianist and composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. As a concert pianist, Gottschalk was a troubadour of the piano, roaming three continents, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba and all of the West Indies. He was America's great popularizer of the piano. His music is considered to be a treasure of the romantic piano literature.

Gottschalk was born on May 8, 1829, in the lush and exotic city of New Orleans, where he spent his first 13 years. He lived near the Congo Square, now called Louis Armstrong Park. There he absorbed the African, Caribbean and Creole music he heard when the slaves were permitted to congregate at certain times. Gottschalk adored his native New Orleans, but despised slavery.

He left for Paris at 13, hoping to study at the celebrated Paris Conservatoire. But its director, Pierre Zimmermann would not even hear him. "America," he piped, "is a land of steam engines, not musicians — go back home and become a mechanic."

Gottschalk worked privately with Camille Stamaty, Saint-Saëns's teacher, who in 1845 arranged for him to play a private concert. Who was attending that concert? No less than Berlioz, Rossini and Chopin. The major piece was Gottschalk performing the Polish master's first concerto. The Pole embraced the young American, telling him, supposedly, “you will be a king among pianists.”

Gottschalk returned to the U.S. in 1853 to begin performing in New York. It proved to be very lucrative and he embarked on a four-year extensive tour, becoming quite popular.

In 1857, he disappeared from American view to pursue a more relaxed way of living and composing in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the West Indies. By 1861, he returned to the U.S. in time for the Civil War. As a Southerner, he proclaimed his Union sympathies and began a nonstop tour of the North, which was extended to the West and Canada. He lived his last few years playing in almost every country of South America. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (pictured at right).

Program playlist:

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Manchega, RO 143/Op. 3 / Alan Feinberg

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: La Savane, ballade créole for piano, Op. 3, D. 135 (RO 232) / Michael Lewin

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Le Banjo, esquisse américaine for piano, Op. 15, D. 15 (RO 22) / Arthur Friedheim

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Tournament Galop, RO 264 / David Dubal

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Souvenir de Porto Rico, RO 250/Op. 31 "Marche de Gibaros" / Ivan Davis

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Battle cry of freedom, RO 62/Op. 55 / Alan Mandel

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Tremelo, RO 265/Op. 58 / Cecile Licad

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Pasquinade, RO 189/Op. 59 / Stanley Waldoff

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau: Union, RO 269/Op. 48 / Cecile Licad