GOTTSCHALK: Escenas Campestres Cubanas / Gran Overture / Symphonie Romantique No. 2 (Angela Draghicescu/ Anna Noggle/ Chin-Ming Lin/ Darryl Taylor/ Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra/ John Contiguglia/ Joshua Pepper/ Melissa Barrick (Naxos Amer
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Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Works for Orchestra
Known to his New Orleans friends as the \Chopin of the Creoles", Louis Moreau Gottschalk might also be called "the Crescent City 's Schubert". Like Schubert, Gottschalk composed lyrical works for piano and understood every subtlety of the human voice. Like Schubert, too, he succeeded in taking only the first steps towards fulfilling his dream of composing great works for orchestra and especially operas.
Schubert's problem was that he could not find patrons for his larger works. Gottschalk's was simpler: after his father's early death young Moreau (as he was known) had to support his spendthrift mother and four sisters. From the age of 23 to his death he lived the life of an itinerant virtuoso. Criss-crossing Europe, North America, and then the entirety of South America, he performed thousands of concerts. Living such a life, it is a miracle that he could still find time to pen scores of works for piano, several full operas, and a half dozen orchestral compositions.
There was no time, however, to polish the larger works and prepare them for publication, let alone to compose more of them. Moreau thought all this would happen after he returned to the United States, which he expected to do in 1870, but at the age of 39 he succumbed to peritonitis in Rio de Janeiro and these dreams all died with him. In the ensuing confusion the manuscripts of several of his operas vanished and trunk-loads of other works for orchestra, piano, or voice were lost.
What was Gottschalk's opera Isaura di Salerno, based on a Spanish novel of murder and vengeance? Written first in 1856 and then lost in a Maryland snowstorm, Gottschalk completely rewrote it during the last months of his life. What was his 1858 opera Amalia Warden, a tale of murder at a Swedish court ball based on the same material that the French composer Auber had used in 1833 and which Verdi exploited in 1859 for his Un ballo in maschera ? And what about the giant compositions for orchestra and piano that he composed for audiences in nearly every South American capital, drawing on local folk-lore and dance music?
All of these manuscripts may yet turn up in a trunk in Brazil, or in Philadelphia, where a batch of Gottschalk manuscript appeared as recently as the 1980s. Until then, we must rest content with the comprehensive collection of surviving orchestral and operatic works by Gottschalk that Richard Rosenberg offers in this remarkable recording.
This recording is remarkable for several reasons. First, every note had to be meticulously reconstructed from Gottschalk's often smudged manuscripts or, worse, from bad copies of them. Others have tried to do this but failed. Howard Shanet in 1948 produced a reduced score of the so-called A Night in the Tropics (actually, Symphonie romantique "La nuit des tropiques" ), but lost all Gottschalk's textures in the process. Eugene List and friends attempted the same in 1969 but focused on Gottschalk's melodies rather than his rich orchestrations, which they butchered. Gunther Schuller's Gottschalk reconstruction was better but still took liberties with the original, and his effort was confined to the Symphonie romantique. Rosenberg, by contrast, has tackled all the surviving orchestral and operatic manuscripts, with great fidelity to the original text and great success overall.
The intricacy of this task can scarcely be imagined. The recently rediscovered manuscript of the M?®hul work includes a nearly-complete set of parts but no score. Rosenberg had to fashion ?á la Gottschalk missing parts for viola, four horns, bassoons and timpani. A missing sheet of manuscript from the Symphonie romantique left a hole of several measures that had to be convincingly filled on the basis of partial notations. Most of Gottschalk's percussion parts are mere shorthand sketches and must be reconstituted on the basis of what is known of the genre. Dynamic markings are confusing, and the entire Spanish libretto of the Escenas Campestres Cubanas had to be deciphered letter-by-letter, as one would a Dead Sea scroll.
Beyond this, Rosenberg as conductor shows a rare sensitivity to tempos and rhythms (note especially his boisterous C?®l?¿bre Tarentelle ) which are the very heart of Gottschalk's compositions. He is ably supported by his young orchestra, whose members perform with a brio that Gottschalk himself would have admired: note especially the oboes and clarinets in the Escenas, or Don Vappie's vigorous performance on the Cuban tiple in the same work. It is no exaggeration to call the middle, orchestral, passage of this brief tonadilla esc?®nica (Spanish operetta) from the 1850s the jazziest work composed before the jazz age.
What do these recovered treasures tell us about the "other" Gottschalk, not the composer of gems (and a few pot-boilers) for solo piano but the one who aspired to compose great operas and masterworks for orchestra? First, he is a superb melodist, as is evident in the tender first section of the Montevideo symphony and elsewhere. Second, he is an inspired composer of works that are highly evocative, in spite of their short compass. Never mind that Gottschalk called them "symphonies". They are in fact tone poems, and lovely ones.
Third, the Gottschalk works presented here show that he was closely engaged with the orchestral techniques of his era. They reveal the strong influence of Napoleon's favourite composer, M?®hul, of Donizetti, whose operas were immensely popular in the New Orleans of his youth, and also of Berlioz, who took an interest in young Moreau in Paris. Evident borrowings from Mendelssohn and the young Wagner indicate that, while Gottschalk was solidly rooted in Latin lyricism and somewhat of a Germanophobe at heart, he was by no means immune to the latest currents from Germany.
Fourth, Gottschalk gives strong evidence in these works of an orchestral "voice" that was very much his own. This is clear even in his early work, his adaptation of the hunting theme from ?ëtienne-Nicolas M?®hul's opera Le jeune Henri. Composed originally for piano when Moreau was barely twenty, this "adaptation" was in many respects an entirely original composition, a fantasy based loosely on M?®hul but with bright transitions and startling effects that are purely Gottschalkian. More than a decade later Moreau, in need of a show-stopper for a gala concert at the Gran Teatro Tac??n in Havana, fleshed out this piece as a full-blown orchestral work, now dubbed a "descriptive symphony". Both the piano and orchestral versions reveal a composer fully at ease with extended composition and in command of the technical skills needed for effective orchestration.
Finally, Gottschalk's upbringing in opera-mad New Orleans left him with a life-long orientation towards vocal music. This was deepened by the years he spent touring North America and the Caribbean with some of the best singers of the era, among them Henriette Sontag, the soprano who sang in the premi?¿re of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Pasquale Brignoli, Verdi's favourite tenor, and the renowned Adelina Patti, who later identified herself as a Gottschalk disciple. All this gave him, both as librettist and composer, a sure instinct for opera.
It can therefore not be doubted that, had Moreau Gottschalk been able to achieve his dream of devoting more time to composition, he would have produced sparkling operas, written in a French and Italian vein, but with an American vitality and enthusiasm all his own. Perhaps the manuscript of one of Gottschalk's completed operas will still turn up some day, rescued from some dusty attic along the route of his endless and soul-numbing tours as a piano virtuoso. If this occurs, it will further reinforce the points that this and important recording by Richard Rosenberg so convincingly puts forward.
S. Frederick S