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A child prodigy pianist who was touring Europe as a virtuoso concert soloist while still a teenager, Louis Moreau Gottschalk provides one of the most colorful chapters in the history of American music. Dubbed ‘the Chopin of the Creoles’, he was, above all, the first to capture the syncopated music of South Louisiana and the Caribbean in enduring works that anticipate ragtime and jazz by half a century. His orchestral works show a composer of considerable skill who could create memorable and catchy tunes. Included in this disc of the complete surviving orchestral music are several works recorded for the first time in the composer’s original version, as well as the world première recording of La Casa del Joven Enrique.
By Anthony Clarke
When he died suddenly of peritonitis, aged just 39, the reams of [Gottschalk’s] compositions were dispersed, and mostly destroyed. For this recording, Richard Rosenberg and colleague Michael Gurt have scoured the manuscripts which remain, deciphered the faded and almost illegible handwriting, and presented us with the only complete orchestral compositions left to us. There is some mundane journeyman material here, as there would be from most composers if we were given such a magpie collection of surviving pieces. But there are enough jaunty pieces, with a Creole lilt that hint towards the future development of jazz, to make us understand why Gottschalk in his day was such a phenomenon, and how much we have missed by fate not letting him return to America, as he wished, to concentrate on composition.
This music shows what a strong melodic gift Gottschalk had, reminiscent in fact of composers as diverse as Donizetti and Tchaikovsky. The vocal fragments preserved here, especially the Opera in One Act, Escanas Campestres Cubanas, show what a gift to opera Gottschalk might have been. This was the natural endeavour to which he would have turned if he’d been given time. The flavor of these surviving works suggest he would have composed on the lighter lyrical side—a Creole Offenbach, perhaps.
Until now, Gottschalk’s surviving piano works have had most circulation. We can now add to them these remaining orchestral pieces. Naxos has given us a fascinating resurrection of an almost-lost byway of 19th century music.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Works for Orchestra
Known to his New Orleans friends as the "Chopin of the Creoles", Louis Moreau Gottschalk might also be called "the Crescent City 's Schubert". Like Schubert, Gottschalk composed lyrical works for piano and understood every subtlety of the human voice. Like Schubert, too, he succeeded in taking only the first steps towards fulfilling his dream of composing great works for orchestra and especially operas.
Schubert's problem was that he could not find patrons for his larger works. Gottschalk's was simpler: after his father's early death young Moreau (as he was known) had to support his spendthrift mother and four sisters. From the age of 23 to his death he lived the life of an itinerant virtuoso. Criss-crossing Europe, North America, and then the entirety of South America, he performed thousands of concerts. Living such a life, it is a miracle that he could still find time to pen scores of works for piano, several full operas, and a half dozen orchestral compositions.
There was no time, however, to polish the larger works and prepare them for publication, let alone to compose more of them. Moreau thought all this would happen after he returned to the United States, which he expected to do in 1870, but at the age of 39 he succumbed to peritonitis in Rio de Janeiro and these dreams all died with him. In the ensuing confusion the manuscripts of several of his operas vanished and trunk-loads of other works for orchestra, piano, or voice were lost.
What was Gottschalk's opera Isaura di Salerno, based on a Spanish novel of murder and vengeance? Written first in 1856 and then lost in a Maryland snowstorm, Gottschalk completely rewrote it during the last months of his life. What was his 1858 opera Amalia Warden, a tale of murder at a Swedish court ball based on the same material that the French composer Auber had used in 1833 and which Verdi exploited in 1859 for his Un ballo in maschera ? And what about the giant compositions for orchestra and piano that he composed for audiences in nearly every South American capital, drawing on local folk-lore and dance music?
All of these manuscripts may yet turn up in a trunk in Brazil, or in Philadelphia, where a batch of Gottschalk manuscript appeared as recently as the 1980s. Until then, we must rest content with the comprehensive collection of surviving orchestral and operatic works by Gottschalk that Richard Rosenberg offers in this remarkable recording.
This recording is remarkable for several reasons. First, every note had to be meticulously reconstructed from Gottschalk's often smudged manuscripts or, worse, from bad copies of them. Others have tried to do this but failed. Howard Shanet in 1948 produced a reduced score of the so-called A Night in the Tropics (actually, Symphonie romantique "La nuit des tropiques" ), but lost all Gottschalk's textures in the process. Eugene List and friends attempted the same in 1969 but focused on Gottschalk's melodies rather than his rich orchestrations, which they butchered. Gunther Schuller's Gottschalk reconstruction was better but still took liberties with the original, and his effort was confined to the Symphonie romantique. Rosenberg, by contrast, has tackled all the surviving orchestral and operatic manuscripts, with great fidelity to the original text and great success overall.
The intricacy of this task can scarcely be imagined. The recently rediscovered manuscript of the Méhul work includes a nearly-complete set of parts but no score. Rosenberg had to fashion à la Gottschalk missing parts for viola, four horns, bassoons and timpani. A missing sheet of manuscript from the Symphonie romantique left a hole of several measures that had to be convincingly filled on the basis of partial notations. Most of Gottschalk's percussion parts are mere shorthand sketches and must be reconstituted on the basis of what is known of the genre. Dynamic markings are confusing, and the entire Spanish libretto of the Escenas Campestres Cubanas had to be deciphered letter-by-letter, as one would a Dead Sea scroll.
Beyond this, Rosenberg as conductor shows a rare sensitivity to tempos and rhythms (note especially his boisterous Célèbre Tarentelle ) which are the very heart of Gottschalk's compositions. He is ably supported by his young orchestra, whose members perform with a brio that Gottschalk himself would have admired: note especially the oboes and clarinets in the Escenas, or Don Vappie's vigorous performance on the Cuban tiple in the same work. It is no exaggeration to call the middle, orchestral, passage of this brief tonadilla escénica (Spanish operetta) from the 1850s the jazziest work composed before the jazz age.
What do these recovered treasures tell us about the "other" Gottschalk, not the composer of gems (and a few pot-boilers) for solo piano but the one who aspired to compose great operas and masterworks for orchestra? First, he is a superb melodist, as is evident in the tender first section of the Montevideo symphony and elsewhere. Second, he is an inspired composer of works that are highly evocative, in spite of their short compass. Never mind that Gottschalk called them "symphonies". They are in fact tone poems, and lovely ones.
Third, the Gottschalk works presented here show that he was closely engaged with the orchestral techniques of his era. They reveal the strong influence of Napoleon's favourite composer, Méhul, of Donizetti, whose operas were immensely popular in the New Orleans of his youth, and also of Berlioz, who took an interest in young Moreau in Paris. Evident borrowings from Mendelssohn and the young Wagner indicate that, while Gottschalk was solidly rooted in Latin lyricism and somewhat of a Germanophobe at heart, he was by no means immune to the latest currents from Germany.
Fourth, Gottschalk gives strong evidence in these works of an orchestral "voice" that was very much his own. This is clear even in his early work, his adaptation of the hunting theme from Étienne-Nicolas Méhul's opera Le jeune Henri. Composed originally for piano when Moreau was barely twenty, this "adaptation" was in many respects an entirely original composition, a fantasy based loosely on Méhul but with bright transitions and startling effects that are purely Gottschalkian. More than a decade later Moreau, in need of a show-stopper for a gala concert at the Gran Teatro Tacón in Havana, fleshed out this piece as a full-blown orchestral work, now dubbed a "descriptive symphony". Both the piano and orchestral versions reveal a composer fully at ease with extended composition and in command of the technical skills needed for effective orchestration.
Finally, Gottschalk's upbringing in opera-mad New Orleans left him with a life-long orientation towards vocal music. This was deepened by the years he spent touring North America and the Caribbean with some of the best singers of the era, among them Henriette Sontag, the soprano who sang in the première of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Pasquale Brignoli, Verdi's favourite tenor, and the renowned Adelina Patti, who later identified herself as a Gottschalk disciple. All this gave him, both as librettist and composer, a sure instinct for opera.
It can therefore not be doubted that, had Moreau Gottschalk been able to achieve his dream of devoting more time to composition, he would have produced sparkling operas, written in a French and Italian vein, but with an American vitality and enthusiasm all his own. Perhaps the manuscript of one of Gottschalk's completed operas will still turn up some day, rescued from some dusty attic along the route of his endless and soul-numbing tours as a piano virtuoso. If this occurs, it will further reinforce the points that this and important recording by Richard Rosenberg so convincingly puts forward.
S. Frederick Starr, New Orleans, 2006
Author of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, University of Illinois Press, 2000.
See also Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, (forward by S. Frederick Starr), Princeton University Press, 2006.
Symphony No. 2, 'À Montevideo' RO257
Restoring the Symphony No. 2 for modern performance posed many of the same challenges as the Symphony No. 1 ( A Night in the Tropics ) and Escenas Campestres Cubanas in that Gottschalk rarely notated complete percussion parts. For this performance and recording, the timpani part was reconstructed according to the stylistic pattern Gottschalk used to excellent effect in other works of the same period, such as the Variations de concert sur l'hymne portugais.
Célèbre Tarentelle pour piano et orchestre, RO259
During his lifetime, the Célèbre Tarentelle was Gottschalk's "warhorse", the work he presented whenever he needed to dazzle concert-goers. The composer was notorious for his practice of publicly performing his own works but leaving it to his disciples to notate them for publication. Of the more than 25 versions of Célèbre Tarentelle that appeared following Gottschalk's death, the best known was notated by his friend Nicolas Ruiz Espadero (1832-90), who published his edition in 1874. Very recently, however, Gottschalk's own original manuscript has surfaced. Thus, both his solo piano part and his orchestration appear for the first time on this disc.
Escenas Campestres Cubanas, opéra en 1 acte, RO77
As with many of the works that Gottschalk created for his Havana concerts, Escenas Campestres Cubanas (Cuban Country Scenes) brilliantly combines high art, populist sensibilities and mass appeal. For example, the manuscript indicates that Gottschalk intended the use of timpani, but there is evidence that a Caribbean güiro and the three-string tiple added local spice at the first performance.
For this performance by the Hot Springs Music Festival, the nearly illegible libretto was painstakingly deciphered by renowned musicologist Marcello Piras, so that the original Ramírez text could be paired with Gottschalk's music for the first time since its première. The score's final five bars, which appear only skeletally in the manuscript, were also orchestrated to match the full instrumentation.
Variations de concert sur l'hymne portugais du Roi Louis I, RO289
The march tune on which Gottschalk based his Variations de concert was written by the grandfather of the Portuguese King Luís I (1838-1889), the Brazilian Emperor, Pedro I. Were it not for the political capital it afforded him in both Brazil and Portugal, it is unlikely that Gottschalk would have given the tune any attention whatsoever. Gottschalk enlivened the Italianate march with frequent chord substitutions and contrasts of mood. The music truly comes to life during the first slow variation, bringing to mind similar works by early Bohemian national composers.
Evident in the manuscript of the Variations de concert is its hasty composition. Although the orchestration is fully fledged, Gottschalk simply neglected to jot down the solo piano part after the first variation, with the exception of one dramatic scale leading to the finale. The present performance edition represents the interweaving of Arthur Napoleon's (born Arthur Napoleão dos Santos, 1843-1925) solo piano arrangement of the work (c. 1873) into Gottschalk's orchestra. Since Napoleon made some chordal modifications in order to claim the piano reduction as his own and reap the financial benefits, this restoration to the original required extensive editing with the collaboration of pianist Michael Gurt.
Ave Maria, RO10
(c.1864, arranged by Richard Rosenberg for two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, harp and strings)
Ave Maria, gratia plena.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
Et benedictus fructus ventris.
Ave Maria, gratia plena.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Hail Lord, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
La Caza del Joven Enrique por Méhul, Gran overture
( La Chasse du jeune Henri or Young Henry's Hunt, overture) arranged by Louis Moreau Gottschalk after the overture by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul (reconstructed by Richard Rosenberg)
A prejudice against Americans kept the thirteen-year-old Gottschalk from being admitted to the Paris Conservatoire (" America is only a land of steam engines", he was told by the school's director), but he stayed in Paris to study privately with Charles Hallé, Frederic Chopin and Hector Berlioz. Thus inspired, he wrote in 1849 a highly original and elaborate fantasy on Méhul's La Chasse du jeune Henri overture.
Early in 1861, seeking material to include in a "monster concert" he was staging in Havana, he recast the La Chasse du jeune Henri fantasy as a gigantic concerto for multiple pianos and huge orchestra. Owing to confusion over rehearsal arrangements for so large an ensemble, the performance was never completed. In 2003, the manuscript of this concerto was rediscovered in the New Jersey basement of the composer's great-great-grandnephew. Thus, it was discovered that there were only five separate piano parts (three pianos, ten hands), which Gottschalk had divided among the forty pianists. For the sake of clarity, the work's première performance in Hot Springs on 8 June 2006 and this subsequent recording used one pianist a part and an orchestra of "only" 112.
Symphonie romantique, 'La nuit des tropiques', RO255
(Symphony No. 1, 'A Night in the Tropics'), edited and completed by Richard Rosenberg
Gottschalk's A Night in the Tropics (1859) had only been performed since his death in condensed and 'corrected' versions. My reconstruction of this work is based on the composer's autograph manuscript, with instrumental forces not quite as large as those employed at Gottschalk's own performances (which featured over 650 musicians) but quite large nonetheless. It retains Gottschalk's unusual voice leading and notation. I believe that the meticulous care Gottschalk took in consistently adding rests and dotted rhythms is a key to the 'tropical' passion he sought to evoke. The arrangement of this symphony for two pianos by Gottschalk's friend and colleague, Nicolas Ruiz Espadero, provided the basis of my orchestration of the lost forty-two bars at the end of the orchestral score. I incorporated the sound of 'harmonieflautas' at the end of the first movement (based on Gottschalk's own account of where and how it was employed), using an antique South American concertina. In the final movement of A Night in the Tropics, Gottschalk indicated only the first measure of the Afro-Cuban percussion, using the notation 'Bamboula'. He fully expected the ensemble to improvise the remainder of that samba movement in a manner that places it as a sort of 'missing link' between nineteenth-century concert music and a musical language that would soon evolve into that of Jazz.
Richard Rosenberg, 2006
Sung texts and translations for Escenas Campestres Cubanas are available online at www.naxos.com/libretti/559320.htm