GottSChalk, Louis Moreau

views updated May 21 2018

GottSChalk, Louis Moreau

GottSChalk, Louis Moreau, celebrated American pianist and composer; b. New Orleans, May 8, 1829;d. Tijuca, near Rio de Janeiro, Dec. 18, 1869. His father, an English businessman, emigrated to New Orleans; his mother was of noble Creole descent, the granddaughter of a governor of a Haitian province. His talent for music was developed early; at the age of 4, he began studying violin with Félix Miolan, concertmaster of the opera orch., and piano with François Letellier, organist at the St. Louis Cathedral; at the age of 7, he substituted for Letellier at the organ during High Mass, and the next year played violin at a benefit for Miolan. In 1841 he was sent to Paris, where he studied piano with Charles Hallé and Camille Stamaty and harmony with Pierre Maleden. He also later studied composition with Berlioz. On April 2, 1845, he gave a concert at the Salle Pleyel, which attracted the attention of Chopin. His piano compositions of the period, including Bamboula, Le Bananier, and La Savane, were influenced by Liszt and Chopin, but also inspired by childhood recollections of Creole and Negro dances and songs. In 1846-47 he appeared in a series of concerts with Berlioz at the Italian Opera, and in 1850 concertized throughout France and Switzerland, playing his own compositions. In 1851 he appeared in Madrid at the invitation of the Queen and was given the Order of Isabella; during his stay there, he developed the “monster” concerts for which he wrote a Sym. for 10 Pianos, El Sitio de Zaragosa, later transformed into Bunker’s Hill by replacing the Spanish tunes with American ones.

Gottschalk returned to give a highly praised concert in N.Y. on Feb. 11, 1853, followed by many concerts throughout the U.S., Cuba, and Canada during the next 3 years. During the winter of 1855-56, he gave 80 concerts in N.Y. alone. His compositions from this period, including La Scintilla, The Dying Poet, and The Last Hope, written to display his talents, used many novel techniques of the “style pianola” After playing Henselt’s Piano Concerto with the N.Y. Phil, on Jan. 10, 1857, he went to Cuba with the pubescent singer Adelina Patti. He then lived in the West Indies, writing works influenced by its indigenous music. In Havana, on Feb. 17, 1861, he introduced his most famous orch. work, La Nuit des tropiques. He also produced several grand “monster concerts” modeled after those of Jul-lien.

Though he was born in the antebellum South, Gottschalk’s sympathies were with the North during the American Civil War; he had manumitted the slaves he inherited after his father’s death in 1853. He resumed his U.S. concert career with a performance in N.Y. on Feb. 11, 1862, and from then until 1865 toured the North and the West with Max Strakosch, playing (by his estimation) over a thousand concerts. His notebooks from this era, posth. publ. as Notes of a Pianist (Philadelphia, 1881; reprint 1964), perceptively reveal life in Civil War America. After becoming involved in a scandal with a teenage girl in San Francisco, he was forced to flee to South America (Sept. 18, 1865); he appeared in concert throughout South America, and composed new works based on local melodies and rhythms. During a festival of his music in Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 25, 1869, he collapsed on stage after playing the appropriately titled Mortell; he died within a month. His remains were exhumed and reburied with great ceremony in Brooklyn on Oct. 3, 1870.

Gottschalk was a prolific composer of bravura, pianistic works that enjoyed great popularity for some time even after his death; ultimately they slipped into the uniquitous centenary oblivion. As a pianist, he was one of the most adulated virtuosos of his era. His concerts, featuring his own compositions, emphasized his prodigious technique but were criticized by some as being superficial. A definitive catalog of his works is difficult to assemble, since many of the works referred to in his copious correspondence have not been found, there are revisions of one and the same work using different titles, and several works were publ. using the same opus number. Two catalogs of his music are R. Offer-geld, The Centennial Catalogue of the Published and Unpublished Compositions of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (N.Y, 1970), and J. Doyle, Louis Moreau Gottschalk 1829-1869: A Bibliographical Study and Catalog of Works (Detroit, 1983). The latter is especially useful, since it lists each publ. work using the linguistic nominal variants. Gottschalk publ. some of his works using the pseudonyms Steven Octaves, Oscar Litti, A.B.C., and Paul Ernest. Among modern editions of his music, the most notable are The Piano Works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (5 vols., N.Y, 1969), ed. by V. Lawrence and R. Jackson, and The Little Book of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (N.Y, 1976), ed. by R. Jackson and N. Ratliff.


DRAMATIC Opera : Escenas campestres (Havana, Feb. 17, 1860). ORCH.: Grande Tamntelle for Piano and Orch. (1858-64); 2 syms.: No. 1, La Nuit des tropiques (Havana, Feb. 17, 1860) and No. 2, À Montevideo (Montevideo, Nov. 1868); Variations de concert sur I’hymne portugais du Roi D. Louis ler for Piano and Orch. (Rio de Janeiro, Oct. 31, 1869). OTHER: Chamber music, numerous solo piano pieces, and several vocal works.


H. Didimus, Biography of L.M. G., the American Pianist and Composer (Philadelphia, 1853); O. Hensel, Life and Letters of L.M. G. (Boston, 1870); L. Fors, G. (Havana, 1880); J. Cooke, L.M. G. (Philadelphia, 1928); F. Lange, Vida y muerte deL.M. G. en Rio de Janeiro (1869) (Mendoza, Argentina, 1951); V. Loggins, Where the World Ends: The Life of L.M. G. (Baton Rouge, 1958); J. Doyle, The Piano Music of L.M. G. (1829-1869) (diss., N.Y.U., 1960); J. Gray, A Study and Edition of Recently Discovered Works of L.M. G. (diss., Univ. of Rochester, 1971); W. Korf, The Orchestral Music of L.M. G. (diss., Univ. of Iowa, 1974); L. Rubin, G. in Cuba (diss., Columbia Univ., 1974); S. Starr, Bamboula!: The Life and Times of L.M. G. (Oxford, 1995).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

views updated Jun 11 2018

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), probably the most important American composer of the 19th century, infused European romanticism with indigenous North and South American elements.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was born on May 8, 1829, in New Orleans, the son of a Jewish Englishman and a Creole woman. He exhibited extraordinary talent at the age of 3. At 13, after experience as a church organist and a concert pianist, he went to Paris to study, absorbing the romantic ideas and attitudes of the time and acquiring an elegant, polished manner.

Gottschalk took Paris by storm when he made his 1845 concert debut. Frédéric Chopin predicted a brilliant future for him, and Hector Berlioz spoke of his "exquisite grace … brilliant originality … charming simplicity … thundering energy."

When Gottschalk returned to America, P. T. Barnum offered him a contract for $20,000 yearly plus expenses; Gottschalk refused scornfully. Compared favorably to Beethoven in the reviews of his New York debut, he launched his American career.

But Gottschalk's world soon collapsed. His father died, and he was forced to assume a considerable debt and to support his mother and six brothers and sisters. The stress caused the quality of his compositions to deteriorate. He wrote shameless potboilers. His fresh, original impulses were eroded as he became more adept at composing vapid salon music. He gave concerts almost daily—80 concerts in New York alone within a 2-year period.

Then Gottschalk retreated for almost 6 years to a life of splendid dissipation in Cuba and the Caribbean islands. Yet there he wrote some of his best compositions.

Gottschalk resumed his hectic activity during the Civil War period. His concerts inspired phenomenal enthusiasm. Moreover, he organized mammoth festivals involving hundreds and even thousands of musicians, receiving thunderous ovations from the public. During his largest festival, in Rio de Janeiro in 1869, Gottschalk's Marche triomphale aroused tremendous enthusiasm. Exhausted by his feverish way of life and weakened by yellow fever, he died 2 weeks later.

Gottschalk's music infuses European structures with American folk and popular music as well as Latin American elements. He wrote two operas and several orchestral works. His piano works show his wide range, romantic sweep, rhythmic freshness, and varieties of mood and color.

Bamboula and Le Bananier, early works, contain infectious rhythms and Creole tunes. Souvenirs d'Andalousie and Manchega use Spanish color and rhythms. El cocoyé and La gallina are musical essays on Cuban music. Suis-moi and O! Ma charmante, epargnez-moi! are forays into the music of the Antilles. L'Union and America utilize patriotic airs. Chant du soldat suggests the romantic sweep of Berlioz or Chopin. Impromptu and Danza are sparkling salon pieces. However, Gottschalk's best-known works, The Dying Poet and The Last Hope, are both considered potboilers.

Further Reading

In addition to his musical accomplishments, Gottschalk produced imaginative writings; his Notes of a Pianist (1881; repr. 1964) provides a fascinating chronicle of 19th-century American musical life. See also Vernon Loggins, Where the Word Ends: The Life of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1958). There are illuminating chapters on him in Gilbert Chase, America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present (1955), and Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists (1963).

Additional Sources

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau, Notes of a pianist, New York: DaCapo Press, 1979, 1964.

Starr, S. Frederick, Bamboula!: the life and times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. □

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau

views updated May 17 2018


GOTTSCHALK, LOUIS MOREAU (1829–1869), U.S. composer and pianist. Gottschalk grew up in New Orleans where he was exposed to the Creole music with its African-Caribbean rhythms that would later become a characteristic ingredient of his music. A child prodigy he went at 13 to Paris for piano and composition lessons and by 19, through the success of his "Creole" piano pieces, was hailed as the New World's first authentic musical spokesman, and his keyboard virtuosity was compared with Chopin's. After playing in Switzerland (1850) and Spain (1851) with spectacular success, he returned to the United States. His father's death (1853) proved to be a turning-point in his career; he was forced to increase the frequency of his concerts to earn enough money to support his family. For three years Gottschalk toured the country, his sentimental ballads ("The Last Hope," 1854, "The Dying Poet," 1863) proved immensely popular. He also contributed to the new "Western" idiom with his genre pieces Le banjo (1853, 1855). He spent the next five years in Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Cuba. There he found his musical roots and his vocation as a composer and wrote some of his finest works, including Souvenir de Porto Rico, Ojos criollos (four hands), a symphony and several operas. He also wrote for the American and French press. In 1862 Gottschalk had to resume his virtuoso career playing again for American audiences. In four and a half months he gave 85 recitals, a brutal pace which he maintained for more than three years, during which he did more than any other American musician to champion the Unionist cause and also to obliterate the line between high and popular art. In 1865, he had to leave the States after being unjustly accused in a scandal. The last four years of Gottschalk's life were spent in a triumphant tour of South America, where also he encouraged local talents, promoted classical music and championed public education. Gottschalk's own account of his troubled life was first published in 1881 as Notes of a Pianist.


Grove; S.F. Starr, Bamboula! The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1995); J.E. Perone, Louis Moreau Gottschalk: A Bio-Bibliography (2002).

[Naama Ramot (2nd ed.)]

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gottschalk, Louis Moreau (b New Orleans, 1829; d Tijuca, nr. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1869). Amer. pianist, conductor, and composer. His pf. début in 1844 was praised by Chopin. On return to USA toured widely, playing and conducting his own sentimental and naive mus. for unsophisticated audiences who enjoyed his virtuoso panache and his arrs. of nat. airs. Collapsed on stage in Rio after playing a piece called Morte! and died a month later. Wrote 2 operas; 2 syms.; Grande Tarantelle, The Union, and Marcha triunfal y final de opera, all for pf. and orch.; and pf. pieces such as The Dying Poet (1863–4).