Louis Moreau Gottschalk

    Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an American pianist and composer.  He was born in New Orleans in 1829 to Edward and Marie Aimée (Bruslé) Gottschalk.   He showed musical talent at a young age and began taking piano lessons from François Letellier at the age of five.  In 1842 he was sent to Paris to continue his musical studies.  There he studied first with Charles Hallé and then Camille Stamaty, as well as taking composition with Pierre Maleden.
    In April of 1845 Gottschalk performed a concert at the Salle Pleyel.  “Chopin, who was present, after the concert, said in the artists’ room, in the presence of his friends, putting his hands on his head, “Donnez moi la main, mon enfant; je vous prédis que vous serez le roi des pianistes.”  (Give me your hand, my child; I predict that you will become the king of pianists.) ” (page 33, Notes of A Pianist) As he continued to give performances, Gottschalk’s name started to become well-known throughout Europe. He toured the French provinces, Switzerland and Spain during his European years.
    Gottschalk returned to the United States in 1853, hoping to be as successful in his native land as he was in Europe.  Upon his arrival P.T. Barnum wanted to arrange a musical tour of America for him, similar to Jenny Lind’s.  However, his father did not want his son to make such a deal with a showman like Barnum.  So Gottschalk did his touring without the support of P.T. Barnum. In 1854 his father died, leaving Gottschalk to pay off his debts and support the family.  He continued to tour across the United States, making a visit to Cuba in 1854 and occasional trips to Canada.
    Gottschalk went back to Cuba in 1856, this time to do a concert tour with Adelina Patti.  He did not return to the United States until 1862.   Little was documented about Gottschalk’s life during this time.  He visited various places, including Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Venezuela and Brazil.
    In 1862 he received an offer from Max Strakosch to tour throughout the United States again.  He accepted and returned to his native country.  For the next three years he kept a hectic concert schedule, touring through the United States right in the middle of the Civil War.  Sometimes he performed as many as three concerts a day!  Gottschalk also made several visits to Canada during this time.
    Caught in a scandal with a student from the Oakland Female Seminary, Gottschalk left the United States for good in 1865 and headed for South America.  The last years of his life are not well documented. He continued to give various concerts and travelled throughout the region.  He arrived in Rio de Janeiro in May of 1869.  However, his health was deteriorating.  On November 26, he collapsed while performing his work, “Morte!”.  He was confined to his bed, suffering from fever and abdominal pains.  He was moved to Tijuca on December 8.  Gottschalk died on December 18, 1869.  His remains were returned to his native country in 1870 and buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.
    Gottschalk began keeping a diary around 1857, when he was in the region of Cuba.   He was not consistent in his writings; months would go by without an entry, then for a while he would write in it on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, the diary was kept all throughout his whirlwind tour of the United States and his final years in South America.  The last entry was made on December 15, 1868; almost one year to date before his death.
    In 1873, his trunk was sent from Brazil to be placed in the hands of his family.  His sister, Clara, undertook the task of sorting through the papers, pasting torn sheets together and recopying others, so that the diary might be published.  Gottschalk’s brother-in-law, Dr. Robert E. Peterson, translated the diary, which had been written in French, into English.  Twelve years after his death, Notes of a Pianist was published in 1881 by J. B. Lippincott & Company.
    Since it is a personal diary, Notes of a Pianist is not free from prejudice.   The reader must realize that what is written is Gottschalk’s opinion and not necessarily fact.  However, despite the occasional bias or exaggeration of the truth, Notes of a Pianist is still an important personal document from the nineteenth century.  It provides the reader with a first-hand look into what the life of a musician was like over one hundred years ago.
    This web-site presents a facsimile of an excerpt from the original 1881 edition of Notes of a Pianist.  The excerpt is the part of his diary that deals with his tour of the United States and Canada between 1862 and 1865.  Not only do these chapters tell of Gottschalk’s hectic life within that time but they also give the reader insight regarding the musical life and tastes of North America during the era of the Civil War.
- Michelle Keddy