Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829 - 1869)
Symphonie romantique, and other works
Before his death at the age of forty in 1869, Louis MoreauGottschalk achieved a stunning list of 'firsts'. He was the first Americancomposer to be hailed in
Europe; the first American virtuoso (on piano) to be salutedby the likes of Chopin; the first American musician to erase the hard linedividing 'serious' from 'popular' genres; the first to introduce Americanthemes into European classical music; the first Pan-American artist in anyfield; and among the first American artists to champion such causes asabolitionism, public education and popular democracy. Above all, he was thefirst to capture the syncopated music of South Louisiana and the Caribbean inenduring works that anticipate ragtime and jazz by half a century.
Who was this phenomenon? Born in New Orleans in 1829, hewas the son of a Jewish businessman from London and a colourful and capriciouswhite Creole woman whose family had fled the slave revolt that swept the island of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) during the French Revolution. Steeped in NewOrleans's rich operatic heritage (the Crescent City had two opera companiesbefore New York had one), young 'Moreau', as he was called, was sent as a boyto further his studies in Paris Before his twentieth birthday he had stunned thesalons frequented by Liszt, Thalberg and Chopin with brilliant and movingcompositions that evoked the Creole songs he had absorbed from his familycircle.
Gottschalk, like Chopin or Dvorak, was not content simplyto incorporate folk material into his works. In the process of composition, hetransformed his raw material into pieces that are alternatively sentimental, bracinglyraucous, or darkly brooding. Sometimes, as in the quotation from the popularnursery song included here as part of the medley O! ma charmante, the musicalmaterial even transformed from major to minor, changing its emotional toneentirely. Most of his symphonic works, demanding pieces for piano, operatic fragments,patriotic works and art songs are imbued with a tender lyricism that exudes themusical bouquet of the tropics. An ardent Unionist during the Civil War, henonetheless saw himself, and was seen by others, as the 'Chopin of theCreoles'.
Conductor Richard Rosenberg has captured this essence ina beguiling and diverse selection of Gottschalkiana. Here is the firstrecording of Gottschalk's Symphonie romantique, subtitled A Night inthe Tropics, based on the composer's own orchestral score, now preserved atthe New York Public Library. In the second movement it features an unlikely andarrestiug fugue based on a syncopated Cubau theme.
Here, too, are adaptatious of Gottschalk pieces by hisfriends and self-proclaimed disciples Sidney Lambert (1838-1909), LucienLambert fils (1858-1945) and Nicolas Ruiz Espadero (1832-1890). Thelast, a formidably proficient Cuban friend of Gottscha1k's, transcribed the Louisianian'sTarantelle, Op. 67. No.5 for winds, strings and piano. Hearingthis work, offered here for the first time ever on CD, one must wonder whetherGottschalk did not himself participate in the project during the months beforehis final departure from Havana in 1862.
And here, finally, are several of Gottschalk's virtuosocompositions for piano, sympathetically transcribed for orchestra by the giftedJack Elliott, who was commissioned by the American Ballet Theater to adapt agroup of Gottschalk's eminently danceable pieces for use on the ballet stage.
What a pity Lynn Taylor-Corbett's choreography is not also included!
The compositions offered here are culled from all phasesof Gottschalk's enormously diverse career. He spent years concertizingthroughout the United States, breaking new ground for America by offeringentire programmes of his own compositions. No snob, he would offer up the samerepertoire to Ohio farmers or Nevada gold-miners as he would to Bostonians.
After being falsely but successfully framed by musical enemies in San Francisco,he fled to South America, where he spent the years 1865-69. Just as he was onthe verge of returning, and just as he was about to realise his lifelong dreamof devoting his days fully to composition, he died unexpectedly in Brazil of aruptured appendix. To our good fortune, fresh compositions continued to flowfrom his pen down to the last month of his life.
Frederick Starr, Author of: Bamboula! The Life andTimes of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (Oxford, 1996)
In the course of a multi-year project to revive the musicof the all-but-forgotten 'Creole Romantic' composers (including Edmond andEugene Dede, and
Charles, Sidney and Lucien Lambert), I also sought to clearthe cobwebs that had settled on works of the best-known among them, LouisMoreau Gottschalk. That he was lionized during his lifetime (an Elvis Presleyof the Victorian era?) did not rescue his music from posthumous distortions ora century-long neglect.
Gottschalk's A Night in the Tropics (1859) had onlybeen performed since his death in condensed and 'corrected' versions. Myreconstruction of this work is based on the composer's autograph manuscript,with instrumental forces not quite as large as those employed at Gottschalk'sown performances (which featured over 650 musicians) but quite large nonetheless.
It retains Gottschalk's unusual voice leading and notation. I believe that themeticulous care Gottschalk took in consistently adding rests and dotted rhythmsis a key to the 'tropical' passion he sought to evoke. The arrangement of thissymphony for two pianos by Gottschalk's friend and colleague, Nicolas Ruiz Espadero,provided the basis of my orchestration of the lost forty-two bars at the end ofthe orchestral score I incorporated the sound of 'harmonieflautas' at the endof the first movement (based on Gottschalk's own account of where and how itwas employed), using an antique South American concertina. In the finalmovement of A Night in the Tropics, Gottschalk indicated only the firstmeasure of the Afro-Cuban percussion, using the notation 'Bamboula'. He fully expectedthe ensemble to improvise the remainder of that samba movement in a manner thatplaces it as a sort of 'missing link' between nineteenth-century concert musicand a musical language that would soon evolve into that of Jazz