Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an American composer of sentimental music and a pianist, however he spent most of his time outside of US, living in South America and the Caribbean.
Gottschalk was born of a Jewish businessman from London and a Creole mother. He had 6 brothers and 5 sisters . Later he moved in with relatives including his maternal grandmother and nurse who were both from Haiti. This association certainly influenced his music.
He played the piano from an early age and his father realising a need for classical training took him to France. However, the Paris Conservatoire rejected him based on his nationality (they didn’t even listen to him play!) They wouldn’t get a way with that today! Fortunately through contacts he managed to gain access (it’s not what you know .. it’s who you know!)
Life & Music
Traditionally Gottschalk is remembered as a virtuoso and composer of popular (sentimental) music. Many say that there was more to him than being a sentimentalist. As one of his biographers put it Gottschalk was:
“both an arch-romantic and a rationalist, as sentimentalist and a pragmatist, at one America’s first regionalist composer, its first multiculturalist, and its first true nationalist.” (quite a mouthful but very descriptive).
Despite being a true American patriot he was quite outspoken with his views on slavery and the Civil War – which would have been a pretty controversial subject to bring up in conversation!
His works were very popular during his lifetime, but unfortunately many were either destroyed or lost after his death in 1869. His compositions included Bamboula, La Savane, Le Bananier and Le Mancenillier and Grand Tantelle, Uniting Creole and Latin American dance. The Bamboula theme was used as a melody in his Symphony No.1: A Night in the Tropics.
Click here to view Music-Score’s arrangements of Gottschalk’s O’ma Charmante Epargnez Moi. This is a Creole habanera mixing sadness with restless passion.
After a concert at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, Frédéric Chopin remarked “Give me your hand, my child; I predict that you will become the king of pianists.”
Franz Liszt and Charles-Valentin Alkan, too recognised Gottschalk’s extreme talent.
Travelling extensively by the 1860’s he was one of the best known pianists in the world. He still found the time to take on a few students, and due to a scandalous affair with one he was forced to leave the US! It’s hard to imagine today how this would have been as it obviously wouldn’t have been on TV or facebook!! Just newspapers and maybe public meetings?… but back then his must have been an outrage – hence his punishment.
During one of his many concerts in South America, Gottschalk collapsed from Yellow Fever after he’d finished playing his romantic piece Morte! Sadly he never recovered and died 3 weeks later aged 40, possibly from an overdose of quinine.