During the summer of 1848 Gottschalk found himself at the country home of Dr. Eugene Woillez outside of Paris. It was there that he wrote the first two of four pieces based on Louisiana Créole tunes, La Savane and Bamboula. When he returned to Paris in 1849, he introduced these pieces into the Parisian salons and Bamboula quickly became an underground sensation. In April of that year he performed it at a public concert where it was received with wild enthusiasm. Dedicated to Isabella II of Spain, Bamboula ultimately became one of his signature pieces.
Le Bananier is third in the cycle of four Louisiana Créole pieces written in France between 1848 and 1851. Bananier is based on the Créole tune En avan’ Grenadie and this little piece literally took Paris by storm. The publisher, according to Gottschalk scholar Robert Offergeld, earned 250,000 Francs from sales of the piece before selling the rights for another 25,000. And that is but a partial measure of it's appeal since pirated copies abounded. Georges Bizet had the piece in his performing repertoire for years and a hand written copy of it was found in the personal effects of Alexander Borodin who, many insist, used Bananier as a blueprint for his Polovtsian Dances.
One of Gottschalk's more widely known compositions, Le Banjo is actually the second piece to bear that name, the first one being spuriously titled No. 2 and published posthumously. The first Banjo was written during the summer of 1853 but Gottschalk did nothing with the piece until a few months later when he completely re-wrote the work into it's present form. It quickly created a sensation being lauded by the public and Gottschalk's supporters while classicists regarded it as vulgar. In the final section Gottschalk quotes De Camptown Races imbuing the piece with a spirit of Americana.
Souvenir de Lima was written in 1855 for Peruvian General José Echenique, before Gottschalk ever visited Peru. He had occasion to play the piece later in Lima, though by then his opinion of Echenique had faltered and he regarded his former friend as a despot.
This 'Danse Cubaine' could easily be mistaken for Scott Joplin and illustrates how, in the opinion of some, Gottschalk paved the way for ragtime and even jazz.
Written in 1859 during his travels in the Caribbean, Ojos Criollos became one of Gottschalk's most popular pieces as he performed it throughout his US tours during the Civil War.
When Gottschalk returned to the US from the Caribbean in 1862, the Americn Civil War was in full swing. Though he dearly loved Louisiana and the south, he ultimately concluded the just cause was that of the Union. Shortly after his return he wrote a patriotic barnburner titled Le Union where he wove The Star Spangled Banner (not yet the national anthem), Hail Columbia and Yankee Doodle with virtuoso flourishs to create a piece that always brought the house down. Le Union was dedicated to General George B. McCellan, then Commander of Union Forces.
La Jota Aragonesa is a popular Spanish folk dance that orignated in Aragon, in the north of Spain. Several composers have used the tune including Bizet, Glinka, Liszt and Saint-Saëns. Gottschalk first used La Jota in Le Siege de Saragosse, a show piece scored for ten pianos that was first performed in Madrid in 1852. That piece, now lost, included other Spanish tunes but La Jota was so alluring he wrote a separate piece based solely on it.
La Moissonneuse, The Reaper, is a tone painting in the form of a mazurka that depicts a bucolic scene of peasants at harvest. A companion piece, La Glaneuse, The Gleaner, is lost. Such scenes were admired by the upper class French leaving one to wonder whether their admiration ever led them to go to the fields and lend a hand.
Gottschalk began performing this piece as early 1851 while touring Spain, then calling it Gran galop de bravura. In 1854 it was published by Oliver Ditson under the title Tournament Galop and this virtuoso show piece is meant to be played fast and furious.
Published in 1862 by Wm. Hall & Son, Suis Moi combines Chopinesque passages with Latin American dance tunes. A publisher's note on the score reads -
"The author in this morceau (which is entirely original) has endeavored to convey an idea of the singular rythm [sic] and charming character, of the music which exists among the Creoles of the Spanish Antilles. Chopin it is well known transfered the national traits of Poland, to his Mazurkas and Polonaises, and Mr. Gottschalk has endeavored to reproduce in works of an appropriate character, the characteristic traits of the dances of the West Indies."
Sentimental music and poetry were popular in Gottschalk's time and satisfied the nineteenth century inclination towards mournful, even tragic subjects. The Dying Poet fulfilled this thirst for the morose and sales of this piece were phenomenal during Gottschalk's life and after; surviving well into the age of silent movies where it was a staple of theater pianists. Originally published under the pen name Seven Octaves, later editions of The Dying Poet identified Gottschalk as the composer.
In 1859 Gottschalk performed an improvised tarantella with pianist Nicolás Ruiz Espadero and violinist José White at the Liceo Artístico y Literario in Havana. That extemporization would evolve over the years until it reached it's final form for piano and orchestra as the Grande Tarantelle, (Op 67) and during the last year of his life, it became Gottschalk's workhorse. When the composer died without leaving a score for this piece, more than twenty different versions of The Grand Tarantelle surfaced over the years, most of which are apocryphal. Recently though, Gottschalk's manuscript has been discovered and can be heard in a recording by Richard Rosenberg on the Naxos label.
George F. Root was an American song writer who, after studies in Europe, settled in Chicago where he worked at his brother's music publishing firm of Root and Cady. During the Civil War he wrote several memorable songs including The Battle Cry of Freedom that so impressed Gottschalk that he worked it into a heroic caprice and dedicated to Root. Gottschalk commented in his Notes of a Pianist, "'The Battle Cry of Freedom' ought to become our national air; it has animation, it's harmonies are distinguished, it has tune, rhythm, and I discover in it a kind of epic coloring, some thing sadly heroic, which a battle song should have."
Written during his stay at Matouba on Guadeloupe, Souvenir de la Havane is one of Gottschalk's more masterful pieces and recalls his days in Cuba.
Souvenir de Porto Rico was written during Gottschalk's stay in the Puerto Rican countryside in 1857 and is based on Si me dan pasteles, a tune sung during the Christmas season. The piece begins softly and gradually grows in volume and complexity reaching a climax at the mid point then fades away, imitating a group walking singers, hence the subtitle 'Marche des Gibaros'. A Gibaro or Jíbaro being those peasants who live in the interior of Puerto Rico.
Much of Gottschalk's output consists of gallops, polkas, schottisches and other 'trifles'. These were written to fulfill contract obligations with publishers and to bring in much needed cash. Many of these pieces were published under pen names like Oscar Litti, Paul Ernest and Seven Octaves
, and the Hurrah Galop is but one example of this. Gottschalk also earned money by publishing newspaper columns under the pen name Seven Octaves. On one occasion he reviewed one of his own concerts and, not surprisingly, gave himself a favorable review. On another occasion, he wrote a polka under the pseudonym Paul Ernest and dedicated it to "my friend Gottschalk". The Hurrah Galop was written during his stay at Matouba on Guadeloupe in 1859.
Orfa is another of Gottschalk's sparkling fluff pieces written under the pseudonym Seven Octaves and published in 1864 by Oliver Ditson & Co.
Gottschalk spent over a year touring Spain in 1851-52 and during that time 'collected' Spanish folk tunes that he would later work into his compositions. The songs used in Souvenirs d' Andalouisie are summarized in the subtitle, 'Caprice de concert sur la caña, le fandango, et le jeleo de Jerez'.
There is a crater on Venus named for Tekla Bądarzewska, composer of a sentimental confection called The Maidens Prayer and that crater is perhaps where all existing copies of this bon-bon should be interred. A bit harsh perhaps but a sentiment that Gottschalk would have readily agreed with since he encountered the piece throughout his tours of the US and not only loathed it but couldn't escape it. Gottschalk's The Maidens Blush was apparently an answer to Bądarzewska's piece in the form of a lascivious waltz.
11 Oct 2011
Planned additions -
Pasquinade, 'Caprice', Opus 59
Grand Scherzo, Opus 57
Tremolo, 'Grande étude de concert', Opus 58
Marche funèbre, Opus 61
Chant de Guerre, Opus 78
Danza, Opus 33
El Cocoyé, 'Grand caprice Cubain de bravura', Opus 80
Minuit à Séville, Opus 30