Louis Moreau Gottschalk was one of the most fascinating 19th-century American composers. He was a piano virtuoso who composed works which combine European-style music with Cuban, Creole, and popular melodies and rhythms of the Americas, expressing much vitality and eclectic, multi-cultural energy. I would describe him as an American Liszt with brilliant, at times more popular, jazzy and sometimes more Latin American flavors.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk was born on May 8, 1829, in New Orleans. His father was a Jewish London-born German, and his mother a francophone Creole originally from Haiti. He had many siblings and half-siblings. Gottschalk started playing the piano at age five, and he enjoyed much of the rich classical and popular music culture in his hometown.
In 1841 Gottschalk was sent to Paris to continue developing his musical skills. There he gave many recitals, which included works by Chopin and Liszt. He met with Chopin, Berlioz, Bizet and many other notable composers of the time. Some of Gottschalk’s compositional styles were clearly influenced by the music he encountered during his time in France.
Gottschalk came back to the U.S. in the early 1850s. He continued traveling extensively and spent significant time in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Many wonderful piano compositions reflect his musical experiences, such as “The Banjo” (1855), “Souvenir de Porto Rico” (1858), and “Night in the Tropics,” also known as Symphonie romantique, ‘La nuit des tropiques’ (‘Noche de los tropicos’, 1858–9), just to name a few.
Being a supporter of the Union side of the Civil War, and back in the U.S., Gottschalk composed his most patriotic piece in the early 1860s: “The Union or Paraphrase de Concert on the National Airs Star-Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle, and Hail Columbia” (“L’Union”) op. 48 (1852-1862). He performed this composition along the East Coast and was heard by Abraham Lincoln who attended the concert on March 24, 1864.
Gottschalk moved again in 1865 and eventually spent the rest of his life in South America, more specifically in Panama, Peru, Chile and Brazil. He died in Rio de Janeiro on December 18, 1869.
Selected scores by Gottschalk available from the NLS Music Section:
The Dying Poet, for piano, paragraph format (BRM34059)
The Last Hope, for piano, section by section format (BRM14644)
Le Bananier, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM36655)
Le Bananier, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM23368)
The Banjo, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM20704)
Bamboula, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM23371)
Souvenir de Porto Rico, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM36256)
The Union, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM23370)
Berceuse, for piano, bar over bar format (BRM22425)
Audio books for download about Louis Moreau Gottschalk:
Mike Whorf Host. America’s First Superstar. Biography of Louis Moreau Gottschalk who used American folk music in his compositions. Digital Talking Book, 57 minutes. (DBM00951)
S. Frederick Starr. Bamboula! The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Digital Talking Book, 26 hours, 29 minutes. (DB42095)
Available from your regional talking-book library:
Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a pianist. Edited, with a prelude, a postlude, and explanatory notes, by Jeanne Behrend. 11 volumes of contracted braille (BRA04528).
The Library of Congress makes available the following recordings:
Jukebox Audio – Louis Moreau Gottschalk, The Last Hope, played by Ferdinand Himmelreich:
Jukebox Audio – Louis Moreau Gottschalk, The Dying Poet, played by Sousa Band: