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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

The First American Pianist



'… a combination of Fritz Kreisler; the great artist tossing tossing out delicious compositional bonbons, Kurt Weill, the profound composer speaking naturally in the popular style, and Virgil Fox, the theatrical virtuoso performer sweeping back his cape to take a bow …' - Richard Jackson

'… all the grace of Chopin with more decided character …' Adolph Adam

'The devil take the poets who dare to sing of the pleasures of
an artist's life' - himself

'New Jersey is the poorest place to give concerts in the world; except Central Africa'
- himself

'… [the self-labeled"old Chopinist" who] fraternized with kings,
queens and assorted royalty, moved in the best circles,
and had a most satisfactory number of love affairs …'
- Harold C Schonberg



(pronounciation: 'close the lips, advance the tongue, appear a little like whistling, and you will have the key' - La France musicale)


Ates Orga


Lord of the Chickering, lode-star of the Civil War generation. A nomadic wanderer, living proof to an incredulous Europe that America wasn't just a 'country of railroads.' A romantically langourous figure as confident of his effect on women as certain of his weakness for them. In 'Gottschalk of Louisiana,' the introduction to his 1973 Dover edition of the piano music in facsimilie reprint, Richard Jackson of the New York Public Library assembled a colourful montage of eye-witness impressions:

'He is very young looking, does not seem to be over twenty-two years of age, handsome, and, to crown the whole, is so easy and unaffected in his manner that a person could not fail to be pleased with him as a man'

a diary entry from a contemporary at his first New York concerts, February 1853

'A small, pale, delicate looking young man - almost a boy in form and appearance - of chestnut hair, large dreamy blue eyes, a pleasant well shaped countenance and modest demeanour, stood bowing before this audience that received him in the heartiest and most encouraging manner... To brilliancy and vigour ... he unites a delicacy, a finish, an ease and above all a poetical grace and feeling than are peculiarly his own'

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 7th 1853

'... after a few moments the fire would kindle and he would play with all the brilliancy which was so peculiarly his own. He was possessed of a ringing, scintillating touch, which, joined to a poetic charm of expression, seemed to sway the emotions of his audience with almost hypnotic power. His eyes were the striking feature of his face, large and dark with peculiarly drooping lids, which always appeared half-closed as he played ... It was the fashion at that time always to wear white gloves with evening dress, and his manner of taking them off, after seating himself at the piano, was often a very amusing episode. His deliberation, his perfect indifference to the waiting audience was thoroughly manifest, as he slowly drew them off one finger at a time, bowing and smiling meanwhile to the familiar faces in the front rows. Finally disposing of them, he would manipulate his hands until they were quite limber, then preludize until his mood prompted him to begin
[the Romantic fashion - since revived by Earl Wild]'

Richard Hoffman, Some Musical Recollections of Fifty Years, New York 1910

Gottschalk reigned among the glory-showmen of the Barnum age. With his personally commissioned grands - his 'mastadons' as he called them, all of ten feet long boasting tails three feet wide - he blazed the West ahead of Thalberg and Anton Rubinstein. Winning hearts, future Liberace-style, with 'sad titles, vox angelica melodies, pathetic barbershop harmony, thrilly tremolos, sweepy harp effects, and lots of runs on cue' (Robert Offergeld), he was America's very own Liszt, her 'first matinée idol.'


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Copyright © 7 January 2000, Ates Orga, Suffolk, UK


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