Gottschalk was born in New Orleans in 1829 and was raised largely by his grandmother and nurse, both of whom were born in Saint-Dominique. From an early age he was exposed to much Creole music, which he grew to love, learning as much as he possibly could from the local street musicians. He was a prodigy at the keyboard, and lessons from the organist at the cathedral meant that he was able to play at mass by the age of seven. His potential led his parents to send him to France in 1841, where he began lessons under Charles Hallé. At the age of 15 he gave a recital at the Salle Pleyel, where Chopin complimented him on his playing.
Gottschalk's light, salon-friendly works gave him much opportunity to work in the music of his homeland; part Creole himself, he incorporated such elements into traditional forms such as polkas; audiences and purchasers of sheet music appreciated the novelty. The syncopated rhythms in these works might seem to prefigure ragtime; in a similar manner, on his highly successful tour of Spain he wrote works using Spanish ideas and melodies. Throughout Europe he was warmly received, both as a musician and as a representative of the New World.
Ironically, when Gottschalk returned to America in 1853 he found his success difficult to replicate. The death of his father meant that he needed to perform more frequently to provide support for his family, but he persevered, adopting the latest musical styles to his own ends. Particular favourites of the time were the ballads The Last Hope (1854) and The Dying Poet (1863), sentimental populist works. Attempts to settle in Cuba and Guadeloupe were cut short by financial worries or political differences, and he continued to tour, playing a large role in the introduction of classical music to South America. His concerts programmed both his own pieces and those of established masters, and he composed several orchestral works such as the Symphonie romantique (‘La nuit des tropiques’). He died while on tour, possibly from an overdose of quinine.
- MIDI FILE - "Caprice de concert" (3'44'')
- MIDI FILE - "Dance cubane" (2'08'')
- MIDI FILE - Etude de concert (4'30'')