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Classical Notes: September 28, 2006 Archive

Katrina fallout good for Gottschalk

Posted at 8:09 AM on September 28, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Before the Marsalis clan, before Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, there was a musician in New Orleans who took the Caribbean songs and rhythms he learned from his black nurse and creole mother and combined them with the influences of operas (and minstrel shows!) to create a new American "classical" piano music.

After studying in Paris, Louis Moreau Gottschalk became a worldwide sensation as a pianist who put the exotic sounds of the Americas into the small forms perfected by his contemporary, Frederic Chopin. After an 1851 recital in Paris, Hector Berlioz wrote:

"He phrases soft melodies with perfect grace and has mastered the keyboard’s delicate traits. With regard to deftness, spirit, surprise, brio, and originality, his playing dazzles and shocks. . . . In the presence of a musically civilized public Mr. Gottschalk’s success is immense."

Earlier this year, the Princeton University Press reissued Gottschalk's Notes of a Pianist, as a tribute to the victims of Hurrican Katrina. You can find out more about why Gottschalk and his memoirs are such a big deal in this commentary from critic Terry Teachout.