Sheet Music of the Week

"The Banjo" by L. M. Gottschalk. New York: William Hall and Son, 1855.

The following is a guest post by Melanie Guitreaux, Reader Services.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (May 8, 1829 – December 18, 1869) was a Creole composer and performer who combined the syncopated music of Louisiana and the Caribbean in a manner that anticipated ragtime and jazz. As a child growing up in New Orleans,  Gottschalk experienced many musical traditions. He heard music from Saint-Domingue (later known as Haiti) from his grandmother at home, and was exposed to African-American dance music in the city.  During the 1830’s and 1840’s Gottschalk was enthralled by the music of New Orleans opera companies.  He made his musical debut at the age of eleven, performing piano transcriptions of operatic compositions in a ballroom at the St. Charles Hotel in 1840.

At thirteen, Gottschalk left the United States for Paris to attend a private boarding school, needing classical training to accomplish his ambitions.  In Europe, he studied with Karl Halle, Camille-Marie Stamaty, and Pierre Malenden, and also attended the Conservatoire in Paris.

A renowned piano virtuoso as well as a composer, Gottschalk’s music was popular during his lifetime, and his earlier compositions were well received in Europe.  Pieces such as “Le Bananier” and “Bamboula” recalled the music of his youth in Louisiana and were thought exotic by European audiences.  The composer drew upon folk music for many of his pieces . Orchestral compositions such as the “Symphonie Romantique” and  “Noche en los Tropicos” combine  European  and South American rhythmic patterns.

A number of Gottschalk’s compostions from the Music Division collections can be found in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia, as well as in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music in American Memory.   These pieces include “The Banjo,” “Tournament Galop,” “Water Sprite,”  “The Last Hope,” and “Souvenirs d’Andalouisie.”

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