Program 5
"The First Gershwin"

MUSIC: Gottschalk's Bamboula [Vanguard Classics OVC 4050] [UP THEN UNDER]

Who do you think was the first American composer to combine Afro-American rhythms with classical European forms? I'll give you a big hint. His last name begins with "G." If you guessed George Gershwin, you're off by more than half a century. The man I have in mind was the 19th Century Creole New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He lived from 1829 to 1869 and his delightful Creole- and Caribbean-influenced works are featured on this hour of Compact Discoveries.

I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MUSIC: [fades out under:]

Gottschalk was the first American to become internationally famous as a pianist and composer, and he was the first to make use of the folk melodies and rhythms of the New World, many years before Dvorak advised American composers to do just that.

Gottschalk's father was a New Orleans broker who had been born in England and was descended from Spanish Jews. His mother was related to the French aristocracy, or, at least, she pretended to be. I'll tell you more about Gottschalk's fascinating life in a few minutes. But first I want you to hear some of his music. Although Gottschalk wrote mainly for the piano alone, there are a couple of exceptions. We'll start the program with one of these: his two-movement symphony, which he called A Night in the Tropics. It is performed here by the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel on a Vanguard Classics CD.

MUSIC: A Night in the Tropics by Gottschalk [Vanguard Classics SVC-9] [20:28]

Louis Moreau Gottschalk's A Night in the Tropics. The Utah Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Maurice Abravanel on a Vanguard Classics CD. The piece was composed in Guadeloupe in 1859.

Gottschalk showed remarkable musical gifts from a very early age. He was able to repeat on the piano music from the Meyerbeer, Donizetti, and Rossini operas that were regularly performed at the French Opera House in his native New Oreleans, and he went there often. He was also influenced by Spanish folk music, French ballroom dances, Creole music, the Latin American music of the Caribbean and Central and South America,
and the dances of African slaves heard in the Place Congo.

Let's listen now to one of these pieces: Bamboula: Danse des Nègres, Opus 2. Written around 1845, it is a historic forerunner of ragtime. The pianist is Eugene List. It was released by Vanguard Classics CDs.

MUSIC: Bamboula by Gottschalk [Vanguard Classics OVC 4050] [28:49]

Bamboula - one of the earliest and most famous piano pieces by the 19th Century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, whose tuneful works we are featuring today on Compact Discoveries. I'm Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in timings]

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was sent to study in Paris at the age of 14, and his debut there, in 1845, was attended by some of the most famous composers of the era. Chopin praised Gottschalk as a future "king of pianists" and Berlioz welcomed him as a "consummate pianist with sovereign power." He was also a hit with the French public, who were as crazy about his compositions as they were his piano playing.

After his return home, he gave concert tours that were not only sensational triumphs in the large cities, but also brought the first taste of classical music to many smaller communities. When he arrived in San Francisco in May 1865, a newspaper there reported that he had traveled 95,000 miles on the railway and given 1,100 concerts.

But Gottschalk was forced to leave California a bit more quickly than planned when another newspaper article reported that he had seduced a young lady from the Oakland Female Seminary. The headline read: "Vagabond Musician Should Suffer Death" Gottschalk left for South America by boat, and though his name was cleared eventually, he never again returned to the United States.

The last four years of his life were spent in South America, where, once again, he was a spectacular success. But in Rio he got very sick and, at the age of 40, died while rehearsing his piano piece, Morte, which means "Death" in French.

Gottschalk's Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 67, which we hear next, was published along with about 25 other works found after the composer's sudden death. Gottschalk had prepared arrangements for two pianos, piano four hands and solo piano. The version we present here is reconstructed and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. It is from the same Vanguard Classics CD which we played earlier, with the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel. The pianist is Reid Nibley. [31:03]

MUSIC: Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orcehstra by Louis Moreau Gottschalk [Vanguard Classics SVC-9]

The Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orcehstra by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who I call "The First Gershwin" because he was the first composer to combine Afro-American rhythms with classical European music forms. The pianist was Reid Nibley with the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maurice Abravanel.

The English label Hyperion has released a series of CDs of Gottschalk's piano music with the Dublin-born pianist Philip Martin as the soloist. We'll complete our hour devoted to Gottschalk with excerpts from these recordings. We begin with Le Banjo, Gottschalk's portrait of a virtuoso banjo player in a minstrel show. Can you catch the echoes of Stephen Foster's Camptown Races toward the end of the piece? The Foster composition was published just four years earlier.[39:09]

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Le Banjo [Hyperion CDA-66459, Cut 1] [43:14]

Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Le Banjo played by Philip Martin at the piano. Martin next performs Gottschalk's Les yeux créoles (Creole Eyes). This piece marries the music of two continents -- a polka giving way to a tango. This was one of Gottschalk's most popular pieces during his lifetime.

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Les yeux créoles, Op. 37 [Hyperion CDA-66459, Cut 12] [45:50]

Creole Eyes by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The pianist was Philip Martin, who next brings us Gottschalk's Le Bananier ("The Banana Tree"). This piece helped make Gottschalk's name in Europe. It is based on a Creole air, and features the kind of brilliant figurations and hummable melody which characterize so much of Gottchalk's work. [46:10]

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Le Bananier, Op. 5 [Hyperion CDA-66459, Cut 13]

The Banana Tree by Gottschalk. Next Philip Martin plays one of the composer's major successes, Suis moi! ("Follow Me!"). Gottschalk himself wrote that he was trying "to convey an idea of the singular rhythm and the charming character of the music which exists among the Creoles of the Spanish Antilles. Chopin," he continued, "transferred the national traits of Poland to his Mazurkas and Polonaises" Gottschalk said that he was trying to do much the same thing for the dances of the West Indies. [49:15]

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Suis moi!, Op. 45 [Hyperion CDA-66697, Cut 1] [52:38]

Follow Me! by Gottschalk, played by Philip Martin. We'll conclude our tribute to Louis Moreau Gottschalk with a very familiar tune. Familiar because it was also used by Glinka, Liszt, Saint-Saëns and Massenet, among other composers, whenever they wanted to evoke the culture of northern Spain. Gottschalk's treatment, however, is all his own. Here is his La Jota Aragonesa - Caprice Espagnol, Opus 14.

MUSIC: Gottschalk: La Jota Aragonesa, Op. 14 [Hyperion CDA-66697, Cut 3] [55:57]

Five piano pieces by the 19th Century Creole-Jewish-French American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, performed by an Irish pianist, Philip Martin. The last piece was La Jota Aragonesa, which was based on a Spanish folk song that has captured the heart of many a non-Spanish composer. And so we conclude our program devoted to "The First Gershwin," the first American composer to incorporate African and Latin-American rhythms and tunes into European structures.

MUSIC: Gottschalk: Manchega, Op. 38 [Hyperion CDA-66697, Cut 4][Under the following]

Your reaction to these Compact Discoveries programs would be greatly appreciated. Write the old-fashioned way in care of this station, or e-mail me at compactdiscoveries@fredflaxman.com. That's all one word with no spaces, capitals, hyphens or dashes.

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and an anonymous donor. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

[MUSIC DOWN AND OUT AT 58:00]


 
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