The music of
Louis Moreau Gottschalk -
JOHN BELL YOUNG
'... unimpeachable authority and breathtaking virtuosity ...'
Devotees of classical music don't ordinarily associate the American south with the
more stolid traditions of European art forms. That may be in part due to snobbery,
cultivated out of ignorance, about any American composer who writes outside of a pop idiom.
This attitude prevailed, and still does in some quarters, at the very mention of even the
most famous composers born on this side of the Atlantic, such as Copland, Ives, Barber, and
more recently, Rzewski. Only Leonard Bernstein, whose musical world straddled both genres,
seems to have avoided a certain unspoken suspicion -- even hostility -- among the musical
cognoscenti, especially in Europe.
The music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) forms a body of work that is as unusual
as it is significant in the larger scheme of things. A virtuoso pianist and something of a
dandy, Gottschalk was born in New Orleans and raised in an ethnically diverse Creole
household that was half Jewish and half Haitian. Demonstrating an abundance of talent as a
child, he was sent to France for studies at the Paris Conservatoire, which promptly refused
him admittance, explaining with snide dismissiveness that 'nobody who had passed his first
thirteen years in the savage atmosphere of America could become a piano virtuoso'.
Copyright © 13 April 2003
John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA