Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Born in New Orleans in 1829, Louis Moreau Gottschalk grew up
in a neighbourhood where he was exposed to the Creole music
with its African-Caribbean rhythms and the melodious folk songs
that would later become a characteristic ingredient of much
of his own music.
Some of his
past biographers have taken the idea of his childhood home
as the “geographical centre” of his musical inspiration
quite literally. Vernon Loggins, for example, describes vividly
how young Gottschalk would listen to the music that filled
the streets of New Orleans in the 1830s at many of the ubiquitous
Sunday afternoon public dances held by slaves across the city.
musical climate of New Orleans may have played its role during
Gottschalk´s childhood, but is seems unlikely that little
Louis-Moreau, at age two, picked up his extensive knowledge
of Creole music by dancing on the gallery to the sounds of
Sunday afternoon dances, or, as his biographer S. Frederick
Starr puts it, “by hanging on the fence of Congo square
as a spectator” (Congo Square with its many musical
gatherings being, at the time, the major dissemination point
for West Indian and Afro-American culture in New Orleans).
In 1842 he left
the United States and sailed to Europe, realizing that a classical
training would be required to achieve his musical goals. While
such professionalism in a 13-year old would normally be the
result of the parents´ ambitions, it is clear from Gottschalk´s
letters, that he himself was the driving force.
In 1853, Gottschalk
returned to the United States, possibly trying to escape an
environment that he regarded as being dominated by egotism
and vanity. In the 1860s, he had established himself again
as a major figure in American musical life, partly as a result
of tremendous hard work.
September 1865, his career took a sharp turn when Gottschalk
had to leave the United States after a scandal about his relationship
with a student at Oakland Female Seminary. Gottschalk left
the country, embarking on what would become his last (and
perhaps most successful) tour, during the course of which
he travelled to Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, and Rio de
Janeiro (and many other less well-known locations).
His concerts were tremendously successful all across South
America and sometimes took the form of “monster concerts”
involving up to 650 performers.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk died Saturday, December 18, 1869,
in Tijuca (Brazil), three weeks after collapsing during one
his concerts, just when he had finished playing his sorrowful
“Morte!!” and was about to begin moving on to
the next piece.
(c) 2001 by Axel Gelfert