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 was a large influence on his music.
From an early age, he was playing the piano. His father realising his talent and 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!). Fortunately, through contacts, he managed to gain access (it’s not what you know .. it’s who you know!).
During his life, he enjoyed much popularity, but unfortunately, many of his pieces were either destroyed or lost after his death in 1869. He united Creole and Latin American dance in his compositions; including Bamboula, La Savane, Le Bananier and Le Mancenillier and Grand Tantelle. The Bamboula theme was used as a melody in his Symphony No.1: A Night in the Tropics.
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. However, due to a scandalous affair with one, he was forced to leave the US!
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.
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.
Musical Downloads & Further Reading
On music-scores.com we have fifteen arrangements of Gottschalk’s O’ma Charmante Epargnez Moi. This is a Creole habanera mixing sadness with restless passion. View Gottschalk Sheet Music.