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A Depression Era Guide To New Orleans

New Orleans Music: Gottschalk
During the nineteenth century New Orleans produced a number of recognized musicians. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the State s most emi nent pianist and composer, was born in New Orleans May 1 8, 1829. At the height of his career he was well known both in America and abroad for his compositions, among which were The Last Hope and Tarantelle. It is said that his own interpretations of his compositions held an undeni able sensual charm that few, if any, pianists could approach. Gottschalk, who gave his first European concert at the age of sixteen, gained wide acclaim in Paris, both for his virtuosity and his compositions. * Bamboula, built around a dance of the Louisiana Negro, written while Gottschalk was convalescing from a severe attack of typhoid fever, took the French capital by storm. La France Musicale, a Parisian paper, bestowed great praise upon the young American pianist.

An amusing incident connected with one of Gottschalk s tours occurred in San Francisco, where he had arranged Wagner s march from Tann-hauser for fourteen pianos. On the eve of the concert one of his pianists fell sick and Gottschalk was at a loss to find a capable substitute. He searched in vain for an accomplished musician, but in all San Francisco he could find none. The proprietor of the hall finally offered to speak to his son, an amateur pianist, whom he claimed could easily perform the part. Gottschalk was skeptical, but decided to test the son s ability. The ama teur derided the suggestion of a rehearsal, but Gottschalk insisted. After the young man had played two bars the great musician realized the impossibility of accepting his services, but he could not easily refuse the enthusiastic son nor the beaming father. Gottschalk s tuner suggested that the hammers of the piano be removed so that the instrument would produce no sound. Gottschalk acceded to this plan and arrangements were completed for the performance. The auditorium was filled to capac ity, and the young amateur, in full evening clothes, paraded back and forth before his friends. He had even succeeded in having his piano placed in the center of the stage.

The concert began with a flourish, and continued to an almost flawless finish. The young man had behaved superbly, employing all the elaborate gestures at his command, and perspiring freely. An encore was demanded. The youth, greatly pleased with himself, could not resist playing a short prelude before the others began, so he ran a chromatic scale, but the piano was mute. Gottschalk, seeing the danger, ignored the youth s frantic gestures and gave the signal for the others to begin. To save appearances the young man pantomimed the passages, striking the instrument furi ously. Gottschalk said later, God protect you, O artists, from the fathers of amateurs, from the sons themselves, and the fathers of female singers.

Gottschalk died in Rio de Janeiro when, tired of his wanderings, he was planning a quiet retreat in Paris. For some time he had been weakened by fever and fatigue. During one of his concerts he seems to have been seized by a presentiment of death, and was unable to finish his last composition, La Morte.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk

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