Gottschalk, Louis Moreau


Gottschalk was the first Americanborn pianist to win renown. He was born in New Orleans, of an Anglicized German father and a French mother, and his youth was spent in ease and prosperity. As early as his fourth year he showed musical talent, which was cultivated with such results, that by the time he was thirteen, he had made quite a local reputation. In this year, 1842, he was sent to Paris for further study, first under Charles Halle and later under Stamaty, at the same time learning harmony of Maleden. His talent for improvisation distinguished him even among the many gifted artists of Paris. Berlioz, whose pupil he became, was much interested in the young American, and arranged to have him give a number of concerts at the Italian Opera, the winter of 1846-1847, which proved a brilliant success. After a long and triumphant tour through France, Switzerland and Spain, he returned to New Orleans in 1853. He now began his first American tour, playing his own piano compositions, and directing his own orchestral works at large festivals. In this way were brought out a symphony, La nuit des tropiques; an overture; a triumphal cantata; and parts of an unpublished opera. His music evoked great enthusiasm from the general public, and extravagant praise from some of the large periodicals. The calmer verdict of later musicians was anticipated by a Boston critic, who while admitting the superior beauty of Gottschalk's touch and the brilliancy of his execution, noticed a lack of depth and of intellect beneath all the charm of his playing. Gottschalk played almost exclusively his own works, which have been characterized as "brilliant, charming, tender, melodious . . . but bright with the flash of fancy rather than strong with the power of imagination." For five years of concert giving Gottschalk retained the admiration of the United States, and then began a tour through Cuba and Spanish America, where he was received with the warmest demonstration. His southern origin, with the predominance in his music of the melodies and rhythms peculiar to the negro and Creole songs formed an instinctive bond between him and the children of Spain. His stay was prolonged to five years, partly by illness, but chiefly by the enervating influences of the tropics on his susceptible nature and somewhat indolent as confessed in his Notes of a Pianist, published later. After his return to New York in 1862 he was engaged by Max Strakosch for a still greater American tour, from the Atlantic to California; and in 1865 he went to South America. Here, after years of concertising, during which he played in almost every town of any importance, and received extraordinary adulation, he succumbed to a relapse of fever at the early age of forty.

Beside the compositions mentioned he wrote for full orchestra, Montevideo; Grand triumphal march; Gran marcha solemne, dedicated to the Emperor of Brazil; Escenas campestres cubanos; and Gran Tarantella. Besides these, he wrote about twelve songs and ninety piano pieces, now forgotten with but few exceptions, of which The Last Hope is a notable one; the piece as written has retained some popularity, and the exquisite melody of the main part has been used with appropriate effect as the setting for a well-known hymn. W. S. B Mathews states that "there is a disposition at the present time to undervalue the work of Gottschalk,* and that as compared with the French composers of his day "he has nothing to apologize for." George T. Ferris pronounces Gottschalk a "native genius of the highest order whose gifts were never more than half developed... which, had they been assisted by greater industry and ambition, might easily have won him a very eminent rank in Europe as well as in his own country."