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Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Deuxième Banjo, Op.82 [4:47]
Solitude, Op.65 [4:06]
La Brise (valse de concert) [4:01]
Souvenir de la Havane (grande caprice de concert) [6:01]
Le chant du martyr (grande caprice religieux) [6 :15]
Manchega (étude de concert) [3 :42]
La Savane (ballade créole) [6 :20]
Union (paraphrase de concert on the national airs “ Star Spangled Banner”, “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia”) [8:44]
Lambert Orkis (piano)
rec. May 1982, Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA (re-mastered 2006).
BRIDGE 9206 [43:56]



Louis Moreau Gottschalk was, by all accounts, a most remarkable man who today - as well as when he was performing - is acknowledged as the father both of American and South American music. Born in New Orleans to a well-to-do family of a London born, German educated Jewish father and a mother of Spanish and French descent, the eldest of seven children, Gottschalk soon showed his prowess at the piano and was sent to France to study. A brilliant pianist he became the darling of the Madrid court thanks to Queen Isabella II and was lauded as the first important American musician. This was as much for his highly inventive and, to the ears of the European public, exotic black-inspired compositions, as for his undoubted abilities at the piano. He was admired by Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz, and may or may not, have been the inspiration behind Bizet’s expansion of his Spanish idioms into “Carmen” and of Borodin’s decision to draw on native Russian idioms in his compositions. At the young age of 24, following the death of his father, he had to take on the mantle of provider for his six younger brothers and sisters, and embarked on his first concert tour of North America. A tour of Cuba and the West Indies followed and then a tour of the US with two Chickering grand pianos plus technician, during which he said he covered no less than 80,000 miles in under two years. Then disaster struck as a result of a threatened scandal over a romantic entanglement which forced Gottschalk into exile. The ensuing three years were spent in South America during which time he established the reputation of being the “father of South American music”. Then, following a number of serious illnesses. All the while continuing to perform, he succumbed to peritonitis and died whilst abroad in 1869 aged just 40.
 
Later he was only remembered for the rumours of his scandalous personal life. However, with the passage of time, we have been able to see his music for what it is – justly renowned for its highly original, inventive and idiosyncratic melodies and for the often fiercely difficult demands of virtuosity on the pianist. All this would be reason enough to welcome this disc but there’s more… This particular recording by Lambert Orkis, well known for accompanying Anne-Sophie Mutter since 1988 and Mstislav Rostropovich since 1983, is made on an 1865 Chickering concert grand – a 10’6” giant of a piano donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1981 and since fully restored. It was two similar pianos that Gottschalk took on his tours. They are famous for their strength, being able to resist up to 16 tonnes of string tension.
 
This disc brings together a selection from all Gottschalk’s compositional styles: those influenced by European music, those of Hispanic derivation and those with American roots, both black and white. “Deuxième Banjo”, written in 1853-54 shows very clearly the influence drawn from the New Orleans black population whilst “Solitude” and “La Brise” show their European voice and have a Chopinesque feel. “Souvenir de la Havane” is self-explanatory, dating from his time in the West Indies, and at the end of the piece there is a demonstration of great showmanship. As the liner-notes explain “Le chant du martyr” was written to exploit the fact that young women at the time enjoyed pieces that were meditative and inspirational in feeling, often embodying themes of religion and death. It is interesting to note that such works as these Gottschalk regarded as more simple to play and he therefore published them under the pseudonym “Seven Octaves”(!). “Manchega” is interesting because it is one of the few etudes written for the left hand only, showing that Gottschalk was as able to produce staggering pianism from either hand. “La Savane” was written when he was only 16, in Paris, and is the piece that helped launch his career. It gets its title from the savannah, that area around New Orleans of swamps and alligators. The directions in the score: con malincolia, plaintif, misterioso and murmurando, serve to conjure up a scenario describing a place where slaves often hid whilst on the run from their masters and who often ended up either caught again or devoured by the alligators.
 
Though a Southerner Gottschalk was opposed to slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War and the final piece on the disc entitled “Union” is a tribute to the cause. Embodying national tunes “Star spangled banner”, “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia” and describing marching troops it successfully predicted the outcome of the war. Charles Ives could not have failed to be influenced by this work when he came to compose works using similar themes and devices. It is a fully fledged American composition from an American composer who deserves to be remembered for his huge contribution towards establishing a truly American sound in music.
 
The disc is an interesting addition to the discography of this thoroughly original composer.
 
Steve Arloff
 
see also review by Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 


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