American Original: A Salute to Louis Moreau Gottschalk

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Louis Moreau Gottschalk. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Wikipedia Commons)

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

Comments [6]

Eleanor Forman

In your program you state that Gottschalk left the USA because he was sick of its prudery.

Wikipedia states:

In May 1865, he was mentioned in a San Francisco newspaper as having "travelled 95,000 miles by rail and given 1,000 concerts". However, he was forced to leave the United States later that year because of a scandalous affair with a student at the Oakland Female Seminary in Oakland, California. He never returned to the United States.

It sounds as if he left a successful career in the USA because it got too hot for him, not because he was sick of it…

Nov. 29 2015 10:32 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

Re Barry Owen Furrer's post: Yes, I agree John Philip Sousa should be on the list. I'd love to hear/see "El Capitan" for starters, which I never have.

Jul. 02 2015 04:11 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

@ Les~ I believe you can add John Philip Sousa to this list and although he composed 140+ marches, people tend to forget about his output of operettas, concert suites, songs, transcriptions and arrangements as well as three published novels and an autobiography. The Sousa Band was a champion of Gottschalk's music performing transcriptions of "The Banjo," "Dying Poet," "The Last Hope," "Marche de la Nuit," and "Pasquinade" from 1893-1924.
Happy and safe 4th everyone!

Jul. 02 2015 02:35 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

This website recently inquired who the most underrated 20th Century composer was. Gottschalk is one of the most underrated and underplayed 19th Century composers. No less than the King of Spain played one of his piano pieces, "Le Bananier" The Banana Tree and said "It is a great favorite of mine. The Queen and her mother appear to be charmed with it." He turned down an offer from P.T. Barnum at his father's insistence, which, had he accepted, may have solidified stardom or super-star status.

Jul. 02 2015 08:56 AM
Diane from Upper West Side

Gottschalk's Symphony No. 1, "A Night in the Tropics" (D. 104) surely has a place on the playlist.

It's an evocative - actually MESMERIZING - piece that literally transposes the listener to southern climes.

When listening to this piece, it's hard not to think of the landscapes of Frederick Church...steamy jungle, huge rainbows, fog-shrouded vistas, etc.


Jul. 02 2015 08:52 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

"David Dubal hosts a weekly exploration of classical music's piano greats."

The "season" continues??

Jul. 07 2013 11:12 PM

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