Meet Louis Moreau Gottschalk, New Orleans’ other game-changing musical Louie
When he was still a child, the New Orleans-born Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) exhibited a prodigious talent at the piano. His first concert, in 1840, was at the St. Charles Hotel. In 1841, he was sent to France to study. The Paris Conservatoire rejected Gottschalk’s application without hearing him, on the grounds of his nationality. (“America is a country of steam engines,” Pierre Zimmermann, head of the piano faculty, reportedly sneered.) He earned a fan, however, in none other than Frédéric Chopin, who was enthusiastic about the young musician’s display of artistry in an 1845 concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Chopin predicted Gottschalk, who was still in his teens, would become one of the foremost pianists of the century. In addition to enhancing his reputation as a pianist, Gottschalk began to compose before he turned 20. He eventually composed more than 300 pieces and is generally regarded as the first American composer to gain international recognition.
Gottschalk, who spent most of his brief life outside the United States, is remembered for compositions such as “Bamboula,” “La Savane” and “Le Bananier,” which drew on themes he probably learned at home in New Orleans from his maternal grandmother, Josephine Deynaud Bruslé, and Sally, a slave who was his childhood nurse.
- Gottschalk was often called by his middle name.
- One of his compositions, “Bamboula,” borrows its title from the name of a deep-voiced Afro-Caribbean drum made from a rum barrel.
- The musician’s likeness graces a 32-cent stamp issued in 1997.
- Gottschalk’s family lived in a cottage at the southwest corner of Royal Street and Esplanade Avenue. He later moved in with relatives at 518 Conti St.
- Gottschalk, who returned to the United States in 1853, established himself as a major figure in the country’s musical life by the 1860s.
- He kept his name before the public by maintaining a punishing touring schedule: In 1862, he played 85 concerts, all in different cities, in less than five months, Axel Gelfert wrote for the website www.louismoreaugottschalk.com.
- Gottschalk had to flee the United States in 1865 because of a scandal concerning his relationship with a student at Oakland (Calif.) Female Seminary. He never returned.
- After that hasty departure, Gottschalk swept through South America with a series of successful performances. Some, known as “monster concerts,” featured as many as 650 performers.
- Gottschalk contracted yellow fever during that tour. He died on Dec. 18, 1869, in Tijuca, Brazil, three weeks after collapsing during a concert in which he had just played “Morte!! (She Is Dead): Lamentation.”
Just as Gottschalk drew on New Orleans themes when he was developing his talent, he has been acknowledged as a trailblazer for 20th-century music. His use of folk songs inspired the composers Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson, for instance, and he combined music from Europe, North and South America into what writer C. Michael Bailey called “a cauldron that would eventually produce jazz.” Improvisation, a hallmark of jazz, was something Gottschalk expected. Even in his formal compositions such as “A Night in the Tropics,” Bailey wrote, Gottschalk required the musicians to improvise, thereby placing his music as “a sort of bridge between 19th-century concert music and a musical language that would soon evolve into that of jazz.”