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Bamboula!: The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk
     

Bamboula!: The Life and Times of Louis Moreau Gottschalk

by S. Frederick Starr
 

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an American original. A spellbinding piano virtuoso, he was America's first internationally recognized composer, whose "classical" works received accolades from Hector Berlioz and Victor Hugo, and whose arch-romantic melodies became for Americans the standard expressions of common emotions. Perhaps most important, his immensely

Overview

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an American original. A spellbinding piano virtuoso, he was America's first internationally recognized composer, whose "classical" works received accolades from Hector Berlioz and Victor Hugo, and whose arch-romantic melodies became for Americans the standard expressions of common emotions. Perhaps most important, his immensely popular Louisiana and Caribbean pieces—such as Danza, Pasquinade, or Bamboula—anticipated ragtime by fifty years. Indeed, the colorful and exotic textures of Gottschalk's music establish him at the head of what is today the mainstream of popular American culture.
In Bamboula!, S. Frederick Starr presents an authoritatively researched, engagingly written biography of America's first authentic musical voice. Starr paints for us a striking portrait of Gottschalk's childhood in 1830s New Orleans, a city madly devoted to music, where opera companies, music halls, fiddlers and banjo-pickers, church choirs, and Army bands all contributed to what Starr calls "the most stunning manifestation of Jacksonian democracy in the realm of culture to be found anywhere in America." We meet Gottschalk's African-American nurse Sally, who regaled him with the creole songs, legends, and lore of her native Haiti, which would inform some of his finest music. We travel with Gottschalk to Paris, where he was a sensation, playing in fashionable salons for the likes of Lamartine, Gautier, and Dumas; and we join his flight from the Revolution of 1848 to a town north of Paris, where he composed his first great works—Bamboula, La Savane, Le Bananier, and Le Mancenillier—all published over the name "Gottschalk of Louisiana." Starr describes Gottschalk's successful return to New York City in the early 1850s, where he enjoyed a degree of popularity never before accorded to an American performer or composer, becoming our first homegrown concert idol. But Starr also examines the life-long struggle between the Catholic Gottschalk and earnest Protestant champions of "serious" music, a battle that pitted the austere values of northern Europe against the brighter sensibilities of Paris, Louisiana, and the West Indies.
Based on extensive research, including hundreds of letters written by Gottschalk (in French, Spanish, and English) which are used here for the first time, Bamboula! illuminates an exotic but tragic life, as well as one of the most democratic phases of American cultural life, a world of bustling impresarios and America's first bohemian circle. A major biography in every sense, it will help reestablish Gottschalk's place in American musical history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gottschalk, the first significant American composer, packed an incredible amount into his 40-year lifespan (1829-1869). Born in New Orleans to an Anglo-German-Jewish father and a French-Haitian mother, he straddled two worlds as a musician: the European, with its great cultural heritage (Chopin congratulated Gottschalk at an early concert) and the popular folk traditions of his native Louisiana-and later of Cuba and much of Latin America. He was a remarkable showman, dazzling audiences with his coruscating displays, often improvising at the keyboard; disappointingly little of his enormous output was written down, and much of what was has been lost. As Gottschalk journeyed indefatigably-to Paris, to Switzerland, back to his birthplace, then New York City, Boston, Cuba, Puerto Rico, California, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, making and losing fortunes-hysterical audiences and press panegyrics followed him; so, occasionally, did scandal, perhaps inevitable for a man whose impact can be compared to that of Michael Jackson today. Was Gottschalk a great composer or merely a marvelous pianist and phenomenal showman? Judgment must be made on so few pieces: Bamboula, a riot of rhythmic color, the lavishly scored symphony A Night in the Tropics, the Grande Tarantelle for piano and orchestra, a few lugubrious salon pieces, the sprightly arrangements that form the popular ballet Cakewalk. In this magisterial biography, Starr, former president of Oberlin College, makes an eloquent case for Gottschalk as the first great musical democrat, a man who might well have changed the course of American music had he lived longer. He also, with a wealth of colorful detail, brings the musical and cultural life of half a dozen countries in the mid-19th century vividly before the reader. Starr's book, like all fine biographies, instructs, entertains and offers infinite food for thought. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Dec.)
Alan Hirsch
Although Starr draws on his subject's own writings in constructing the most extensive chronicle of the short life of America's first great touring pianist, Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-69) wrote little about himself per se. We can only speculate about what he felt, though his immensely popular music often expressed his mood. He was born in New Orleans, studied piano and composition in Paris in his second decade, and embarked on a career as virtuoso pianist and composer in his third. His need to earn enough from concerts throughout the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America to support his mother and siblings governed his life. He learned quickly that music containing quotations from folk tunes, dances, national anthems, and operas attracted the largest audiences. Most of his piano pieces were, in fact, improvisations, and many have been lost, for only when the public demanded sheet music did he commit them to paper. An academic approach to its subject, Starr's work is fascinating, nevertheless, for its coverage of Gottschalk's competitors and collaborators as well as the travails of an itinerant musician.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195072372
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
01/05/1995
Pages:
608
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.83(d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
S. Frederick Starr is President of The Aspen Institute . An authority on Russian history and an accomplished musician, Starr is the author of Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union. He is a clarinetist with the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble.

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