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There Would be No Jazz without Louis Moreau Gottschalk

C. Michael Bailey By

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Jazz as an American artform would never have evolved without Louis Moreau Gottschalk. A phenomenon in his lifetime but relegated to the status of parlor pianist today, Gottschalk nevertheless was the complete package: talented, good looking, highborn. Educated at the Paris Conservatoire and a peer of Fredrick Chopin, Gottschalk carved an impressive pedigree when he hit the concert trail in the Western Hemisphere during the years leading up to and including the American Civil War.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was one of seven children born to a Jewish businessman from London and a white Haitian Creole in New Orleans, Gottschalk lived the life of an aristocratic Creole in New Orleans where he was exposed to a wide variety of musical traditions including European Romantic, Caribbean, South American and the precursor of delta blues. His family lived for a time in a small cottage on the corner of Royal and Esplanade in the French Quarter.

Gottschalk is remembered best for his piano miniatures and concert pieces, particularly those incorporating popular American folk songs of the day, predating Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson's same practice by a century. There are several notable recordings of Gottschalk including those by Alan Marks, Lambert Orkis, and Philip Martin's eight-volume survey of the composer's piano music.

Orchestral music was also very much a part of Gottschalk's composing palette, largely fleshed out scores of his piano pieces. These have been recorded by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops and Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. Naxos has produced three notable Gottschalk releases celebrating both the composer's piano and orchestral music.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Piano Music
Naxos Records

Like his contemporary Frederic Chopin, any discussion of Louis Moreau Gottschalk must begin with this piano music. Gottschalk played a Chickering grand piano with more than the standard 88 keys. Tonally, this permitted Gottschalk to expand the high register language of Schubert and Liszt. This can readily be heard in the "Camptown Races" section of "Le Banjo" and the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Yankee Doodle" sections of "The Union, a paraphrase."

Pianist Cecile Licad takes a more aggressive approach to Gottschalk's warhorses "Le Banjo" and "The Union," playing these at a breakneck tempo not heard on previous recordings. This is not necessarily bad, it is a valid interpretation, but nuance is lost, particularly on "Le Banjo" and "Pasquinade, Caprice."

Licad's assertive approach, however, is more measured on slower pieces like "La savane, Ballade creole" and the slightly faster "Souvenir de Porto Rico," meeting with greater artistic success. The famous salon piece, "The Dying Poet," is lilting and graceful, Licad entering fully into the piece's sentimentality. This juxtaposes perfectly with the following "The Union," which is Gottschalk banging at his best.

Licad's playing is determined, an admirable quality, but the listeners should be warned that Licad is not Alan Marks or Lambert Orkis and does not play like them. This is high wire Gottschalk, not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, Piano Music is a worthy introduction to this important American composer.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Orchestral Works (Complete)
Naxos Records

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was equally adept at adapting his famous piano music to orchestral settings. This first recording of the Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Richard Rosenberg devotes most of its attention to Gottschalk's originally conceived orchestral works. These include his "Grande Tarentelle" and Symphony Number 1, "A Night in the Tropics."

This music may sound suspiciously familiar to even the most naive of Gottschalk listeners. Gottschalk was assimilating the musics of Europe, North America, South America, and the Islands into a cauldron what would eventually produce jazz in the late 1890s and early 1910s. One wonders how fellow pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton (and Scott Joplin, for that matter) would have turned out had Gottschalk not preceded him.

"A Night in the Tropics" is a beautifully humid piece that evokes images of warm breezes rustling palms in open air restaurants in hyper-southern climes. Think of Casa Blanca in Rio. Gottschalk left his piano a center point of almost all of his orchestral pieces. He was ever the showman and like Liszt, he composed to his own talent and its exposition. Rosenberg and his Hot Springs orchestra understand this implicitly making this a fine recording.

Louis Moreau Gottschalk
Night in the Tropics / Celebre Tarantelle / Berceuse
Naxos Records

There appears considerable overlap between Orchestral Works (Complete) and Night in the Tropics / Celebre Tarantelle / Berceuse. Again Richard Rosenberg and the Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orchestra are the vehicle for the Gottschalk recital. But Rosenberg takes the music and re-imagines it, fleshing it out.

Rosenberg points out in his notes that "A Night in the Tropics" had only been performed since the composer's death in condensed and "corrected" versions. Rosenberg reconstructed the pieces based on the composer's autograph manuscript, a smaller orchestra than what Gottschalk had originally planned (which numbered several hundred musicians).

In the final movement of "A Night in the Tropics," Gottschalk marked only the opening measure of the Afro-Cuban percussion, using the notation from "Bamboula." Gottschalk readily expected the ensemble to improvise the remainder of that samba movement in a manner that places it as a sort of bridge between nineteenth-century concert music and a musical language that would soon evolve into that of jazz.

This promotes Gottschalk's importance to jazz that would begin quickly evolving mere years after the composer's death. Outside of the large orchestral pieces, Rosenberg treats the listener to several Gottschalk piano pieces adapted for orchestral interpretation. Gottschalk provided a language to American music that was uniquely American while still being a eutectoid of multiple cultural confluences. Gottschalk's music is immediately enjoyable and the indebtedness of composers after him readily apparent.

Tracks and Personnel

Piano Music

Tracks: Le banjo, Fantaisie grotesque, Op. 15; Bamboula, Danse de negres, Op. 2; Le bananier, Chanson negre, Op. 5; La savane, Ballade creole, Op. 3; remolo, Grande etude de concert, Op. 58; La jota aragonesa, Caprice espagnol, Op. 14; Manchega, Etude de concert, Op. 38; Souvenirs d'Andalousie, Caprice de concert sur la cana, Op. 22: Souvenirs d'Andalousie, Caprice de concert sur la cana, Op. 22; Souvenir de Porto Rico, Marche des Gibaros, Op. 31; L'etincelle, La scintilla, Op. 20: L'etincelle, La scintilla, Op. 20; La gallina, Op. 53; Suis-moi!, Caprice, Op. 45; Pasquinade, Caprice, Op. 59; Tournament Galop; The Dying Poet, Meditation; The Union, Paraphrase de concert on the national airs, Op. 48: Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle and Hail Columbia.

Personnel: Cecile Licad: piano.

Orchestral Music (Complete)

Tracks: I. Andante; II. Presto - Maestoso; Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra; Grande Tarentelle, Op. 67; I. Tempo de danza: Moderato; II. Piu lento; Danza Anna Noggle; IV. Tempo de danza: Moderato; Variations de concert sur l'hymne portugais du Roi Louis I, Op. 91; Ave Maria (arr. R. Rosenberg for voice and orchestra); Gran Overture, La Caza del Joven Enrique por Etienne Mehul (arr. for 3 pianos, 10-hands, orchestra); I. Noche en los Tropicos (A Night in the Tropics); II. Festa Criolla.

Personnel: Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orchestra, Richard Rosenberg.

Night in the Tropics / Celebre Tarantelle / Berceuse

Tracks: 1. Celebre Tarantelle, Op. 67, No. 5; Souvenir de Porto Rico, Marche des Gibaros; The Dying Poet, Meditation; Tournament Galop; O! ma charmante; Le Bananier, Chanson Negre; Manchega, Etude de Concert; Celebre Tarantelle, Op. 67, No. 4; Berceuse (Cradle Song); Symphonie romantique: I Noche en los Tropicos Symphonie romantique: II Festa Criolla.

Personnel: Hot Springs Festival Symphony Orchestra, Richard Rosenberg.


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