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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.
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From Kirkus Reviews:
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.
The definitive biography of a uniquely American cultural figure. In 1869, when 40-year-old composer and piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk died in Rio de Janeiro, South America and much of Europe went into mourning. In his native United States, newspaper retrospectives portrayed his career as a descent from genius into triviality and scandal. With this contrast, Oberlin College president Starr (Red and Hot: Jazz in the Soviet Union, 1983) begins his exhaustively researched, solidly written study of a musical artist whose short but eventful life encapsulates the history of concert music in the New World during the first half of the 19th century. Born in New Orleans to a Creole mother of ``aristocratic'' origins and an English Jewish father who had a second family living three blocks away from his ``legal'' one, Gottschalk was indelibly formed by parental duplicities and childhood insecurities (his father eventually went bankrupt). As an adult, he inhabited the same world as piano virtuoso Franz Liszt and had the same cataclysmic effect on audiences: Men wept, women swooned. But Gottschalk did not understand that American public opinion would not take kindly to even a few notorious affairs, though Liszt got away with dozens of liaisons in Europe. Despite being hailed as ``the first and greatest composer of the age'' as late as 1864, Gottschalk was ultimately forced to decamp for South America, where he garnered artistic triumphs but no lasting financial success. Though he persuasively argues that Gottschalk's work had greater artistic merit than his received reputation as a composer of salon music and party pieces with a Latin American flavor, the author does not purport to offer a detailed musical exegesis of the compositions. Everything else is here, however, including the famous ``six piano'' marathon concerts and an astute appraisal of Gottschalk's reputation in the 125 years since his death. Starr's scholarly passion provides key insights into an emerging national culture. (40 halftone illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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